What does it take to write a piece of fiction? You have to start with something. You could start with a person, or perhaps a place, or an object. A noun. Do you need to have an idea of what you want to be writing about? Well… it often seems that a lot of things that get written have some central idea or thesis that’s being explored. Some sort of forward momentum that’s being followed. And I think I’ve been a little lacking in forward momentum lately, because I’ve been analyzing everything to death and not putting anything forward.
Well, okay. Let’s step into the cannon and fire. What do we get? We get… a person. What’s interesting about the person? He doesn’t fit in? Oh, boo-fucking-hoo. Nobody fits in. Okay, so maybe we shouldn’t start with a person. Maybe we should start with a place. What place should we start with? Should I use Singapore, because it’s where I grew up? I don’t feel comfortable using the past, because that requires research and consistency. I either have to use my conception of the present, or conceive of some sort of future. Or create some sort of fantasy context, but world-building is a lot of work and I don’t really feel like doing that unless I have a really good reason to do it. And so I’m always looking for that “really good reason”.
I’m thinking now about the movie Gattaca, and how it was simple and well-executed. I found myself wishing that it would do a lot more, but I realize what made it effective is how it was willing and able to really execute on a single central idea, and support it and follow through with it. It tied together a man’s yearning and his social/familial frustrations with scientific development.
I think there’s something there. The point is that there’s always a human story of tension and conflict. This is what I’ve always struggled with in my fiction, every time I tried to write something I would write my characters without enough conflict in them. But let’s go through say, Pixar films. The robot that falls in love with a robot prettier than him. The man who loses his wife and struggles to go on. What’s MY story? Has it been told? Does it have to be autobiographical in order to work? Am I overthinking this– yes, but how do I get past it and start writing? Once upon a time, there was this guy. Every day, this guy would go about his life. Until one day, he couldn’t, because something bad happened. Now he’s in a bit of a pickle. His usual approach doesn’t work anymore. He’s scared and frustrated and he needs to figure a way out. Finally, desperate, he does the unthinkable– he reaches out to somebody he hates. Or he throws himself into a pursuit that he’s unfamiliar with. Some sort of struggle.
But goddamnit isn’t that so predictable? Hush. Don’t knock it till you’ve done it, Visa. Make it happen. If it’s so simple, do it and see how it looks from the outside. Stop criticizing things before they even get a chance to breathe. There will be things that you haven’t thought of yet, things that you’re not familiar with. Stop trying to write what you think the world needs, write what is on your mind.
What IS on my mind? I suppose I’ve been thinking about writing a story about a student and her teacher and their illicit relationship. But do I really want to write that or… oh my god, I can’t believe myself. Simplify. Just write. Stop thinking about what the world should read. Who do you think is the most interesting character in the world? Who? Which is the most interesting character in a movie or book or whatever?
I… don’t have anybody. I’m thinking of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, that’s just who’s coming to mind, but I’m not sure that’s a great candidate. I suppose I should… externalize my geeky conversations into characters and see what those characters are like. Should I put them in some context? Should it be fantastical? No… I don’t know. Should I go to writing prompts? Maybe I should go to writing prompts. I just went to writing prompts. I didn’t see anything interesting. Le sigh. What does interesting even mean. Where do writers begin. Why am I asking such basic questions. I Googled “how to write fiction” and in scrolling encountered a Hemingway’s name, which triggered the thought “just write the truest sentence you know”. I suppose I could and should start with that. What are some true sentences? “Life is BEYOND unfair.” That could be expanded. Okay, let’s list sentences to expand.
“You will never be enough.”
“You don’t actually want what you think you want, you just enjoy wanting it.”
“Nobody cares about your bullshit until you make it a big deal.”
“They say characters must have motivations, but I don’t have any. Does that make me a shallow character? Why is it that characters in books have more personality than I do? Is it because the authors love their characters more than I love myself?”
“We’re all just clowns amusing ourselves silly while staring into the abyss. We’re all quite mad, and quite reasonably so.”
“I keep trying to forgive myself, but I keep failing, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m not trying hard enough or because I’m just really unforgiving.”
“There are millions of us living lives of quiet desperation, and we’re all waiting anxiously for something to happen. Something to shake us up. Something to give us permission to break free. Who would Abraham Lincoln have been, who would Winston Churchill have been, if not for the grand challenges of their times? It seems simply too selfish to break dramatically from a somewhat calm, peaceful, idyllic life. Sometimes I wish I would be struck with madness. Our mediocrity is our great anesthetic.”
“I am tired, so utterly tired of reading what somebody else had to say. I’d much rather know what’s inside of me. I want to know what I’ve been carrying within me for millennia. It seems like that would be a voyage worth undertaking, but every time I begin the trip I find that the lands are bare, stripped clean. I know that there are universes within me, but their denizens hide upon my arrival– out of fear or shame I cannot say.”