So I’ve finished my first novel, Desires of the Soul, and it’s caused me to reflect on the things I’ve learned. Naturally, I want to share them with all of you. Maybe you’ve learned the same things; maybe you were lucky enough to already possess this wisdom. Either way, for the next couple of months, I’ll be posting a new lesson-learned every week. I hope you’ll check back and weigh in with thoughts or lessons of your own. So without further ado, here is…
#10. Fiction writing is a whole different animal
As it turns out, spinning witty tales of my life via email is completely different from writing exceptional fiction. Who knew? When I started out, I sure as hell didn’t.
Friends and family often commented on how much they enjoyed reading my tales, or how funny they were, or that I should be a writer. [Aside: In all honesty, the only time I’m funny and witty is when I’m writing. If you were to speak to me in person you’d think Paul Rudd used me as a character study for his role in I Love You, Man.] I loved their reactions—after all, why try to be entertaining if no one appreciates it—but I never took their off-handed career advice seriously. To me, it was just another way for them to say, “Hey, that was great!”
Much later, when I actually decided to start writing (instigated by events unrelated to the aforementioned comments), I had no idea there was so much to learn. For example, 9 times out of 10, the word “that” isn’t necessary. It’s just an extra word screwing up the flow of our sentence.
That’s another one: the flow of a sentence. Sometimes a sentence just sounds “off” until you add a word or take one away. Or maybe it’s even just a syllable off to get that particular cadence right.
And we all know the perils of telling vs. showing. Generally speaking, passive voice is to be avoided as much as possible (and yes, the irony of using passive voice in that sentence is not lost on me).
Dialogue is very difficult for a lot of people. You have to make your characters sound believable, true to who they are and conversational all at the same time. And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to add in little things in between—like Gary pouring coffee or Susie clicking her pen or Megan bouncing her baby on her hip—so you don’t have what’s referred to as “talking heads.”
Of course, these are just a few of the things I learned about writing good fiction. If I wrote down everything I’ve learned thus far, it would be another book. Hence, the reason dozens and dozens of books have been written on the topic.
Bottom line: I learned quickly that I had no idea how to write fiction properly until I immersed myself in the writing community and learned the Dos and Don’ts one article, blog post, book, or workshop at a time. Every week I learn just a little bit more and I hope I never stop.
What about you? When you started writing fiction, did you learn a little at a time through articles and workshops? Or were you already trained in the art via school or other technical training? Do tell!