I’ve been getting back into writing fiction. I’m currently editing the novella I wrote for my dissertation, and it’s going well. I’m adding and improving and feeling generally good about the process. But I know it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to this point, and it’s often difficult to know where to begin with fiction.
So, I’ve made a list of a few things that I think can help when navigating the world of fiction writing:
Freewriting is a good starting point
One of my longest works in progress started with freewriting. I just sat down in a university lecture one day (before the lecture started) and began writing. I just wrote what came into my head at that point. I didn’t overthink it, I didn’t ask why I was writing this, I just took the thought that was in my head and wrote it onto the page.
I carried this on, and figured out what kind of plot this could lead to, and just went from there. Freewriting isn’t always that simple, but if you’re struggling with an idea, or with writing anything at all, then just freewrite the stuff that comes into your head. That’ll at least give you something to work with.
Take from the world around you
Life is free material. Who needs a book of prompts when you’ve got real life? You might enjoy going to a cafe to write, or know a park that you walk through regularly, and this can become a setting for a story. It might play a major role in a short story or piece of flash fiction, or it might become a scene in a novel.
Take somewhere that you know well and can physically explore, and write a paragraph or two set in that area. Observe it, and while you’re there something might happen that’ll spark an idea.
This doesn’t have to be a place either, there might be an event in your life, or a person that had affected you in some way. You can put this into a story, or recreate it in fiction form if it’s a story you think is worth telling. It might be a situation that you feel only you can write, and it doesn’t have to be semi-autobiographical, it can be fiction based on events unique to your life. Don’t be afraid to mix up the real world with the fictional.
Become your character
Okay, so you’ve got a plot, or a basic idea for a story. What about characters? Sometimes it helps not to distance them but to bring them as close to possible. Think about who they are, or who you want them to be. Try to walk in their shoes and become them before you set out to write them. Pretend they are walking through your home town for the first time, how do they experience this place? What are their thoughts and feelings? How are they different to you, and what would they say to you if you were walking alongside them?
Of course, this depends on what kind of fiction you’re writing and what sort of setting they’ll be navigating anyway, but it helps to get a feel for who they are by putting them in a simple setting and questioning them, working out how they behave, and thinking as they would think. Then you can flesh out their personality and adapt them to whatever setting you want to put them in.
Create a plot plan in the way that works for you
I almost never try and plan my plot from the start. I let the idea and the characters do the talking first, and then once I’ve established roughly what kind of a story I’ve got and where I want it to go, then I make the plot plan.
The plot might alter a few times before I settle on one I’m happy with, but the important part is that I already have a world, a life, a story and family of characters to work with once I’m figuring all this out. Once you’ve got those core elements, you can manipulate them and play with them however you want, and you don’t necessarily need to worry about losing anything or not having enough.
Sometimes I find trying to work the plot out at the start just doesn’t work, because I haven’t got enough space within the story to really develop it. But you’ll know what works best for you, but I just advise getting something down, even if it’s just 1000 words, or a single chapter, before thinking about the finer points of the plot.
Although, what always helps at the beginning stage is to just write a premise, or summary of the idea you’ve got. Not a plot plan, but a paragraph of how you’d explain the story to your friend if they asked what you were writing. Make it as simple and as clear as possible, because most of the time this will give you an idea of what the essence of the story will be.
Just write. Write anything.
Fiction holds many possibilities. You might write flash fiction, short stories, novellas, novels…but the important thing is to write. You might write a few thousand words then realise that the idea would be better contained in a few hundred, or vice versa. But the point is: write. Whatever techniques you want to use, you won’t have anything unless you just write it. And here I come back to free writing, with the additional suggestion of writing prompts or writing workshops. Anything to give you a starting point.
Have fun creating, say hello to your characters for me, and remember that when it comes to fiction, anything can happen.