I have so far made three attempts to compose a work of fiction. Four, if you count that one I worked on for a couple of weeks in 2013 and then quickly abandoned. All of them were set either on another planet or in some kind of alternate reality, and I didn’t finish any of them. This particular genre is evidently a lot more difficult to write in than most people realize. It helps to adhere to a few guidelines of some type or another.
In addition to Kurt Vonnegut’s ever-useful eight rules of short story writing which I elaborated on earlier, I’d like to add two other rules of my own that I’m presently applying to my fourth (fifth?) literary attempt. The more practical writing experience I get, the more I realize how important these guidelines are. Especially in the speculative fiction genres, where the temptation is always there to go nuts with the worldbuilding.
The stated goal of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is to compose a novel of fifty thousand words or more in the thirty days that comprise the month of November. I only managed about a tenth of that word count, and it’s more like a lone chapter than a complete novel. If I was unemployed and it wasn’t winter, this would be a lot easier. The majority of my writing is done in the morning, and ’tis the season when I necessarily must give up about twenty minutes of precious writing time to scrape off that small glacier on the windshield that formed the night before. Considerably more words were committed to the sheet on those days when I didn’t have to worry about putting on pants or leaving the house, but I only get two such days a week.
On precisely one of those thirty mornings, Black Betty’s keyboard mysteriously stopped working. Found myself having to spend a good chunk of what should’ve been a semi-productive writing session reinstalling the driver (a process which requires at least one reboot), logging in using her hitherto-never-used onscreen keyboard. Managed to fix the problem in the end, but somewhere along the way I learned I’d never want to write a whole novel using that onscreen keyboard. At least not on a device that has no touchscreen. Even with one of those newfangled touchpads that recognizes all the usual tablet gestures, you’re still pretty much forced to hunt and peck.
So I didn’t get anywhere near the prescribed fifty thousand words. No big whoop. They don’t hand out prizes for this thing; it’s not like I would have won a billion dollars had I surpassed the threshold. I certainly don’t consider this NaNoWriMo experience a failure, for what I did produce that month is something I can continue to plod away at for months to come. It’s the beginnings of something like a parallel story to my previous work in progress, set in the same universe. With several characters and plot devices tweaked. A different narrative point of view as well. Which I’ll elaborate on later.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote down a list of guidelines he personally abided by when writing short stories. I’m trying to keep them in mind with the NaNoWriMo yarn, even though the finished product will presumably be a novel rather than a short story. Brevity is a particular quality in fiction-writing I’m striving to improve upon.
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.