This week’s writing post is actually an answer to Alistair’s question from last week. Alistair asked:
Because of [writing for role playing games], I have actually had some practice of creating plots and characters. And writing up background. And researching to make it real – even fantasy stuff. People are after all people, no matter where you set them.
But how do you write scenes, and conversations, and work out the point of view from which you will write your story? I’ve had a go a few times in the past, mainly inspired by the story like ‘inserts’ into rpg rules and scenarios (perhaps not the best inspiration) to have something to create mood, etc, for things I hand out in games. And partly with the thought that if I could do that, I could try my hand at writing a short story or novel. But it always seems a load of rubbish when I look at it later. And that is being polite.
So do you have any tips here on how to deal with this issue? Even a pointer to a good book that deals with that particular problem would be helpful.
This question sums up something I struggled with for years. I suspect many other people struggle with it too. In fact I know they do, because I’ve gotten similar questions from many people over the years through email and at Science Fiction Conventions. There are a lot of ways to answer this question, ranging from technical advice about POV and dialogue to transcendental meditation. But I’m going to focus here on what seems to me like the core problem: that frustrating experience of imagining a vivid story but being unable to transform it into words on the page.
Some famous writer once said: “Everybody has a book in them — the trouble is getting it out.” People often treat that saying as a joke, but in my experience it’s true. And it’s especially true among science fiction fans. These are people who have created rich worlds and characters (either by inventing them whole cloth or adapting other peoples’ creations). They make up stories. They daydream. They fantasize. They continue to exercise their imaginations in ways that most normal people crush out of themselves sometime in grade school. Many of them are also highly educated and articulate in their real world lives. And yet when these imaginative, educated, articulate people try their hand at writing down the stories in their heads … they often end up stalled and frustrated.
I’ve been there. Twenty years ago I was a science fiction fan with an avid imagination and no idea how to turn it into written stories. And now I go into my office and sit down every morning to write stories for a living. Nothing changed in me. I didn’t get smarter or more creative or more confident (trust me on that one). I just sort of stumbled along trying different things until I worked out a practical system that lets me get stories out of my head and onto the page without losing too much in translation. So let me share my stumblings with you — that way you’ll know where I’m coming from — and then I’ll try to describe what’s worked for me so that you can avoid my mistakes and hopefully speed up the learning process. [Read more...]