Someone commented on a story of mine, recently, that they couldn’t write fiction and I thought, why not?
Anyone can write but not everyone will write a story that every one wants to read. That takes time and practice.
There are no rules in writing but a story, everyone understands, has a beginning, a middle and an end. Now, if you write stories all the time, whether novels or short stories, then you will find yourself asking the question, posed above, by Lev Grossman.
But, you see, every writer will ask themselves that question all the time, if they’re serious about what they’re doing. For a writer, stories never end, they evolve. And then a time comes along when they dress them up, give them a packed lunch and send them out in the world, to fend for themselves.
Kurt Vonnegut is one of the writers I’ve always admired and it was he who first gave me the confidence to write, simply because he said, there are no rules. He did provide eight simple guidelines, though, in a preface to a collection of short stories. He called it ‘Writing 101.’
This is his list.
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Now, while I admire what he says, I wouldn’t follow it like it was gospel and, I believe, Kurt Vonnegut wouldn’t want you to, either.
So, I was thinking about this and could I find a way to help people find their own writing voice?
Say you were to describe something commonplace, maybe a memory, from your childhood, for example, like learning to ride a bicycle. Sit down and do that, remember where you were, describe the bicycle, the day it happened. What was the weather like? Who was there? Did you have someone hold the saddle while you tried to get your balance? If you fell off or crashed, how many times did that happen? What sort of injuries did you have, a scraped knee, elbows? Were you embarrassed? How did you feel, once you’d mastered the balance, the pedalling and the steering and you were steaming away, down the street, on your own pedal power with the wind in your hair and the world flying by, all around you?
So, once you’ve done all that, you’ll have remembered, observed, described, imagined and felt and those are, pretty much, the same tools any writer uses, aside from vocabulary and that you learn from reading. You have to read and not just comic books or magazines in the dentist’s surgery or the latest bestseller. No, you have to go out and make a point of taking a journey through writing, find out how others write.
Now that your cycling experience is written, do something else with it. First, make the story someone else’s. Change all the first person for third person, so ‘I’ becomes ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.
After that, change the tense and tell the story in real time, as it happens. Do all that and believe me, you’re writing.