Writing Fiction With A Nonfiction Brain

 

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Just The Facts Ma’am

It’s a learning process, that’s for sure.

I was trained to see and report the facts, and only the facts. News reporting, community happenings, and numerous city council meetings meant digging for, uncovering, and reporting only the facts, in succinct, short, quick to the point sentences and fragments. It was mandatory to clearly share point after point after point while fitting the necessary information into a specific number of column inches. It would become the way I saw and remembered everything.

But now, in creating fiction, I felt like that dog that carelessly gets adopted and confined to an apartment bathroom, only to be finally let out into the world to be in awe of everyone and everything around me.

World building, descriptions, fictional details all available to me to complement my story? Descriptive and creative license available at my every turn? Turns available at every twist? More twists at those turns?

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” as I go screaming around the house.

What I’m trying to say, as you can gather by now, is that it’s a different set of skills to learn how to write in a fiction setting vs a nonfiction setting. And therein lies the constant struggle in my writing psyche. For so many years, and even continuing to this day, much of my writing is based on facts, research, and numbers. The creative part is me just trying not to bore you to tears while providing all the necessary information for the article or study. But whilst brandishing that fiction pencil, all options are on the table. That can be daunting, and certainly demands a reset of my brain processing function.

How do you perform that mind reset?

Well, that’s a good question, and in all likelihood has as many unique answers as there are writers. For me, I have to be consistent in reminding myself to have fun with the words, since I have the luxury to make things happen as I want them to happen. It can be raining or not. It can be a cold day in winter, or a perfect beach day across the continent. Characters can be fashioned after anyone walking, running, strolling, skipping, or driving down the street. I can still write as if it’s a news story, but I have the creative license to go back and fill in the story with details, descriptions, and dialogue as I see or hear them. There are no fact checkers for these events, because I am my only source, leaving no one to refute my findings.

I know what you’re thinking, and it has to do with editors. That’s a damn fine point, but  more to do with the consistency and believability of the story, not my self witnessed, fictitious facts. As Stephen King says,  “The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies”.

So whatever you need to do to flip that switch in your brain from fact based, nonfiction writing to fiction genre storytelling, do it on a consistent basis and pretty soon it’ll become as natural as sitting here cursing while watching those damn chipmunks dig up my yard everyday. The fiction writing mode of thinking will fire up more readily and allow a pretty cool working relationship with the rest of your mind.

And although I’m sure there is a statistic that would sound very official about this whole psychological matter, I’m forcing myself not to do the research and report back, because thankfully, I’m getting better about this whole switch flipping and brain resetting myself.

Damn chipmunks!

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Hey! Who Is Gonna Take Care Of That Fictional Dog You Just Put Into Your Story?

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It was an easy decision at the time.

I’ll add a cute dog in my fiction. Who doesn’t like dogs, right? It’ll be a great secondary-type character to add to the story, one that will pal around and help show the emotions, attitudes and thoughts of my characters.

A dog will coexist perfectly with the characters, their personalities, where they live, how they live, and so on. It’ll be that little extra that adds another layer of reality to my story.

But then another reality hit me, and while looking around, I shouted, mostly to myself, “Hey! Who the heck is gonna take care of this thing?”

The more I started thinking and writing, the more I realized that I had to account for this fictitious, yet needy canine companion. The characters have to consider the dog when they do things, when they go places, and the length of their absences. It’s going to be there in the evening and overnight. It’s going to be hungry in the morning, and well, it will have to go outside and do it’s thing, which means somebody has to clean up after it does that thing.

My make believe dog is beginning to be just as time-consuming as the real thing, so now I’m wondering if its even a good thing to do, meaning adding a fictional dog to your story. Will there be fictional slobber in my shoes? Will there be fictional chew marks on our fictional furniture? Do I have to spend a couple of hours to find a fictional vet for my fictional dog? Just who is going to take care of this dog? And for crying out loud, what is his name?

As I turned away from writing this, I thought about that old cardboard box graveyard of old, dead Tamagotchis, GigaPets, and Nanos that we once had, way back when, and I feel a sudden, irrational fear and anxiety that my fictional, yet unnamed dog may suffer a similar fate, caused by inattention or just plain forgetfulness later in my manuscript.

Should I adopt this dog, even in a fictional world?

These decisions about getting pets are tough, even in a make-believe world.

He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags Are Killers

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So I finally worked up the nerve to have the first 3000 words of my WIP read out loud and critiqued at a writing conference.

Gasp!

