Fiction writing: discovering new ground as a memoirist

Instead of writing personal truth and reflection why not tap into my imagination with fiction writing? With no formal education or even self-study of any genre of fiction, I figured a slow and incremental start, dabbling in a few slush-piles of personal essays, would be my best foray into turning them into unexplored fictional ground. My delight wasn’t because of a newfound writing venture but because of an unexpected revelation. Writing fiction can be more confusing than a mismatched pair of socks, more challenging than the New York Times crossword puzzle and even more difficult than finding the lost sock or answers to the crossword puzzle!

I find writing fiction to be an anomaly. I previously wrote my memoir story; my life was its bones. The fiction story has yet to be invented; its bones lay scattered. Fiction writing deviates from the memoir writing that had been ingrained in my thinking and in my words for so many years.

My-Story-001Years ago, I believed I had a personal story to tell with clear metaphoric and thematic elements: a birch tree, something happening under the birch tree, connections to my girlhood home, and leaving the only home I knew. I used my vivid memories of my home’s landscape, inner life bound within its walls, and those who lived in it, to guide me through my opening narrative. I heard my father’s voice, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce,” my only sibling telling me, “just don’t tell ma,” and my mother asking, “Did you take enough warm clothes?” when driving in the car to Milwaukee for college. (We lived in Chicago.) Writing of the personal was second nature as if narrating a conversation about what my childhood was like.

The beginning of my story had written itself with establishment of the meaning of home. I strung specific scenes in the middle that showed my conflicts and trials and then there was the end, a resolution of how I changed and what I learned from my life lessons.

1_JleH9NpurzW1xTDLSLgQwwWandering through a fiction mind is an exercise in freedom I had never known as a memoir writer. But falling back into a comfort zone of personal truth can be a trap or, as I am learning, can be viewed as a springboard into originality. I’m free to make a family of two into one of six kids, to make parents married for thirty years, not divorced after ten, or to have a protagonist get her PhD.

If you consider yourself a writer of non-fiction but want to stretch your writing acumen to fiction writing, here are a few considerations for you.

  • Use your friends. Write the names of a few of your close friends, those who you know well. Write what they look like, how they dress, mannerisms, age, personalities, quirks? If you’re falling flat with a character, consider pulling from your friend list to use as ideas. i.e., she always wears something red, she talks with her hands, he walks in a lean-over (suggesting age)
  • Repurpose a non-fiction piece you’ve already written. I pulled a few personal essays and have used those themes as ideas to consider developing into a fictional story.
  • Eavesdrop. There’s a lot you can learn from eavesdropping on a conversation between a couple in a coffee shop. People interrupt each other, they speak in fragments, use “like,” “well,” “um,” and use bad grammar. Use not only how they are speaking but also what they are saying as fodder for scene-making.
  • Read fiction. Read the types of stories you enjoy reading. I may enjoy historical fiction with a mystery tied into it. But maybe you’d like to see the mystery solved differently. You know you can write a better reveal. Perhaps this will be a good idea for a plot.

As a beginning writer of fiction, I don’t have to rely solely on my comfort zone of personal, memoir writing to keep me from developing further as a writer. But I can use what I know about non-fiction writing to help me connect to my new fiction world.

Are you a writer of non-fiction and fiction? Do you find writing one easier to write than the other?