By Lou Normann
WHERE DO YOU SIT IN YOUR STORY?
Writing fiction is tricky. You, the author, must take on many roles and wear many hats. Think of it as a movie; you are the narrator, the actor, the director, producer, cameraman, grip (whatever that is), and even the sound man at some point. If that isn’t confusing enough, you have to craft a story with a plot, subplot, history, world-building, and all the syntax you can muster and still grab the reader’s interest. Who signed me up for this stuff?
One of the trade tricks for all of us is that we plant ourselves within the story, whether consciously or not. I will explain that last sentence.
When I started writing fiction, I was heavy into short stories. Since I grew up in church, naturally, my short stories always took on the occultist bent. I wasn’t rebellious; I grew up on Twilight Zone and Hitchcock. Anyway, as usual, you write a story, you make copies, and you hand them out to friends and family, so they can tell you how brilliant you are. After handing so many of my short stories to a particular coworker back in the day, she approached me in the breakroom and said, “Rod, why do you have a common theme of death in your stories? That’s weird.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Someone in each of your stories always dies.”
I hadn’t consciously meant to do that, but she was right. Why? Both my parents died when I was two. I didn’t think of it; I didn’t mean to do it, but it was just part of how I wrote.
NO ‘ME’ IN FICTION
I think the hardest part of writing fiction is getting over the fear of exposure. It can be terrifying to put your thoughts on paper. Much of fiction is taking real people and embellishing their defining characteristics until they are more interesting, more horrifying, more saintly, or simply more entertaining. Once you muster up the courage to put your thoughts and feelings into your characters and down on paper you are on your way.”―
When we create our worlds, we put ourselves in there. It’s almost like we’re pulling memoirs into our fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as they say, “all in moderation.” My question on this issue for you is how true to you are you? Not you the character – but you the writer. Can you pull yourself aside and “write outside of me”?
Sometimes we get so close to the characters that we forget. I wrote a series of middle-grade adventures, and the original idea was born from a comment my son shot at me while we were watching The Goonies one night. He was in sixth grade. “You should write a story like that about my friends and me, but here in Tampa.”
“Hmm, ok boy, you’re on.” I did. It became the first in a series of manuscripts that came to life in my head, and I couldn’t stop. After each final edit, we had a ritual. I would read the entire book to him and my wife in one sitting. In one of the books, his character, the action junkie of the quartet of middle graders, was hit by a car. For that character, it was devastating; he couldn’t run anymore. Throughout the rest of the book, he was in a wheelchair, then crutches, then a cane. By the end, it wasn’t certain he’d ever fully recover.
In a scene after the accident where he was in the hospital with his mother, he started crying, telling her, “Mom, I’ll never be able to walk again; this ain’t fair!” and he burst into a wild crying fit.
To my surprise, so did my wife and son right at that moment. I stopped reading, and I looked at them, puzzled. What writer doesn’t want this kind of reaction, but my son screamed out.”How can you do that to me? I’m your only son” as he cried uncontrollably.
His mother soon joined, “That’s not fair, Honey. It’s not fair!”
I put the manuscript down because I couldn’t believe they had taken it so personally. “Uh guys, this is a character in a fiction book, and…”
“No, that’s me! You just hit me with a car!”
I tell you, I will never forget that evening, it was priceless. As a writer, I felt I had just won an award – the “Make Your Wife And Son Cry Because You Hit Him With A Car And He May Never Walk Again In A Middle-Grade Drama Award“… if there is one.
THE DARK SIDE
But you see my point. You (or your family) get invested in the manuscript. But, there’s another side to it; I was raised in the church, as I said before. My parents “raised me right,” as they would say. Writing is supposed to take you away from your real life and plant you dead center in a world of your creation. The universe of fiction, a galaxy we create every day.
Not too long ago, I had a seed of an idea for a story that grew in my head. It started clean enough – but the more I thought about it, I realized I’d never be able to write it. I approached a writer friend and shared the idea with her, asked if she thought she could write it. Weeks later, she shared a few chapters of a dark story that I would never have dared enter. – death, pestilence, murder, vile, filthy stuff – you know – the stuff that turns into best sellers.
The story is now hers to do with as she pleases because after reading those couple of chapters, I had to take a shower. But you see, I couldn’t bring “me” into that story – she went all over the place with it.
The next time you’re sitting at your laptop or desktop – or typewriter – consider the story. Where are you in this story? Anywhere? Do you need to be? Do we want to branch out to different genres or stay with the same type of story, like I realized I was doing with someone always dying?
If we take ourselves out of it, doesn’t that leave us open to writing and discovering new possibilities? Unlike me in that dark tale by Ms. Russell – which I hope she pursues publishing for – venture outside of “me” and let’s see where your imagination takes you. I’ve learned from this and am currently working on a dark tale that I will be shopping out soon.
Lou Normann credits Stan Lee, Rod Serling, and the TV episodes of Colombo as his inspiration for writing. The murder mystery thriller has been in his blood since he can remember. Telling stories came naturally since childhood. It was inevitable that his passion for words and language would turn into novels.
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