Yeah, I know, but there I was, in the crowd, waiting for my page to be drawn and read out loud by an actual publishing person, and then judged by other prominent publishers, writers, and agents. And I’m talking about a couple of heavy hitters in the room, recognizable by face as well as name. When I heard my working title read, I tensed, trying to not look too guilty of being the creator of this passage, even though I may have noticeably readied myself a bit more for taking notes. I’ve hesitated to do this in the past, but after revising it a few times based on other classes and advice I had gotten from reading and researching, I felt pretty good about letting this one be judged. Hey, we need to get used to being judged in public settings anyway, right? Why not here, where the learning, and the help, is readily available?

The instructions from the reader to the panel were to listen and read along, and raise their hands when running across anything that would make them stop reading, things like poor flow, bad grammar or vocabulary choice, a boring scene, non believable actions or situations, etc. If during the read, the panel showed three raised hands, the reading was stopped and then discussed. If the reading was allowed to finish, the panelists all took turns critiquing the work, both for what they enjoyed and where the improvements could be made.

Gulp!

My words were read out loud, and I could feel myself silently reciting the chapter with the reader. One hand went up. My eyes caught the motion of a hand being raised. I hoped for an instant that they just had an itch on their head, but no such luck. I panicked a little and started scanning the panel and hoping that there would be no more. The judges remained looking down at their copies of the transcript, intently reading along. No hands seemed ready to bolt up, and as the read was completed, they all seemed intent to listen to more. A big sigh escaped my chest.

But…

Something wasn’t right. While having someone else read my words out loud, I noticed it. So did the judges, by the way, who were all in agreement. Dialogue tags. Too many dialogue tags. The story was good, and the setting built the level of suspense that I had hoped. But the story read choppy, because of all the “he said, she saids” I had inserted. They were killing my pacing while adding extra, unnecessary words to the chapter. I had two people conversing in the entire scene, so there was no need to keep telling the reader who said what. I can achieve that through voice and proper dialogue, which I was glad to discover and learn in a separately offered class within this same conference.

But if it wasn’t for hearing a professional in the writing industry read my words for a set of equally professional judges and experts, I may not have caught this fault until further down the path in my WIP, and that wouldn’t have been good news for writer or reader.

He said it, she said it, they all said it. And I listened.

Good writing!

 

Crayons, Pens, Butcher Paper or Tablets, A Writer Is A Writer, No Matter The Method

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There’s always talk about writing methods, and how to stay organized while telling your story. But I’ll tell you a little secret. I hate outlining. Hate it. Always did, and as far as I can tell, I always will. It just seems repetitive to me. I mean, if you know enough to thoroughly outline a story, why the heck wouldn’t you just write the darn story in the first place?

Does this drop me into the “pantser” category? I suppose, to some extent. But since I know where I want to go, or at least where I want to end up when writing a passage or story, am I a “plotter” also? How do I find out? Do I need to know? Will the discovery of a tag for what I do change me in any way? Would it change you, your habits, or the way you approach writing?

I doubt it. After all, our style of writing is our style of writing, no matter what it’s called. It’s all about the journey, and staying on the path unless the characters in your story tell you otherwise.

I know where I’m starting, and I know how and where I want this thing to end. But the path to get to that point may not be so clear that I can write down a logical series of steps needed to get there. But I know the events that will, and should, happen along the way, including confrontations and character traits and backgrounds, and who I can trust and who raises my suspicions. Is that outlining? Plotting? Just plain old brainstorming? I write down notes and jot down events and scenes, just not in a thorough, step-by-step format with color coded highlighters, stickers, and exclamation points.

I guess that’s why I enjoy writing with Scrivener, even with the tedious, and endless learning curve associated with it. It allows me to write in scenes or separate, divided mini-stories, sometimes, okay mostly out of order, and then put them together later like a giant puzzle that culminates with the end passage delivering the reader where I want and need them to be.

And even better, with a process like this, on those days that I wake up in a mood that mirrors or lends itself towards the specific traits and characteristics of one of my characters, I’m going to be much more in tune with writing about them on that particular day, no matter where their appearances or particular actions appear in the story.

But then, I’m sort of, kind of, outlining in my head aren’t I, since I seem to have some idea of where they are going to appear and with whom they will interact with in this story? Wouldn’t I have to at least know a little about the plot, then, to know the different scenes that are going to occur?

Do I need to sit down and make a quick sketch or diagram of my habits and tendencies, just to make sure I haven’t wrongly categorized myself?

Are you getting as confused as I am about all of this? Should we even care what category we fall in to?

How about we just write as we see fit and are accustomed to?

I say whatever gets you ending the day with words on the paper, screen, or tablet is the type of writer you are, and that’s just the right type for you. (I’m thinking there’s a Dr Seuss saying in there somewhere)

Besides, there really is no category for those of us that sit on the floor, surrounded by sheets of white butcher paper and 64 count boxes of crayons, humming the theme from The Three Stooges while spinning around, jotting down situations for our characters to work through.