Two Things That Have Made My Fiction Writing Easier

Writing fiction can be difficult, especially stories you wish to get published someday. The reason being there aren’t really any blueprints or rules to follow except for perhaps use an active voice and show, don’t tell. Yet, in all the millions of books published, you can find exceptions to even these principles.

So, your left with a vague idea of what to do and what not to do but at the same time trying to tell a story that you care about in your own way but also, keeping in mind what might be pleasurable for the reader. This juggling act often leads to mistakes and the balls coming bouncing off your forehead and your there rubbing your head where the mark from the ball reddens, thinking what went wrong.

I’m been there and still am there in many ways. One reason for such complication is because writing subjective. What works for one publication may not work for another. Plus you only have one shot to get it right with that story you send. If a month later you figure out something that improves the story you can’t resend it and hope it gets picked up.

A little too late for that. Go find some other place.

So, this process of rejection-editing-rewriting-rejection-editing-rewriting-rejection can seem never ending.

What to do when the sane individual would gracefully bow out and move to something less humiliating.

Simply put, you just have to stick with it. The awful non helpful advice. Just keep going. Something you might find on an inspirational poster of a cat climbing a ladder that seems to be going nowhere. Hang in there is another cliche you can throw at it. But these cliches have a kernel of truth to them.

It’s a process. A saying that’s famous in the sports world for they understand that developing skill requires time and effort.

And writing, like sports, is a skill.

By keeping with it, by dissecting your writing, by holding yourself up to a higher standards you come to formulate certain rules for yourself which gives your writing structure, makes it simpler, clearer, cleaner.

Here is where I’m at and there are two things I’ve come to understand which makes the process of writing simpler.

1) This is sort of cheating because it’s two things in one but that’s also a good thing about writing fiction, you can almost do as you please. But anyways, the first part is that conflict is key. That’s all there is to a good story. A character wants something but something is in the way of that want, which creates conflict, and the character must figure out a way to get to his want. This simplifies the act of writing. Gives it structure. If your scenes and interactions are lacking conflict then that is a clear issue. Something tangible to fix because no one cares about a story where nothing happens and the character gets whatever they wish.

What’s even better is when the conflict is created by another character. When the desire of one character is obstructed by another. This has been a great help. Essentially you just have two characters with the same goal but only one can get it and you let them interact and conflict arises. Here is where dialogue comes into play. The second revelation of sorts. Dialogue gives rise to compelling stories and characters because in order to have dialogue, characters must interact.

I have spent a lot of time running around inside the head of characters and writing monologue after monologue but it all read so fake, so bland. It wasn’t until I really looked at the books I enjoyed, stories I connected with did I realize that most of it is dialogue. It’s not about the brooding 20 year old sitting at home thinking but rather that 20 year old interacting with his parents, coworker, lover, strangers etc which gets the story rolling.

2) This one I’ll make quick and easy. If you stick with the process, you’ll discover your weaknesses and limitations. What a wonderful discovery. For me, my weakness is description, in particular, the use of senses in describing a scene. This is a severe weakness because without good description you can’t transport a reader into the story.

However, by knowing this about myself, I can then not allow the fear or self doubt to stop me from even starting. I know I can get the story on paper and worry about sense description in my edits. My limitation doesn’t have to be an obstacle. It can be something I focus on later while I let the conflict and dialogue and characters flow for now.

Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. I’ve learned other things or perhaps it’s better to say I’ve read other things about becoming a better writer. But what I’ve mentioned above is what has come to me through experience. Things I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

I Am a Son of a Bitch If I’ll Be Defeated by Everydayness

I have felt hours go by without knowing what happened to them. Hours that turned into days which melted into months and looking back, there have even been years which I cannot recall with any significance apart from perhaps a singular event or two. 

I recognize the illness that plagues my mind after reading the Moviegoer by Walker Percy. I had recognized it before too when I came across Proust and I’m sure I recognized it prior to that as well but I cannot remember now. Which makes this illness particularly tricky to deal with for the forgetful mind of mine aids the sickness.

 

This illness is the everydayness of life. The mundane moments that go unremembered as my mind and my thoughts dwell in a hopeful future where I will find myself amidst the ruins of Ancient Rome or traveling the bullet train in Japan along with some friends or seeing the great art pieces of Michelangelo with my own eyes for these moments can cure the everydayness and leave lasting memories of being alive which I can fondly recall later on. Or so I imagine them to be.

 

But as Proust said, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes. Similarly, Walker Percy puts forth the idea of the search. It is not new worlds you should seek out but rather see the beauty in the everyday that can and should leave a mark on your life. I am in need of a reminder to search.

To search is to be in wonderment of life, all of life.

 

“The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

“To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Walker Percy further explains the idea with regards to movies.

 

“The movies are onto the search but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place — but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.”

Walker Percy warns one not to fall into a pattern of known motion. The daily, weekly and monthly routine that makes one feel like just a piece of metal on a conveyor belt, being moved from one spot to another. Instead, he urges you to be observant, to see the changing world around you which so far you have been drifting through. To observe is to search. 

 

“People have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to him but not to me. It is nothing to him to close his eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thoughts on Telegraph Hill that he thought on Carondelet street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich a man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing for the risk he takes, he may find himself no one and nowhere.”

Without the active struggle to see your own surroundings as something worth seeing and exploring, you might find yourself blind and unaware regardless if you are standing in front of an old library or the Colosseum for if you do not know how to see properly, moments will simply drift in and out of you and leave behind just the faintest recollections of themselves. Life, in turn, will be just a dull light instead of the blinding brilliance that it is capable of being. 

 

“For he is no more aware of the mystery that surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in.”

The search is there for one to enrich their own life. It is a selfish ambition, to make your own life one of awe and beauty.

 

“No, I do it for my own selfish reasons. If I did not talk to the theatre owner or the ticket seller, I should be lost, cut loose metaphysically speaking. I should be seeing one copy of a film which might be shown anywhere and at any time. There is a danger of slipping clean out of space and time. It is possible to become a ghost and not know whether one is in downtown Lowes in Denver or suburb Bijou in Jacksonville. So it was with me.

Yet it was here in the Tivoli that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra. It was during a rerelease of Red River a couple of years ago that I became aware of the first faint stirrings of curiosity about the particular seat I sat in, the lady in the ticket booth…as Montgomery Clift was whipping John Wayne in a fist fight, an absurd scene, I made a mark on my seat arm with my thumbnail. Where, I wondered will this particular piece of wood be twenty years from now, 543 years from now? Once as I was travelling through the midwest ten years ago I had a layover of three hours in Cincinnati. There was time to go see Joseph Cotten in Holiday at neighbourhood theatre called the Altamont — but not before I had struck up an acquaintance with the ticket seller, a lady named Mrs. Clara James, and learned that she had seven grandchildren all living in Cincinnati. We still exchange Christmas cards. Mrs. James is the only person I know in the entire state of Ohio.”

To walk through life blind and deaf seems like an awful waste of potential. Knowing that I have been blind and deaf at different points in my life is a painful reminder of wasted opportunity. However, in between that time, in between that space where I can remember to search, where I can actively observe and find the beauty in the mundane and know that everything in nature has its own value if I were to remove my own prejudices and biases, then, at least for those moments I can fight the everydayness that drowns so many and keep the search alive and with it my own curiosity and imagination. Thanks to Percy’s novel I am reminded again of the life around me and thanks to him I will be reminded of the fact sometime in the future once I am momentarily defeated by the everydayness but it will never be a permanent defeat for the search is always there, waiting for you, ready to enlighten your world.