Saturday, February 1, 2014

On Writing True Fiction

For years, ever since the first writing workshop I conducted, I've called the kind of writing I do "True Fiction."

What does that mean exactly? It's the kind of fiction in which the character—or the muse via the characters—dictates the course of the story, as opposed to fiction in which the plot is carefully outlined according to formulaic rules. It's literary fiction vs. genre fiction. It's seat-of-the pants writing, character driven rather than plot driven. 

So why do I call it true. It's because I write to learn the truth—about a given issue, about life, and about myself and what I really believe, and about what is important.

Others have described this kind of writing in their own terms, and a host of writers employ it. The late Tony Hillerman once said in an interview that he does not outline his books. He tried it, but it never worked for him. His characters had their own ideas of how the story should go.

And that's how they are, in true fiction. Once you are in the heart and mind of your story's characters, they will tell you if you're not telling the truth about them—about what they would do, think, or feel. And that's what makes writing so much of an exciting adventure.

Ann Lamott said "You make up your characters, partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up."

And it works like magic, as long as you, as Ann Lamott says, "don't pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don't. Stay open to them."

It's what Jon Gardner was talking about when he said, "Art is as original and important as it is precisely because it does not start out with a clear knowledge of what it means to say. Out of the artist's imagination, as out of nature's inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another."

"The writer," Gardner says, "asks himself at every step, 'Would she really say that?' or 'Would he really throw the shoe?'"

Wallace Stegner declared, "It is fiction as truth that I am concered with."

Oakley Hall claims that "Truth, not fact, is the business of fiction."

And as I write my stories from the characters' perspectives, I agree. It is the best way I know to learn and convey the truth of what it is really like to face the serious and difficult issues that challenge the human spirit.

In my workshops on "Writing True Fiction" I will show you that you, too, can write fiction from a character's perspective.

Have ideas—will travel