The number of books out there that tell you how to write short stories and novels are extensive. I mean, there are so well meaning English and Literature graduates and PhDs ready and willing to tell you exactly how it’s done. Except they tend to renege on their promise. I will tell you a secret, there ain’t no formula and never was. So save your money and I will try to tell you something of the process.
Back in 2003 I had my university degree. Now I was approximately fifty three, had been in telecommunication since 1972 as a lineman, then cable splicer and then electronic switch technician and then voice and data engineer. By 2001 I was out of work, the great telecom bubble burst and left about half a million of us out of work and most of us would stay out of the industry. Well, I had been writing poetry as a creative outlet (I will admit that my poetry was mediocre at best) and I though I could turn to writing fiction. I mean, what the hell, I was writing great technical pieces, had a reputation of being able to clarify the complicated. I mean, how hard is it to write fiction? God damn hard, let me tell you. It is a whole new ball game in a different stadium. Go figure. Writing is not writing is not writing. Lesson one.
You want to write fiction? Then keep a journal. I started keeping journals, making observations and writing down notes. Why do it? Because you need to observe life in order to write about it, dummy. Lesson number two, life is stranger than fiction. I don’t care how creative you think your are, you literally can”t make up the shit that happens in real life. But guess what, that doesn’t matter. Story telling is not about the most unusual things humans do. All stories share a commonality of human behavior. We often do the expected but for different reasons. You see, that is the irony of life. It’s not so much what we do as the reasons we have for doing it. Oddball behavior is for science fiction and horror genre. The rest of us live our lives in that ironic quiet desperation. That is why you develop the posers of observation. Notice what people wear, what behaviors they indulge, how they speak. This is the job of the writer, an observer of human nature.
So I spent twelve years trying to write fiction. I wrote three novels that will never see the light of day. Why? They such, pure and simple. All those creative writing classes don’t teach you much. Oh sure, you learn about technique but fiction is so much more that technique. Technique is about formula and only authors like Louis D’Amore write formula and it shows. Barf, barf, barf. Well, revelation is upon me, suddenly I can tell a story. How did that happen? I’ll tell you very simply. I started writing essays. I mean, I wrote on economics, history, politics, you name it. The first were dry pieces of white toast. Go and read for yourself, transfers of information with out emotion. Now go and read John Locke or any number of essayists. You know what makes them great? Emotion. Huh? Choice of words. did you ever notice that some words evoke a sense of emotion whereas others are a bit neutral? Think about it. You want to convey information and have people read you, give that information a tint of emotion. Where would Tom Payne be without appealing to the emotions of the patriot and the free man? He gave you information about the evils of the monarchy, but it take emotion to do something about it. Get the picture?
If poetry is controlled emotion, fiction is emotional content. Creativity is about emotion in writing, whether it be non fiction, poetry, of fiction. You will never read this in any book on writing and yet it is obvious as hell. All those Phds in creative writing they they can’t understand the damn process. I am amazed. So, where do you find this emotion? Oh surely you jest. Okay, one of the “inspirations’ for my writing is music. How so? Simple, good music tells a story. Did you know that? Music that is very lyrical, popular songs with a message provide a story, an emotion to build upon. Take Seals and Croft and one of their hits, Summer Breeze. Listen to the song and ask yourself what images does the music conjure up in your imagination? Can you see it? I am a visual person. I can visualize a story as I write. I see it in my mind just as if I were watching some film I produced. That is what imagination does for you. Okay, so you are a “visual” person. the what do you hear, what do you feel, what can you taste or smell? See what I mean? It is this sensory awareness you are trying to convey to the reader.
So I “see” this “film” on my story, now what. If you have read my past fifteen of so stories you will notice that they are unedited. They are raw. I can go back and see that they need revising. Choices or verbs, adjectives, phrasing, dialogue, and the list continues. My wife was upset that I didn’t use the carriage return for dialogue. Standard procedure in writing. Yet, if you are going to get the “story” down, that is unimportant. In fact, it makes more sense in writing no to carriage return after every quote. I want to keep the continuity of the story, so put it all together. It’s the story that counts, not the form. But one of the problems when writing as a visualization is that emotion is lost. there is no actor to convey that emotion. Think of film. what is the importance of the actors? To convey a sense of emotion that would not otherwise be there. So when I start the editing process that lack of emotion will jump out at me and I can correct the copy. See how it works. Of course the more you write and get into such habits the less you need such wholesale revision. This is how one can write well. No need for story boards, extensive outlines, and the rest of the fake crap. Storytelling is a conspicuous and spontaneous process. The two adjectives seem like oxymorons but they aren’t. Stories told according to a formula are stale, unexciting, dull. The conspicuousness is that we deliberately tell stories in a manner that appears new, fresh, uninhibited. Note that last adjective. Mark it well. Any time you use a formula you inhibit the spontaneity of the story. It becomes just another rehash of blah, blah, blah.