How to make fiction

If someone asks me, “I want to start writing but I don’t know how”, this is what I tell them.

Diagnosis: check why you want to write. This is an important motivational factor. There needs to be an internal pressure, a yearning to create or a need for self-expression. External pressures (money, fame or just to show someone you can) are good, but you will need the internal desire to really boost your rocket fuel.

Overcome your initial fears by starting free-form writing practice, doing exercises and collecting ideas in a box. You will need a notebook, pen and maybe a shoebox. Write on a computer if you prefer but the physical reality of notebook is very comforting. Write regularly and warm yourself up nicely.

Edge gently towards the subject or style or genre which keeps drawing you back. What you are reading is a good clue. If you’re not reading but watching endless movies and deconstructing them, you might be thinking of writing a screenplay. Are you a poet? A mystery writer? A short story writer? Is it autobiography you want to write? Explore the possibilities.

Read lots of books about writing. Read lots of fiction of the style and type you enjoy and read outside the subject just to stop yourself getting blinkered.

Find an idea: a situation, a character or a theme that really excites you. You want something that makes you breathless with possibility. Fall in love with your idea. You need to adore it because you are going to be married to it.

Begin to work in an informal way, perhaps in your notebook or using some of the Writer’s Café tools, on the following areas:

  • Characters and their back-story: what are their goals, flaws, and potential for change?
  • Setting – where will all this happen and what is that place like?
  • What might happen? Ask yourself ‘what do I want to happen?’ and give yourself lots and lots of goes at this.

Brainstorm out and record potential scenes. Or just use a regular piece of paper. For example: the scene where David confronts his father about his mother’s departure; the shoot-out in the ice cream parlour; the embarrassing dinner party with Cousin Lulu. These don’t have to be put in any particular order. This is your writing larder. Try and overstock it. If you have more scenes than you need, so much the better. You can pick out the best ones later.

If you have Writer’s Café, arrange scenes on storylines. Fiddle with them until you have your perfect outline. Suddenly you’ll find your plot is coming into focus.

Then you can write up each scene, digressing where necessary when better solutions come to you. This will give you a first draft. Or you can export your outline into your favourite word processor and work on each scene in there. Remember you don’t have to start with scene one and work through in order. You are like a movie director. You can shoot your scenes in the order that comes to you. If you want to write the end first, do that. Find what works for you and remember there are no rules. Just keep writing and don’t criticize yourself either. That comes later.

Wow, well done! You have a first draft.