My first attempt at a novel was a thinly disguised tale of part of my own life. I sent it to an agent who told me it was (a) boring and (b) unbelievable. It was too contrived, she said, to have a novel about families with a central character who was a family researcher, whose mother was the director of a children’s charity and whose father was a genealogist. ‘But it can’t be unbelievable,’ I whined. ‘It’s true!’
‘Truth and fiction are not the same thing,’ she snapped.
I was an experienced writer in other genres – TV drama, non-fiction books, journalism, academic and business reports, and I knew how to structure all of those. But in trying to write fiction I’d made the naïve error of assuming that all the wonderful novels I’d read had somehow flowed, in a perfect storm of creativity, from the authors’ fingertips without the proverbial 99% of perspiration. I had also mistakenly assumed that interesting parts of life can provide stories readymade for fiction. They can’t.
I learned my unpalatable but salutary lesson and my next attempt at fiction was put together around a structured plot and subplots, developed in a story ‘bible’ along with thought-through characters, researched settings and historical content. I wrote a synopsis and three chapters, and ran out of steam. A few years later, friends persuaded me to dig it out and enter it for the Richard and Judy How To Get Published competition. Blood and Water didn’t win, but amazingly it was short-listed from 47,000 entries and (when I’d finished writing it) published by Macmillan New Writing. Two more novels followed.
Since then I’ve written four self help books and become a publisher of fiction and nonfiction books with first Bookshaker and now Rethink Press. Editing and coaching other authors – and taking a post-graduate diploma in teaching Adult Literacy and Creative Writing – honed my understanding of the craft of fiction writing. One day I’ll have the time to put it into practice and write more novels myself!
I was asked to write a weekly online Fiction Writing course for howtowritebetter.net and, over seven months, discovered a massive audience eager for the information. I didn’t want to add to the plentiful material available about developing the creative side, but it seemed that a quick and dirty guide to the craft of writing fiction was something many aspiring novelists and short story writers could use. I restructured the material and Rethink Press published How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss in paperback and Kindle. Creative Content Digital is currently working on an audio version, to be narrated for an international market by the wonderful Lorelei King.
All types of fiction require their writers to address the key elements: story and theme; plot and exposition; character delineation and development; setting and season; climax and anti-climax; action and resolution; not to mention genre, niche and writing style. The book looks at all these in just (but not more than) enough detail and why you need to be aware of them in order to position your work, and present it professionally for publication and the right readership.
Before, though, you even set finger to key, you must take the time to think, to dream, to imagine… Some writers take a year or more to allow their creative juices to bubble around their central story, the lives of their characters and the world they inhabit. This internal development is the first step to creating a strong work of fiction and is not one that can be skipped.