• By: OLM Staff

The Facts About Writing Fiction

A good writer creates a short story or novel based on what he knows – what he has experienced. Something in his past or present state of affairs affects him deeply. The story he writes may be about a person that has made some kind of impact on him – not just a family member or friend but a stranger, as well.

Sometimes, writers see a face and create a character behind that person. For example, a woman I once saw standing at a bus stop interested me. My imagination went into full gear, and out popped a short story. It was called The Powder Case. This story introduced a woman in her eighties, who while applying her makeup in the bathroom, passes out for reasons not told – until the end of the story. The reader may think she has died – until her husband gets to her in time. It is a study in character that expands into themes of love and devotion. There is a fair bit of suspense and irony.

This character was named Mrs. Jilasi. The simple act of seeing this little old lady at the bus stop triggered a story that resonates with readers. When I read it at a writer’s club two months ago, we discussed its impact. How could a piece of fiction be so real, and why did it hold interest for listeners? After much discussion, we concluded the story involved health, a near-tragic incident, relief and love. These are themes that come into everyone’s life sooner or later. These listeners felt emotionally invested in Mrs. Jilasi. They also wanted to hear what the outcome would be and how the plot twists would resolve.

A piece of fiction must include more surprise than predictability, and create believable characters we understand and embrace. We may love or hate these characters, but it is crucial that as character development occurs, we recognize their humanity. They must seem real. We react to their emotions and experiences, even cry, as one listener did during my reading of The Powder Case. This listener empathized with the situation, along with the vanity, anguish and love that defined the actions in the story. She said it was so real. Yet, it was pure fiction.

This can often run a writer into danger. If the novel is about characters or events within a family context, a reader can assume it is biographical in nature; a family member or friend can take the story to be about them. They are right in so far as some aspects of their lives may have provided the story seed.

I have written a story based in a real setting and on a relationship about siblings. Only one element in the story is true; the rest is fiction, formed by a multitude of brain synapses throwing up mental images and emotions that live in a writer. A writer can reinvent reality as real events and people known to him become morphed into a new reality – shaped anew by the mysterious talents and ideas percolating in his brain. Mixed into a boiling pot, these disconnected fragments are formed into a fluid piece of poignant fiction. But here is the real truth: most writers wing it as they write. The characters take on a life of their own as do the events.

Writing is not for control freaks. You have to let it all happen; you are the conduit through which the story is created. You are the stylist and ‘plot chaser’, for often the plot runs away on you, guiding you, and that is magical.

Some writers have no idea how the story will end. The creative thread of words flows to create a tapestry of truths that are all fictional. So, if someone ever tells you he is in the novel you have written, you can reply by saying: “Thank you for inspiring me to mutate you into something you never were or will be with events that never happened or will happen.”

The fact is great fiction confounds; fact and fiction blur into one.