Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing Lesson #1: Fiction Is Not Real Life

I've been running a series of posts on my blog over the last few weeks dealing with the lessons I've learned about writing over a lifetime of practice. These posts have been popular, and seem to be relevant to this blog about writing, so I am going to adapt them to share with you.

I'm going to start at the beginning.

I wrote a lot of stories when I was a child. In fact, I was writing stories all the time. As soon as I learned to read, and write, this is pretty much what I spent most of my free time doing. I created characters. I drew pictures of them, I made up family histories, personality traits, the whole deal.

I was about ten when I decided I wanted to be a published writer. Not long after that, I decided to write my first full length novel. It was written in longhand, in pencil, in the back of school exercise books. The concept of ‘redrafting’ was alien to me then, so I just wrote it as it occurred to me and never changed a word.

It was about a girl who accidently encountered a witch’s spell that turned her invisible. With the help of her older sister, she tried to find the spell that would make her visible again, while the two of them worked at disguising her invisibility with make-up, wig, and so on so that she could live her life without anyone noticing she was invisible. I gave this whole deal a lot of thought. My character rinsed her mouth out with red food colouring and put whitener on her teeth so that her mouth appeared visible.

I also remember – very clearly – at that age, whenever I read a book, I would imagine the characters as real people. And it used to bug me that nobody ever brushed their teeth or went to the bathroom or did any of the ordinary things that real people do. So in my first novel, my main character (I seem to remember her name was Joanne) got up every morning, got dressed, had breakfast, went to school and so on.

I was 11 years old, and knew nothing about writing. But in writing this first novel, "The Invisible Girl" I learned Lesson Number One. Characters in novels don't do all the ordinary things that real people do because they are boring to read about. A story should only include scenes that move the plot along in some way, or reveal character.

That novel is still chained up in the attic somewhere, never again to see the light of day. It remains a clunking, lumbering horror. But what I learned from the experience of writing will always be worth far more than the words on the page will be.

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