Do you want to write fiction? Come along and take a ride with me, the No MFA man.
1) Think of a thing. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. The thing can be the color green or the way that people are cynical or what honey tastes like or anything in between or outside of those three things. I already said it doesn’t matter.
2) Spend a while thinking about the thing. You can do this in text or in your head. Try to figure out what is compelling about the thing from step 1.
3) If you wrote down your thoughts from step 2 in the format of a story or novel, erase everything you wrote.
No, really. Those are just thoughts. This post is called “how to write fiction,” not “how to do tumblr.”
4) Once you know why you are interested in the thing from step 1, start writing. Start with a character. Probably someone interesting. Probably this person shouldn’t be you. You are probably not an interesting person (this isn’t a dig, I’m boring AF. No one wants to read a story about me).
5) Make the character from step 4 interact with at least one other character. Give your character interests and thoughts of his/her own. Make sure the character wants something. It doesn’t matter what the thing the character wants is.
6) Make the character do stuff. If your character is sitting around thinking the thoughts you had in step 2, get that character out into the world. Make the character go through stuff to get what s/he wants.
7) Finish writing this first draft of the story. Write to an endpoint where things are resolved (the character does or does not get what s/he wants, things happen along the way, it all sort of fits together). Cool. Put it away for a day or two days or a week. Don’t look at it.
8) After a day or two days or a week has passed, look at what you wrote. Read it all the way through. Ask yourself the question, “if someone in a bar told me this story, would I care?” If the answer is yes, great job! That means you’re probably already an accomplished writer. If the answer is “maybe not,” figure out why. What is being risked in your story? Does your character go through enough things? Does enough happen? What are the consequences for your character if s/he does not get what what s/he wants?
9) Think about plot. Plot is three things. Make sure your plot has these three things:
Exposition: The basics of the situation at the start of the story. (e.g. A divorced man works in a shoe store and hates his job. He dreams of being the president of his local Elks club).
Development: The change the occurs in the story. “...and then something happened!” (in a lot of great stories, this is in the first sentence, or the first paragraph. It should probably be, at minimum, on the first page). (e.g. The divorced man decides to assassinate the sitting president of the local Elks club).
Drama: The reckoning that follows the development, logistically, emotionally, etc. Most fiction lives in this part of the plot. (e.g. The assassination is witnessed by a young, female child, and the divorced man decides to kidnap (rather than murder) her. He raises her as his own child for 17 years and turns himself in after she graduates college.)
10) Re-write the thing you wrote.
11) Repeat steps 6-10 a lot of times. Sometimes you may like a character and decide to start over from step 1 with that character, forgoing everything else. That’s good! There is no such thing as a “sunk cost” in writing. Do not be afraid to change everything. You made it up. You can also make up other things.
12) When you feel like you are done, ask some friends to read the thing you wrote. Be prepared for them to tell you stuff about it. Some of the stuff they tell you will be very useful. Some of it will be less useful. That’s okay! Take their feedback into consideration and repeat step 10 until you’re sure you have it.
Do not do this step until you’ve done steps 1-11 first.
Here is why; working and re-working a thing will help you see its flaws. Often, a person writes a thing and is tempted to share it with world immediately. The person is still in the “this is done, I’m the greatest!”-high of step 7, and may be unable to process feedback. Sharing undercooked work with people is a surefire way to have your ego and/or feelings hurt.
13) When you are done-done, submit the story (or book) for publication. If anyone cares, I can write about that. But I won’t right now.
“But Chid,” you may say, “I can’t think of a thing!” That’s fine and okay. Sometimes that happens. I will occasionally start with a plot instead of a thing. The plot example I used in step 9 up above was improvised. That might work as a plot for a thing (probably not, but who knows! The best plots are often very, very stupid—stupid plots surprise readers—readers like surprises).
Most real writing happens in revision. Revision is the act of discovery. Of finding threads you threw together haphazardly in the early drafts, and tugging on them and thinking about why they’re interesting, how they could be more interesting, and why they matter.
Be free with your first draft. It never matters. Write whatever dumb, weird bullshit you want. I one time wrote a first draft of a story that was 2.5 pages and ended with the sentence, “She went into finance.” That was a terrible story! My writing group still makes fun of that first draft. But the eventual, final version of that story was published! That story became the basis of a novel! SOMETIMES THINGS ARE GOOD.
chid is a giant piece of shit who slept through public school and only read 4 books before college. he smells bad and he’s not even very smart. if he can be a successful writer, you can too!