The Advice That Saved My Fiction Writing

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Fiction writing is like any other art form. It takes practice, perseverance, and technique to create the best version of the work. Without honing the craft and embracing innovative ideas it’d be difficult to grow as an author and create stories that live up to their full potential.

The world I built (and am still building) for my book series started back in 2012 when I was in college. I wrote the first piece of my world’s history in a creative fiction writing class. The next semester, during a different fiction writing class, I learned the hard techniques that would eventually bring me success in creating my story.

My only mistake was not implementing them sooner.

This first technique in particular took a lot of discipline to instill, and I’d be lying if I said I followed it one-hundred percent of the time still, but it’s the one that has had the most impact on furthering my story. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking and it’s something that most writers stress important.

My creative fiction writing professor challenged us to write for 2 hours every single day of the week, except for Sunday. Period. Whether it was rereading, editing, or actual writing she explained that to be a successful writer you needed to write everyday. If you’ve been to college you probably understand why 2 hours per day felt impossible at the time. For me this was one class out of five, on top of three part-time jobs! Forget about having a social life. I lodged the advice but didn’t follow it while in school nor for over three years after.

The first few years of working on my series I found myself picking up the project everyday for a few weeks and then putting it down for a few months. The cycle was vicious. There’s a lot I got done in those weeks of “on” time but the problem came from spending way too much time re-familiarizing myself with all I’d previously written. A lot of potentially-productive hours were sucked away. It was slow building, finding the time work on my story everyday, but when I finally did my writing progress flipped enormously.

This leads me to the next problem I encountered –

In the early years of my writing I focused mainly on general backstory, on history and the creatures and people present, on the magic system, on the Gods and the veil and Aurora. I didn’t focus much on individual characters, at least not more than my main circle and even they weren’t crazy in depth. When I finally sat down to begin the story I found myself at a loss, at a roadblock. My work was choppy, the dialogue flat. I couldn’t figure out how to get through the action that needed to happen in the first 5 chapters.

The second technique my professor stressed dealt with characters. Characters bring readers into your world, engaging them in the story and without them there wouldn’t be much to tell. What my professor explained to us, that didn’t quite make sense at the time, was that your characters will write themselves. In greater detail she insisted that as we learned about our character’s needs and wants the story would reveal itself. Our characters would begin speaking for themselves, leading us, the writer, through the scenes and the plot and to the ending. It was a hard concept to grasp because I knew that ultimately I was still the one inventing the story and doing the writing – so how could that work? I tried to plan out the story, like I plan my life, and it failed.

I chose to try this advice after I hit the above mentioned roadblock. I fleshed out as much detail as I could about my main and supporting characters and families, giving them history in the world, and it’s made all the difference in fitting the pieces together. I’m still working on character profiles (which take an inordinate amount of time to create) but the progress I’ve made in my work just from following this simple advice astounds me.

It’s wild how a world opens up the more knowledge you have of its history and the more often you work on it. Pieces click together. Problematic sequences fix themselves. Fresh ideas generate effortlessly and scenes seamlessly weave together. The more growth you see the more you want to work.

The last little tip I’ll never forget from my professor, and that I’ll hope my series does to me at the end, is this: if your story doesn’t surprise you then it won’t surprise anyone else. 

Here’s to seeing how it all turns out.

Yours for Happy Writing,

Lady Jenji

 

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