The above seems like an obvious statement, but as a non-fiction writer who now tries her hand at fiction, it has taken me an awful lot of time to realise it.
How hard can it be to write a fiction story? You just invent something and write it down. Well, it didn’t work like that for me.
After writing two books about architecture and two travelogues, I wanted to write more books. Having had some weird things happening to me while I lived in England, I decided that a series of shorter books, novellas, based on my time in York, was the way to go. However, I didn’t want the books to be travelogues, like before, but fictional stories.
I came up with the story of rats invading the back garden of my main character Emily, much like my own back garden had been invaded by them. I wanted it to be more over the top, though, so I invented parts of story. To me that felt like real fiction.
My beta-readers disagreed. They liked the idea, but felt something was missing. And so did I actually, when I looked at it from a reader’s point of view. So, I added a fictional neighbour with who Emily gets into a fight about the rats. I added action and still more over the top story lines and the rats became main characters in their own right.
All this was a huge step forward, but to me it still didn’t feel right. I was now six months further down the line and it had dawned on me that the series, instead of being about Emily, was more about her neighbourhood, with different people taking on the role of main character in the different books.
And like creating backstories for my main characters to make them real, I also had to create that neighbourhood. However much I could vividly remember myself living in that neighbourhood, it wasn’t the same place! Maybe it looked like it, but it was fictional, not real and I could make it any way I wanted.
That penny finally dropped yesterday. Now I have the task to invent a neighbourhood that feels real, but isn’t. I have to forget about where I lived before and just make it up! And that is a lot of fun. Like my fellow author Des Birch said on Facebook the other day, ‘What unique pleasures we authors invent for ourselves’.
It might feel like I wasted a lot of time over the past seven months, but it is now clear to me that it was a process I needed to work through to come up with the best result. I am sure that with what I learned, I can write the next books much faster and better.
Related blog post: Making My Characters Real
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