As most of you know that have read this blog in the past, I write. I do part time freelance non-fiction writing in addition to my day job and I write fiction and poetry. I have been writing for several years now and I am still working on getting my fiction published. I am by no means an “expert.” This is meant to be the first of a series of Sunday discussions on writing fiction and poetry. Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments and I will respond.
I can come up with ideas that might start stories quite easily. I am one of those people who can come up with hundreds of uses for a paper clip on the creativity test. Some of the uses will be practical, some obscene, some silly, but coming up with uses is not a problem. But just envisioning a good idea for a story is not enough. The idea may be the impetus for the story, but there has to be at least a main character, a setting, a conflict, and a reasonable plot.
I enjoy writing characters. I like people and most of my fiction is very character driven. Plotting is difficult for me. I recently read on a forum a comment from a woman who said she didn’t like short stories because she found them unsatisfying. The story would be going along and engaging and then in her opinion all too frequently the short story would simply end. I critique other people’s fiction in a few different writing groups and often I read stories where the world the story is set in is quite fascinating and the characters are interesting but nothing really happens. In my opinion both what the woman on the forum was describing and my experience in the stories that I have critted represent plot failures.
A long time ago Aristotle described stories as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories are episodic. Novels are too for that matter, they just happen to have more room to expand, have a greater cast of characters, and more subplots. One of the problems that I run into in writing my fiction is that I don’t always have a clear end in sight when I start a story, even though as Aristotle pointed out stories require a beginning, a middle, and an end. Also, often I will have an idea for a story that is character driven and only after the first draft is written can I see that it is an internal, character driven story, with a beginning, a climax, and an end. On the second revision of a story of this type, I have to rewrite the story to make those plot points stronger or the story doesn’t feel like a story, it feels more like a character sketch. Fiction is meant to be entertaining and working on making the experience satisfying for the reader is tantamount. Stories that feel like character sketches or feel incomplete in my opinion are just not satisfying reads.
At present I am writing a story that is an action driven story with political intrigue. My initial idea for the story was nothing more than a scene. At first, I saw this scene as the beginning of the story. I began brainstorming around this scene and what its significance could be. This lead me to two weeks of lots of free floating thoughts and little real plot. I shifted my focus and made the scene be the climax and near the end of the story. I began engineering backwards, suddenly a plot emerged. I still had to think of the whole of the story in Aristotleian terms and consider what the first act, second act, climax, and resolution would be. I had to think of turning points for the story, both internal to the main character turning points and external to the action turning points, that the story would logically progress through, but I was no longer in the fog of amorphous brainstorming. I am beginning to think that knowing and starting from the endpoint of a story or novel is more important that simply having a good central idea or stunning character.
What do you think?