In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Dwindling Numbers
* Yesterday I got a late start
* My Best Advice for Fiction Writers: Part 1
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“History is dramatic license, covertly-financed with a sprinkling of gold dust from the newly-enthroned.” Stewart Stafford
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell
Fewer and fewer writers are looking at this Journal, at least the version that I send out via email. Recently the view rate is moving between 15% and 40% of subscribers.
Possibly that’s in anticipation of me ending the Journal, or at least cutting back to a much less-frequent publishing schedule. Of course, the low numbers are also driving me to end the Journal or at least cut back, so kind of a two-edged sword there.
Yesterday I got a late start on the novel because a thought struck me about writing advice, then expanded. Consequently, I spent around three hours on that thought and this little bit of today’s edition of the Journal.
Consequently, tor those of you who’ve hung on, I thought I’d toss out a couple of special posts titled My Best Advice for Fiction Writers. Maybe more than two. We’ll see. I’ll also make the overall article available as a searchable PDF file.
The rest of the day all but fell apart with a lot of different little things adding up. Anyway, here you go. Thanks for being along for the ride.
My Best Advice for Fiction Writers: Part 1
With over 70 novels, 8 novellas, and well over 200 short stories written in *6 years, I feel qualified to pass along what I’ve learned in this much-abbreviated capsule.
Many of the individual points below could be expanded into a book-length discussion. But the core concepts, the core truths, are all presented here. These are a great deal more than I had when I started.
Besides, a book about any of them would only expand on those concepts. And the plain truth is,
1. no amount of expansion and explanation of these concepts will help you if you refuse to try them, and
2. any expansion will be redundant and unnecessary if you do try them.
In this writing life, some things are fundamental. Chief among those is your relationship with your characters. That relationship informs how you treat your characters, and it’s ultimately your choice.
You can choose to see yourself as being ABOVE your characters or you can choose to see yourself as being AMONG them. You can’t do both.
If you’ve chosen the latter, welcome and congratulations. Now you are free to choose to Trust the characters to convey the story that they, not you, are living. You should keep reading this post, if nothing else for camaraderie.
If you’ve chosen the former, read on if you want, but unless you’re willing to at least try to throw off the fears that have been piled on you practically since birth, there’s really nothing I can do for you.
Still, you’re welcome. I get through to around 1 in every 300 or so writers.
If You’ve Chosen to See Yourself as Being Among Your Characters
Congratulations. You could as easily have donned your official, flowing, Authorial robes and ascended into the great ivory tower, whence you would control every single stinkin’ aspect of your characters’ lives and story: every event, every twist and turn, every word that’s said. In other words, it wouldn’t actually be your character’s story. It would be something you consciously thought up, blamed on them.
But instead you chose to be a participant. You chose to put on your jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers and roll off the parapet into the trenches of the story.
You chose to run through the story WITH your characters, trying to keep up and recording what happens and what is said as the story unfolds around all of you.
Here are some pointers to help keep you on the straight and narrow. These comprise my best advice for fiction writers:
1. Understand the difference between your story and your characters’ story. This is essential and fundamental to everything else.
In YOUR story, you are currently reading these words. Later, when you’re writing fiction, you will not be conveying your story. You will be conveying your characters’ story.
In YOUR story you will be sitting at table or desk or with your keyboard balanced on your lap or on a lap desk. Your fingers will be on the keys, and you’ll be typing letters and punctuation and doing your best to keep up with your characters as you race through the story with them.
In your CHARACTERS’ story, any number of things might be happening. But here’s the real kicker:
You can’t “plan” or “plot” an authentic story. Life simply happens.
Authentic stories unfold in real time as they are lived and experienced.
To convey your characters original, unique, authentic story, don’t plan, and don’t second guess them. What happened happened. The characters may add or subtract details as they go along. That’s perfectly fine. It’s their story, after all.
But remember, you are not a character in the story. You are only the reporter or recorder or typist or stenographer for your characters. As such, if you add or subtract details that you “decide” (conscious, critical mind) should be included or subtracted, you will veer far afield of that unique, original, authentic story.
But don’t the characters and their story ‘live’ in your creative subconscious?
Maybe. Certainly in our limited human judgement, which we jealously guard as being “superior,” they live in our creative subconscious. We certainly access them through our creative subconscious.
Other possibilities are just as plausible. I personally believe when I access my creative subconscious I’m actually opening a window onto another dimension, one in which the characters are going about their lives.
But it doesn’t matter, does it?
Wherever you believe your characters reside—in your creative subconscious, in another dimension, in an alternate universe, or some other place—your two-fold task remains the same:
1. to enjoy and be entertained by their story yourself, and then
2. to convey their story in such a way that others may be entertained by it as well.
So how do you keep yourself out of your characters’ story?
Pay attention to what’s coming in through your creative subconscious.
Put your fingers on the keyboard, then type what you see and hear. Type what happens (in excruciating detail whenever possible) and the characters’ reaction, both what they do and what they say.
Recognize that any fear-based or negative thought (Ooh, that can’t be right; How will they ever get out of this? They can’t do this; No, something’s wrong here; That wouldn’t happen like that; etc.) is from your conscious, critical mind.
If you can, simply ignore it and go on typing.
If you are unable to ignore it, break the connection with the story. Take your fingers off the keyboard, get up, and physically walk away.
As you do, tell your critical mind, aloud if you want, that it has no place in your fiction.
Consider—Your fear-response based, critical mind has no right to embellish or retell anyone else’s story, whether it’s the story of your spouse or parents or more physically distant relatives, the story of your neighbors across the street, or the story of your characters.
You don’t know what will happen next even in your own story (your own life), much less what will happen next in your spouse’s or parents’ or siblings’ or neighbors’ or characters’ lives.
Just let the characters’ story unfold—just as you “let” your own and others’ stories (and lives) unfold—and be there to record it as it does.
More than enough for today. Tomorrow, we begin with a pop quiz. (grin)
Talk with you again then.
See “4 Perennially Misused Words” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/4-perennially-misused-words/.
See “30% Off Sale Ends Tomorrow” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/30-off-sale-ends-tomorrow/. If nothing else, take a look for some great ideas for collection themes.
The Journal…………………………………… 1360 words
Writing of WCG 7 Santa Fe 2 (novel tentative title)
Day 1…… 2190 words. Total words to date…… 2190
Day 2…… 3049 words. Total words to date…… 5239
Day 3…… 2588 words. Total words to date…… 7827
Day 4…… 3373 words. Total words to date…… 11200
Day 5…… 3317 words. Total words to date…… 14517
Day 6…… 3771 words. Total words to date…… 18288
Day 7…… 3102 words. Total words to date…… 21390
Day 8…… 2020 words. Total words to date…… 23410
Day 9…… 1504 words. Total words to date…… 24914
Total fiction words for December……… 41328
Total fiction words for the year………… 256302
Total nonfiction words for December… 14150
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 212230
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 468532
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 70
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. Because It Makes Sense, I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. This greatly increases my productivity and provides the fastest possible ascension along the learning curve of Craft because I get a great deal more practice at actually writing. It will do the same for you if only you trust it.