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How to Write Fiction

A story starts with an image.

Any image will do as long as it gets you jazzed. I was thinking I had nothing to write about, and then just now I realized I’ve had this image swirling around my head for several months. I think the reason I repressed it is that didn’t respect it. It’s not literally fantastical, but it has a lot of magical fairy dust in its feel, in the feelings swirling around it. A sort of Disney, bubble-gum, cheesiest of romantic comedy element, that made me dismiss it out of hand. The last image that drove me to write a novel and several associated short stories a couple years ago was solidly based in realism, and so I guess I never took this one seriously.
But what does it matter as long as it gets you jazzed enough to sit down and start writing? You only need a way in. Can you imagine, for instance, if you’d had the original idea for Harry Potter? And then telling your friends about it before it had been written? They’d have been positively embarrassed for you! So, throw all judgment out the window especially if you have an image that gets you jazzed.

CRAFT

I mean if you can afford to go to Iowa or audit a college level fiction writing class that would be great, but I think that 90% of it is just reading, reading, reading—any and all of the fiction you can get your hands on, breathing it in like air, soaking it in like sunshine. And then interviews with successful fiction writers on the nitty gritty of their process. And then the other part is simply putting your butt in a chair. How many hours did you have your butt in a chair last week writing? That’s a key question. An image is a huge motivator. There might be one or several swirling around your head even as you read this that you haven’t been acknowledging. Go with it. It’s Hermes appearing in your mind. It’s the magical aid of fairytales showing up to guide you, to sustain you. Even if you’re having to work odd, dull jobs to support yourself your subconscious will be working on it all the while.

Stephen King as Your Guide

Both for craft and philosophy. I think the only way I finished my novel in 2017 was because I kept searching and watching Stephen King interviews and talks on Youtube. For sure his philosophy about writing fiction made it one of the most exciting adventures of my life. It was positively fun. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and see what was going to happen! They way he approaches it makes it so much fun that the only downside was I was kicking myself for not having found it years before when I could have really made a career out of it. Here’s an excerpt from his book On Writing that contains all these ideas too. I’d highly recommend it, although hearing him actually speak about it in the Youtube videos conveys that enthusiasm and confidence that will really spark you. Here’s the excerpt that will give you a taste of the philosophy:

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.
You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer — my answer, anyway — is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can — I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. If, on the other hand, you decide I’m crazy, that’s fine. You won’t be the first.
When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.
No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.
I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story. Some of the ideas which have produced those books are more complex than others, but the majority start out with the stark simplicity of a department store window display or a waxwork tableau. I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down.
In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.
You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer — my answer, anyway — is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can — I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. If, on the other hand, you decide I’m crazy, that’s fine. You won’t be the first.
When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.
No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.
I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story. Some of the ideas which have produced those books are more complex than others, but the majority start out with the stark simplicity of a department store window display or a waxwork tableau. I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down.
The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfeatured, to begin with—come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I never expected. For a suspense novelist, this is a great thing. I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader. And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.

Stephen King’s On Writing (pages 163-165)

Categories
Literature My Fiction

Fiction Writer’s Resources

I’m spending most of my time and focus on writing a novel right now. So, hence this.

“Words to Use instead of Said”

http://www.spwickstrom.com/said/
This was the top result when I googled: what are some words you can use to describe dialogue besides said


I created an “Alter-Ego” Twitter (@ottersransom) for solely for my artistic endeavors. My main personal account (@Pickering) which I’ve had since 2007 just seems to messed up and cluttered.
I got this next resource from googling: what’s a good hashtag on twitter for fiction writers and novelists

44 Essential Twitter Hashtags Every Author Should Know

Categories
1 Minute Tips Literature Philosophy

Advice for Aspiring Writers

I came across this today via Twitter, and I thought it was so good, that I needed to keep it on my blog, so that I would always have a copy.

Here’s the advice:

First — keep reading. Writers are readers. Writers are also people who can’t not write.

Second, follow Heinlein’s rules for getting published:

1. Write it.
2. Finish it.
3. Send it out.
4. Keep sending it out until someone sends you a check.

There are variations on that, but that’s basically what works.

Ciao,
Annie

It’s from novelist Anne McCaffery who died today at 85. I wasn’t aware of here, but when I read the blog post about her death and it noted this piece of advice, it made such an impression on me that I posted it on all my Social networks, but also felt the need to keep it on my blog.

You’re blog on you’re own domain, I think is important, because things like Twitter, Facebook, are great for “Real-Time” but they are ephemeral, and you tend to forget what you posted after a few days, much less can you find things that you need.

One of the things that resonates with me on her list is “Finish it.” I’ve noticed that with songs: Even if you don’t necessarily like your lyrics, it’s always so much better to finish the song, rather than leave it lingering, waiting for the “perfect” lyrics to “someday” come. Someday never will come, but if you finish the song as best you can, then it takes on a life of it’s own and has the opportunity to get better.

“Done is Better than Perfect.” is a sign that they have around Facebook’s Headquarters. Very à propos.

Categories
My Poetry Poems

Poem | “9 Miracles”

We can all be good.
The rough beast crawling towards Bethlehem
says, “You should.”
But we can let it go,
face in the wind, rain, and snow,
as the falcon of our soul soars off Kilimanjaro.
The distant bells
are Black Sea shells,
and her lips sail closer
as we fall deeper
into a dreamless sleep, dryer than the Sahara,
only broken up by the sparkle of the Sun lasered sand
that the beast remembers as a once fruitful land.
At once we transcend Pharoah’s gold
and the story of Yusef that’s been told
of falling in a well and into Egypt being sold.
It doesn’t hold as much for us anymore now that the fire
has colored the mountain and drinken from the well
of thirsty distraction that’s blinded to the veil
covering the passage to the Promiseland.

We hold true to these words,
heart given to each other,
and our congregation formed like a ring of birds.

One for the Trinity two for the show
three to take the chances so that all can know.

Isis can hold us up even as she nurses the productions of time
in search of her husband the divine.

We sit on the throne, a Supernova
that produced all this gold,
as the serpent slithers towards Rome.
Ptolemy falls from the Alexandrian stacks
carrying the Moon and stars on his back.
Someone such should know
that the Caliphs have buried his secret scroll.
The priests drown the halls in chants
as the prince discovers the burning bed.
Each Irish maidens’ beauty more spectacular than the next
as Olympus opens each door to the morning breath,
and Demeter sprints to Avalon
with the message of Aquinas’ last glance.