Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why fiction?

In my last post, I talked about writing what you know. In a similar vein, it helps to write how you know. In the past year, I've had several clients who are terrific experts in their fields, and their book ideas might sell as nonfiction. However, they've made the decision to use those ideas as the basis for novels.

This decision demands that they know how to construct a plot, develop believable characters, write dialogue, and master myriad other large and small details. It's hard, exacting work to craft a novel.

Although nonfiction writing, such as biography, also must be compelling, fiction has to be even more finely drawn, since the reader has no background knowledge of the characters or the events that unfold in the novel.

I suppose there are natural talents out there who can, with no training except years of reading, sit down and crank out a wonderful novel. I have to believe those people are rare. Writing is like any other art; even the greatest painters and musicians studied with someone before venturing out to find a commission or perform their first concert. Or they spent a lot of time with other artists and musicians, working together and honing their skills.

People will accept the idea that painting and music are talents that must be nurtured; they are somewhat less willing to accept that same idea about writing fiction. After all, didn't we all struggle through high school English? Can't we all write? No. At least not at the level required for professionalism. So, if you're serious about wanting a career in fiction, you have to read, read, read, and study with those who have mastered the art. Go to conferences, take classes, join a good critique group. Learn again. And again.

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