I try to write every day. And while I gladly sit down most days to fill journal pages, dreaming up plans or composing love letters to landscapes I have known, fiction has been a genre that stumps me. Make it up as I go along? That’s where my writer’s block becomes a wall that becomes a barricade. I can’t make this stuff up.
So, I’ve been looking for ways into fiction. I’ve been playing around with short descriptions of scenes and I drafted a story earlier this spring. I had 5 requirements for myself:
- It had to be fiction.
- It had to be in third person.
- It had to have a plot.
- There couldn’t be mountains.
- There had to be some bad behaviour.
It was a good challenge. Once I got started – prodded into action by noticing a cat walking across frost on our garage roof – the writing became incredibly freeing. These people weren’t real, so they couldn’t come and tell me that I remembered it wrong, or missed the most important part, or didn’t portray them fairly. Or when they did, it was all in the relative privacy of my own head. I felt a huge lift of responsibility in the creation of the story. I could change details to become telling details instead of accurate ones. It’s a work in progress, but I’m glad to say it remains a fiction.
Pulling characters, emotions, and critical moments out of thin air is a mystery to me. How do we call characters into being and breathe life into them? How do we not only describe their outer appearances so our readers might recognize them, but also populate their inner worlds to give them the weight of existence? How do we convey that they want different things from the same encounter? How do we say just enough to provide the outlines of what we want to draw, leaving the rest to our readers’ imaginations? In an attempt to answer these questions, I came up with another avenue into fiction. I tried it out today on a willing group of guinea pigs, aka the Angles writing workshop.
I won’t go into too much detail of what we did, but here’s a peek at some of the materials we used.
I played along with my own activity, I always try to. It was a good way to force me to draft something that met those 5 requirements I mentioned above. Not quite sure I managed a plot, but the seeds are there. The best part, though, was hearing the other participants’ pieces. This group is primarily fiction writers, so they were on familiar ground. It was exciting to see stories rising from the bones of the activity. I’m hoping I’ll get to find out what happens next, or what happened first, and where these starts will finish and how they will get there.
As for my own scribbles from today, I managed to break all the rules that I set, fall into all the traps I was hoping to get the writers to avoid. But at least I think I know what tripped me up on my way down! Awareness is, if not everything, a great place to start. I’ll refine and focus the activity for an upcoming Writing Circle. Maybe you’ll join me?