My current book project is really keeping me at the keyboard these days. It’s a good thing the weather hasn’t been all that great for doing stuff outside, as I’ve still got a long slog through the rest of December and January to wrap this up and I don’t need too many distractions. This book is my first work of fiction after seven non-fiction books, and I’m enjoying the process, though it is certainly different than writing how-to books, guidebooks or first-person narratives like my previous works.
For one thing, with fiction there are infinite possibilities with regard to the scenes within the storyline and how they play out. I know that some novelists prefer to chart everything out in a detailed outline, knowing exactly where they are going with the story before they actually start writing it, then filling in the details with the narrative and character dialogue. But I’ve tried that approach in the past and found it too restrictive, as it forces characters to behave in a certain way to lead them to the carefully-planned outcome and takes away any sense of realness they may have.
For me, the most interesting aspect of fiction writing is discovering as I write how the characters I’ve created can actually take on a life of their own when dropped into an interesting situation, and how they can lead the plot off in directions I never imagined. This sort of situation-driven plot feels like the most natural way to write a novel to me, and every day as I work on it something new presents itself that further reshapes the story.
Stephen King talks about this style of writing a lot in one of his few non-fiction works: On Writing, a fantastic little book which I consider to be one of the best out there on the craft of writing fiction. King specializes in these stories based on situation, saying that he believes stories are “found things, like fossils in the ground” and that it’s the writer’s job to use his tools to uncover them. He starts with putting one or a group of characters in a situation, then lets them do things their way. And Just because the plot is not all worked out in advance does not mean that they cannot become complex and multi-layered, as anyone who has read some of Stephen King’s longer novels knows.
At 100,000 words, this novel I’m working on now will be relatively short compared to some of those typical King novels, but as soon as I started on it I realized it had the potential to lead to second book, and possibly a series. We’ll see where that goes after the first one is published – scheduled for this coming summer.