Hello, fiction writers! (did ya catch the Stan Lee impersonation?)
I hear you out there, saying, “I haven’t written anything yet! How can I be a writer?”
Good question. But you love writing, so I’m thinking maybe you did write a little something yesterday. No? Shame on you. This leads me to lesson number one.
Lesson number one: Writers write.
They don’t make excuses for why they didn’t write, they don’t blame other people for why they didn’t write, they write. That’s what distinguishes writers from wannabes and posers. We don’t want to be posers, we want to write stories.
Believe me, there are posers out there, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But the way you can tell a real writer is that they are writing. They have works in progress. (note the plural, because unless they’re a complete noob (don’t worry, you won’t be for long), they’ve written more than one story in their lives)
Now you don’t have to write every single day, unlike the advice most give. Sometimes that’s impractical. Even God Almighty took a day off to rest, and since we’re not him we might need more than that sometimes.
But if for you writing becomes the exception and not the norm, then you have to wonder if you’re serious about writing. If you really like it. Because we all do what we like to do.
If it turns out you don’t like writing, don’t beat yourself up about it. Not everyone likes everything. There’s a lot of romanticizing the writer’s life, but most of it is plain work. It’s work that I like, but it’s not for everyone. Go do what you like to do, and leave the writing to those who have a passion for it.
So what to write? This question is akin to the “where do I get ideas?” question so many authors are deluged with. This leads to lesson 2.
Lesson number two: there are no new ideas.
Sorry. You’re about six thousand years too late. They’ve all been taken. You don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at a really good story.
An orphan rises up to help a larger group, aided by a wise older mentor, who may or may not die during the ordeal, then faces his persecutor in the end. Sounds good, right?
A good portion of fantasy novels have this theme. A few of the King Arthur tales. Lord of the Rings. Oliver Twist. Star Wars!
Still not convinced? How about this one?
An ordinary-seeming man has a secret double life, where he has great adventures and saves the world from the bad guys.
Spiderman. Superman. Indiana Jones. Walter Mitty! This is also the basis for the movie True Lies, and (from a woman’s point of view) the television series Alias.
There are no new ideas. It’s all in how you write the story.
But that’s good news, because no one can steal your ideas. They’ve all been done before. Now, they could steal your writing and pass it off as their own, but that’s copyright infringement.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some ideas are more interesting from a marketing standpoint than others. We’ll talk about that later. Right now we are learning to write a story.
So where do unique stories come from?
Lesson number three: your stories are already inside you.
More good news! You don’t have to go looking for stories, because you already have stories inside you. Don’t believe me? Do this little exercise:
Take a pen and paper (or open your word processor) and write down the best memory you have. The most exciting thing that has ever happened to you. Do it right now, write the first thing that pops into your head. There might be a better one in there, but just write that one you already have. Don’t analyze it. This is not a test. Just write it down.
When you’re actually, honestly done, keep reading. Don’t cheat here and read ahead. If you can’t even be honest about your own best memory, you’ll find it difficult to get the emotional depth you need to connect with your readers. When you’re ready to join us, continue.
Now look at what you wrote. There aren’t too many different kinds of things that make people excited. You won something, or found something, or got a special treat. You had a child, or got married, or someone you love got a special honor. You did something important, or exhilarating.
But I bet no two of you wrote the exact same thing. Even though the ideas are the same, the stories are different.
I’ll prove it: post what you wrote about as a comment (you should remove personally identifying details, but post it just as you wrote it otherwise). No cheating and copying someone else’s, or writing what you think you should write. There is no wrong answer.