How I Craft Fiction Out of Fact
Writing my current manuscript has been a journey. And like journeys there is a lot of exploring, getting lost, asking for directions, picking a path and figuring out it wasn’t the right way, and finding my way back. I’m still in the middle of it. I mean, I’m currently camped out, looking over where I’ve been, and figuring out where to go next, but I definitely haven’t gotten to the end of this journey yet. I don’t think any writer is really done until it’s in print and it’s no longer possible to change anything. But I can’t tell you that for sure. I’ll let you know when I’ve gotten to that point.
I’m not a planner, at least not for round one of drafting generally. I like to get through one full draft in a short amount of time, like NaNoWriMo style. (If you don’t know what National Novel Writing Month is, check it out here!) Some people call that a zero draft. It’s the first round of charting out a map basically. It’s full of scenes, notes on where I’m going, jumping around if I don’t know how I’m getting there, basically anything that keeps me writing with the characters in the general direction of an end goal, then it’s in there.
It’s never pretty when it’s done. But it’s a first step. And it’s done.
I find it hard to plan something out when I don’t know my characters at all, what they would do, or anything like that, so I need to get to know the whole thing before I start planning.
The next step for me is basically an assessment of what I have, reading through, noting what I like and what needs to change, and then diving into another draft. And doing it all over again. And over and over again.
The first draft I wrote was barely disguised as fiction. It was my life, my friends, my experiences with different names on everything. I wrote it and thought, well that’s good enough, and put it away, on to something new. But that story kept calling me. The emotions tucked inside of my experiences needed to be told and I needed to make that happen.
Since then, I’ve rewritten the entire draft twice, and in between those two entire drafts, I rewrote the first half of it maybe 20 times. It took all that work to get from a first draft where I was basically just rewriting my own story, to the current draft, where I’m telling my emotional story through the life of fictional characters. This particular process has taken me 5 years. I think this is because I’m writing this manuscript from a very deeply personal place. There is a lot of emotion end experience that went into this piece before it was transformed into a work of fiction. That makes the process scary and complicated at times.
For me, starting the process of uncovering the story started when I brought my first chapter into a writing class, and as the teacher talked, my wheels started spinning. I knew I needed to get to know my characters as people on their own, and not as who I want them to be.
How I did that?
Free writing and backstory
This is a creative tool that I love. There’s many different kinds of free writing, but at the base of it all, the goal is to write, and keep writing, without stopping to think or edit, for a set amount of time. Let’s look at the different ways I use free writing.
This is a term coined by Julia Cameron. It’s a journaling tool to help get your brain moving and the creativity flowing. She recommends that you have a journal and write three pages every morning, by hand, stream of consciousness, before getting started with your day. I’ve used this and when I manage to settle into a routine, it’s always helpful to get me grounded, sort out my worries and creative ideas, and get me moving into a brand new day mindfully.
Brain Dump is what my mentor always called the process of literally just writing anything that’s on your mind. I’ve used this to start off a creative process, as a tool in workshops to get everyone settled in. It’s a way to basically clear out space in my mind for whatever creative process I’m about to delve into. It’s basically exactly the same thing as morning pages, but with a sillier name, used at any time of day, and usually I set a timer of 5-10 minutes, instead of a page limit.
Character Focused Free Write
These are a tool that I love to use when writing a story. Getting to know the characters can be a key way to figure out where your story actually needs to go instead of where you want it to go. With this kind of free write, I’ll pick a character and write from their point of view. Sometimes I make a point to write about something that isn’t even a part of the story. This might be something part of fleshing out the backstory, seeing what happened before the story started, what might make this character act the way they do. Sometimes I write a scene that I’m stuck on from the point of view of a supporting character. I had a breakthrough in a scene, and in generally just relearning to like a character, by writing a key scene from their point of view.
Don’t forget, while you have the character in mind, the goal is to keep the pen moving and to not think too hard. You could have your character write a letter to you, to another character, create a scene that can’t happen just to see how two characters interact, or just write whatever comes to mind while thinking about that character. It doesn’t matter how you use it or what you write, you just need to keep writing.
X-Focused Free Write
You can take the character focused free write and turn your focus to whatever you want. Whether it’s a certain place, or a photograph, or a line of poetry, or anything at all. Just start with a focus of some kind and start writing.
In the end, the act writing is what matters.
If you can manage to get your butt in a seat and write something, useable or not, part of a longer story or not, a mindfully crafted piece or a spontaneous explosion of words, the act of writing is what matters.
Do you use free writing as a part of your creative process? If yes, how? If not, what brainstorming tools do you use?
Later next week I’ll be sharing out a post about my experience creating backstory as a way to create distance from my characters and craft the story in a more thoroughly fictional, but authentic, way.