Writing Fiction for the First Time in Over a Decade

Having been stuck at home for two years now, you need to start to come up with things to do. And while I have started to move around freely and return to the world actively, I still spend a lot of time just home and when you do that you need to come up with things to do.

Early on in the pandemic I kept thinking about my grandparents, who were stuck in a house smaller than my living room for most of the winter with the whole family in that small space. How did they survive through that? As a child, I kept hearing about the imagination the earlier generations had when they had to come up with their own games and toys, but I also always read that as a complete lack of imagination, because they didn’t actually have anything to base their games and toys on besides what they knew from their life.

Now, I have the opportunity to do something creative. I have the tools (this computer I’m writing on right now, for example) and I have sources of inspiration, so why not write fiction? I used to write fiction quite a bit back in the day, but for some reason I haven’t done so in well over a decade. But perhaps now was the time.

So, I started with an idea. You have to start small, so I thought I would write just a little bit of flash fiction (or microfiction), where you basically just have one scene. What would that scene be? Where to get that inspiration? You don’t want to get married to any initial idea, but I knew I wanted to write fantasy.

Here’s the thing: Back in the day I took some writing classes. There was this clear divide among the people in the class and it was very much age-based: anyone younger than me wanted to write fantasy, anyone older than me wanted to write about their parental issues. Yes, it was weird. And I was straight in the middle. I wanted to write fantasy, but not just for the sake of fantasy. I wanted to bring up issues. Not parental, but issues. I just wasn’t any good at it. And also, I’m a middle-class, well-educated, straight, white guy with a white collar job. What issues to I even have?

Obviously, I have some amount of empathy, so I can talk about issues even if they don’t affect me directly, but there is a level of artificiality someone more involved with those issues would be. Gladly I do have the protection of writing fantasy, so I can just fall on that if I get something very wrong. But if I do cover a specific issue, I do want to be sensitive about it.

Okay, but back to the inspirations. I started to gather ideas with randomness. You can do this on Wikipedia if you like, but instead I chose to use Scryfall, which is a website for Magic: the Gathering cards. I know quite a bit about the game (having started playing the game in 1994), but that’s not a requirement here. I just started to look at random cards, when Bonfire of the Damned popped up. I had just recently read about the history of the name “bonfire” and while I do have a feeling that the text I read wasn’t very well researched and might have cut some corners on the pretty nonexistent analysis, the idea that bonfire is shortened from bone-fire, which had the function of allowing people to burn bones as if to process their grief.

So, I decided to write flash fiction based on this idea. I wrote about this ancient witch, who was using a bonfire to forget something. She had done this before, but couldn’t remember how many times and as she works through the ritual, we get glimpses of what she is trying to keep herself from remembering, which involved something cataclysmic.

My initial idea was that I’m just going to write a few hundred words on this as a bit of practice, but sense I apparently lack self-control, the few hundred word flash fiction soon became a few thousand word short story, which soon became a ten thousand word novelette and now I’m at around 16 thousand words, so depending on who you ask, I might be in the novella territory, but not even close to actual novel length yet.

At this point, this is going to be my project for the summer. Just trying to make this readable. I mean, I am a pretty good writer, but these various lengths of fiction do have different requirements. As I started with flash fiction and just started to expand on that, the pacing is pretty bad currently, so I need to work on that. There’s also skipping through time and I don’t really know how to convey that in a natural way. Also, the main protagonist comes in very late currently and she lacks an arc at this point. I do tend to be quite blunt and forget to show rather than tell, but on the other hand, in some cases the telling also works, since it is my specific style.

However, the fact that I am able to identify these problems is in itself a positive. The fact that I can be critical of my own work will enable me to work on the text and make it better. I have deleted whole chapters on multiple occasions by this point, just because they didn’t feel right.

My current goal is to keep it in the novella length, so that it’s at least somewhat manageable. I also decided that since this blog has a ten year anniversary next year, I’m going to publish this work on that date just to celebrate that milestone in some way. That will give me this summer to write it and the early next summer to edit it, although we’ll see about the editing. I have been horrible about that in the past. Not big on having to do that, because that is not the fun part.

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