Writing Fiction: How to Begin

1. Creativity is only the first step

Every good piece of fiction (be it a short story, a poem, experimental hypertext, interpretive dance script, whatever) needs a driving idea. What it comes down to is the point of the story: why should the reader care?

Most writers focus on this stage of the writing process, spending all their energy trying to come up with a compelling, original idea for their story. A strong idea is not enough to carry a story by itself. Spend some time focusing on the craft of the story, not just the ideas inside it.

2. Originality and inspiration are buzzwords

Aristotle said there are only seven kinds of plots that can ever exist. 60 years ago, Joseph Campbell claimed there is only one. What does that mean for the average writer? Don’t worry about being original.

Like a moment in a novel or a movie? Take it shamelessly. If story theft was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for anyone. A well-executed story matters more than a failed attempt to seem fresh and new.

Inspiration? It exists, certainly, but it is not a requirement to write good prose or poetry. Not every story will have deep personal significance. Waiting around for inspiration is a quick way to find yourself staring at a blank word document, the cursor blinking in accusatory metronome.

3. Fiction writing is a craft

Fiction writing is something learned over time. It requires practice, practice, practice. Expertise is the result of hard work. And, conversely, natural talent is no guarantee of success. Professional athletes workout for hours and hours just to maintain their abilities. Writing is the same way. If you never write, your skills will atrophy, and whatever talent you have won’t matter. Practice your craft.


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