Writing Fiction Is Hard

portraits 004 (7)by Gale Albright

Writing fiction is hard.

That’s a very subjective statement. Do I mean it is just plain hard, all the time, in all kinds of weather? Do I mean it’s hard for me in general? Am I therefore implying that writing non-fiction is easy?

I mean writing fiction is hard compared to writing essays, journalistic pieces, blog posts, and publicity notices.

It’s not that these other forms of writing are easy.

What I’m really talking about are rules.

Yes, rules. There just aren’t that many rules in writing fiction. Fiction is very subjective.

Journalism and essay writing and blogging are, of course, subjective as well, but they have more rules.

You might say that lack of rules should make writing fiction easier. Your mind is free to run riot. There are no fences to block your imagination. You can roam wide and far in your creative mind and do just about anything you darn well please.

Yes. That’s what makes it hard. Hard for me, of course, since I’m creating a blog/essay here without using any rules to speak of. Except length. Length is a key factor in a blog post. As in, don’t make it very long.

Fiction doesn’t have that problem. You can write gigantic tomes like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. However, if you are writing 100-word short, short, short fiction, then length is a consideration. But again, back to rules. When you write a 100-word piece of fiction, the number one rule is, only write 100 words. That will bring you up short (I like puns and word play, which everyone does not).

Despite tendencies to rebellion in general, I don’t do that well with absolute freedom when it comes to writing. Or anything else, for that matter. I’ve always whined about being subjected to structure, but I’m lost without it. That’s why I’m thankful for deadlines. They impose a structure. Instead of feeling oppressed by deadlines, I feel grateful. I have a clear goal. I have a path to follow. I won’t wander off and get lost in the weeds. With a deadline, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. That doesn’t mean I don’t grouse about it. I’m just a grouser (not a bird).

Journalism has rules. There’s word count based on available space. There’s the old “Who, What, When, Where, and Why,” plus maybe a “How.” Journalism, in the classic newspaper sense, forms stories in the shape of inverted pyramids. You get the most important stuff in the first paragraph, if possible, and sort out the details in order of descending importance. I can do that. I get that upside-down pyramid thing.

Of course, there’s more personal, artistic journalism, such as investigative reporting, in-depth interviews, political coverage, travelogues, etc. These articles are fancier than plain reporting, but they are still reporting about facts. With non-fiction, you have facts.

With fiction, you may not have any facts at all. You may have to make up a whole world full of monsters, or aliens, or talking animals, or zombies, or robots, or who knows what.

The sky is the limit with fiction. And too much sky makes me run for cover.

Some writers argue that fiction really does have rules, lots and lots of rules. But can you prove it? Is it a fact? Or is it just wishful thinking? If I follow X, Y, Z rules, will I be successful as a writer (recognition, big paycheck, personal satisfaction)? For every rule about fiction, you can find another rule that disputes the previous rule. That’s because it’s all made up. Fiction rules aren’t facts. They are usually just good ideas based on empirical, anecdotal evidence and personal experience.

You don’t have to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Of course I don’t. If I could locate and apply the magic rule, I would have Stephen King and J.K. Rowling begging me to give them tips. I’d be rich. I’d be famous. Remember, this is a subjective blog post. I was taught long ago that the way to write an essay is: 1) Tell the reader what you are going to tell her; 2) Tell her; 3) Tell the reader what you just told her. I can do that. I can embrace that structure.

But when I write fiction, I’m alone on an unmanned ship on a storm-tossed sea, trying to steer around the jagged rocks. It’s very scary. Fiction rules can only take you so far.

It’s between you and the ocean.

Disclaimer: This is a totally subjective, personal, meandering essay that doesn’t follow any rules and is neither journalism nor fiction. Perhaps it should be a diary entry. To finish off my treatise (diatribe? unfounded rant? incoherent conjecture?), I will tell you what I already told you at the beginning and the middle. Writing fiction is hard.


4 thoughts on “Writing Fiction Is Hard

  1. All too true! All of it. Every “rule” has notable exceptions. Never start with the weather, except for the bestseers that do. Put the murder up front, except for the very famous works that don’t.

    What a beautiful picture! What library? I’m going to guess Hutto.


    • Hi Kaye. Yes, it’s the Hutto Public Library. I was so thrilled to see it catalogued and sitting up there with the other new books. Just think, people can actually check out our book!!!


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