Tag Archives: fiction

How to Write

If you taught fiction writing, what would you tell your students about planning? Would you teach them to outline their plots? To determine who their characters are physically, psychologically, and historically? To lay out details of the setting? To only start writing once these preliminaries have been completed?

Or would you teach a more laid-back approach, allowing students to begin with an idea and develop plot, character, and setting in the course of writing?  Or would you employ a hybrid method?

Various writers approach their craft in all of these ways. None of us get by on zero planning, but some jump in without much sense of where we’re going. Others start with broad outlines, and still others lay detailed plans before writing a single word.

I’ve heard of writers spending many months planning novels and then writing them in a very short period of time.  I heard one novelist express annoyance at her editor’s insistence on outlines, saying, “I asked my editor, ‘Have I ever followed any outline I’ve given you?’ She said no. I said, ‘So why don’t I give you the outline from my last novel and just get on with writing this one?'”

I tend to be more like the latter than the former. When stuck I plan enough to get through the immediate issue, but I typically start with very little idea where I’m going or who my characters are.  I must see my characters in action before I have a good sense of them, and until I have a good sense of them the plot won’t come together.  Like the aforementioned author, I’m not much good at following detailed outlines.

But that’s just me. Every writer operates differently. I can’t advise you to work my way unless my way actually works for you. What I can advise is that likely your way will be some mix of planning and making it up as you go along. By experimenting to see what works, you’ll find your ideal approach.

A New Short Story

I haven’t written any short stories for a very long time, but recently one imposed itself on me, so I wrote it.   I thought I’d post it here as a free sample of my writing for you.  It’s called “In the Butcher Shop.”  I hope you like it.  Feel free to post comments.  (You’ll need to create an account first.  Sorry, but it’s necessary to control spam.)

Stylistically, “In the Butcher Shop” is a bit different from my novels, The Fibonacci Murders and the forthcoming sequel, True Death.  While writing it, I had the curious sense of channeling Ray Bradbury, although admittedly I’m nowhere as good as he is.  Bradbury is, however, one of the big influences on my writing, so maybe there is something to that feeling.  I guess you can be the judge of that when you read the story.