In the blogosphere there are wonderful blogs, which discuss what fiction writing is, along with do’s and don’ts of telling stories. But if you’re just starting out writing, it may be helpful to clear up some beginner myths. Here’s three myths, I’m quashing for you.
1. If You don’t like Highbrow Literature, You’re not a Writer
I used think I didn’t ‘get’ poetry. I remember sitting in my sophomore English class reading Robert Frost. Wow. This guy is really smart and I am very stupid. I just didn’t get it. But I wasn’t alone in that room. All of my classmates tried desperately not to fall asleep, as our teacher droned on and on about snowy evenings. So I came away from this, hating poetry. This must be for smart people.
But I was wrong.
There’s something out there for everyone
It took me a decade before I ever voluntarily picked up a book of poetry. I was certain I wouldn’t enjoy it, but peer pressure does work. Everyone I knew talked about how wonderful this female poet was. I figured it was worth one painful read through. It was a best of Maya Angelou book.
You want to learn how to tell a story? Read her. I’m not talking about her often quoted poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman” or “Still I rise”. My favorite is “They Went Home.” You can read it here. Before Maya, I never knew poetry could be sexy or heartbreaking.
I learned you don’t say “I can’t write,” because you’ve read one way of doing things. You’ve got to read a lot of different things, fiction, non-fiction, genre, literary. Even after that it’ll only represent one percent of the landscape, but it’ll be enough to imagine the possibilities of what kind of story you can add to the world.
2. No One likes My Story.
I used to send a novel to agents. They always requested to read the full story. This was a good sign. After reading the full story, they always said no. That was a bad sign. No matter how much I banged my head against the keyboard, I couldn’t figure out why. So I shelved the novel and came back to it a few years later, once I had a few short stories published. I thought I could tweak it and send it out again. Wrong. Here’s the cliff notes version of the story. A girl’s father dies and the mother remarries. The stepfather moves them across the country. Their home is burglarized. THE END.
That’s not a story, that’s a really, really simple outline.
Writing a story is more than just writing the three act structure and making sure your grammar is pristine. You must contend with setting, description, plot, point of view and filter words.
Baby steps grasshopper. Before you can sell a story, you need to know what defines story. I’ll be honest. Understanding story and storytelling, is like looking at a kaleidoscope. The longer you stare at it, the more it changes on you. It’s an elusive rabbit, but brushing up on the basics will certainly help change an agent’s no to a yes.
3. But I can’t Write Well
What’s that you say? You used to get all A’s in high school English literature. It shouldn’t be that hard to write fiction. It’s not, but you’re working from the wrong playing field. High school English, is kindergarten for writers. Once you decide to start writing fiction, you’ve moved past simply communicating to painting with words. To paint, you’ll need a whole other set of tools.
I won’t bother making recommendations. There’s literally thousands of “how to write a novel” books. Go on over to Amazon and fall down the rabbit hole for three hours. You’ll come out, with a few you like.
Make sure you’re on the same playing field
I think Ben Yagoda explains it best. I picked up his book ,“How not to Write Badly.” It was perfect, since I know I write badly(smile). In the book, he points out a common problem writers face. Have you ever asked someone to edit your work and they take out things, you know your high school English teacher would frown on? Let’s say your friend removes the comma before and. You know it’s supposed to be there, because you received A’s in English. And it really behooves you to go back over your so called “editor’s” work and put them all back.
Well, Ben says they’re not wrong, they’re just working from a different style guide. What? Yep. Drop that MLA book. Move on over to Chicago. Most, if not all publishers use the Chicago Manual Style guide.
So it’s possible you do like poetry and you can write enough novels to call yourself the Nora Roberts or Judith McNaught of (insert sub-romance genre here). You just need to get rid of those expectations. They’re like stereotypes, they don’t apply to everyone. Go. Write a poem, a haiku, or erotic squirrel romance. Whatever, but no more of that I can’t, or I don’t know. The world needs your fiction. There might be another little girl like me, waiting to be touched by your story, so she can imagine the possible.
About The Author
E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press and S/tick Magazine. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label—Will Records. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.