The write stuff

Posted: November 6, 2009 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Most aspiring novelists are advised to write about what they know. Which isn’t all that helpful when your protagonist is spread-eagled on an inter-stellar operating table about to be dissected by a laser-driven hive mind.

So in the interests of being helpful, let me offer this small piece of advice.

Write about what you love.

This is not based on sentiment. The only thing that keeps most of us going in the knock-down, drawn-out, occasionally exhilirating, often frustrating, seemingly endless roller-coaster ride that is novel writing is a passion for what we do. Without it, this torturous exercise in delayed gratification would defeat us.

Whether it’s sci fi, literary, high fantasy, blockbuster, childrens’ or bodice-ripper, it’s got to be what you love reading and writing.  Novel writing is an ultra-marathon. You are in it for the long haul and if you don’t love it, you just ain’t going to make the distance.

You have to love the training, the thousands of hours spent reading till your eyes bleed, the daily ritual of writing, something, anything, even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.

Those who wait for inspiration are waiting for Godot.  Inspiration comes after you start writing. Trust me, there is no writing problem that cannot be solved by writing your way through it.

Writing about what you love isn’t confined to genre. The characters must speak to you. How else could you bear to spend months, if not years, in their company? They must have hidden depths that fascinate, intrigue, madden and delight. You have to feel their pain, laugh with them, cry for them, even want to slap them, or worse. But you have to feel them moving and talking inside you.

If your characters are not real to you, they won’t be real to your readers.  If your story doesn’t keep you up at nights, it won’t keep anyone else up either.

It takes courage to commit to what you love.  So, if you think you can give up writing, then maybe you should, because clearly you don’t love it enough.

“The chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.” Harlan Ellison

  1. Lynne Green says:

    I love the sentence: [Your characters] must have hidden depths that fascinate, intrigue, madden and delight.

    I find that all too true. If a character is a cardboard cut-out, I soon lose interest in reading or writing about them. Even the good girls have to pick their noses, and the bad girls kiss their dead mothers’ letters.

  2. chrisbongers says:

    Gorgeous, Lynne, and so true. Congrats on the degree, you star, you.

  3. Joanna Gaudry says:

    Thanks for another wonderful post, Chris. I will try and make my characters in ‘Dirt’ come to life during ‘Year of the Edit’ next year. Joanna :))

  4. I was thinking about this exact topic this afternoon. If I only wrote about things I knew, I would be so bored by now.

    My manuscripts take a hellish amount of historical and scientific research but I love it too much to stop.

    • chrisbongers says:

      I’m not a great researcher myself Kathleen, but I try to go emotionally where I haven’t been before in my writing. Getting the emotional modulation spot on is important for me. That’s why I can’t write in public (too much inappropriate laughter, blowing my nose on the tablecloth, that sort of thing).

  5. Tracey says:

    Nice post, Chris. Again advice I shall take on board.

    Writing about what we know could confine us to confusion, pain and the mundane. I sure most readers already have that in their lives. I know I read to take me out of myself and into another realm. I assume that others do too.

    So, back to the keyboard to make a danish pastry, Sara Lee style, out of my characters.

  6. chrisbongers says:

    Layer upon layer upon layer… that’s how I like my novels dished up too, Tracey. 🙂

  7. Chris, I like that bit, ‘If your characters are not real to you, they won’t be real to your readers’.
    Oh, so true – which is why we keep re-writing and re-writing, and continue to love doing what we do.
    Sheryl 🙂

  8. chrisbongers says:

    Sheryl, I spend as much time with my characters as I do with my family and friends… and in the process, get just as attached.

  9. Louise says:

    I so agree, Chris. Novels are a journey of discovery – even more so for the writer than the reader!

    And I’m not sure who said this, but when your characters start appearing in your dreams, you know you’ve nailed it – because they’re real people to you.

  10. chrisbongers says:

    Absolutely, Louise. I had stories in my head for years that played like a nightly serial in and out of my dreams. Then one day a light bulb clicked on and I started writing them down. I might be a bit slow, but I get there eventually. 😉

  11. jason says:

    Sweet post, Chris. Worth sticking up next to the computer!

  12. […] Then, moping around reading other people’s stuff instead of writing my own, I found this chris bongers blog the-write-stuff. It made perfect sense. You’re reading the result. The notion, in this case a well-timed […]

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