So you want to write a novel—or revise and improve the story you’ve already begun? In the words of my most beloved fiction character, author Jack Higgins’ Sean Dillon, “Good man yourself.” Each page will be a joyous struggle as you get emotional and become thoughtful! What do I mean? Allow me to glean from the wisdom of two terrific writers and teachers whose work I’ve enjoyed and whose lessons still inspire me and give your two keys to help your novel take flight!
Key #1: Tap the Well
Years ago I attended a class on fiction writing at the Glorieta Christian Writer’s Conference. In it, one of my favorite novelists, prolific fiction writer David Morrell (the creator of Rambo), encouraged us as writers to tap into the well of emotions that drive us.
“Daydreams are fascinating to me,” he said. “You cannot will them to happen. There are pleasant ones, and then there are the others; those are the daydreams to be interested in: conflict, fear, anger. These tap into the emotion. Take your emotions, ones anyone can identify with, and turn them into myth through your fiction.” He added: “With each book, you’re trying to learn more about yourself. You’re on a pilgrimage, a self-psychoanalysis. You become more fulfilled as you write because the book matters to you.”
Isn’t that great? At the time I took Morrell’s class, I had just started writing a novel, Lies of Omission, that remains unfinished. The protagonist, U.S. operative Liam Patrick Lenihan, is a government assassin who has to face an inner enemy: a sinister addiction that threatens to destroy him and his relationship with the only woman he’s ever loved.
As I took Morrell’s advice, I found that most of my daydreams were silly. But the one’s that fit his “others” category focused on my drive to overcome self-condemnation that I felt regarding actions and attitudes where I believed I’d fallen short as a husband or father. I often saw myself plodding uphill, dodging one obstacle after another, to push past the guilt. It hurt a bit to dig into that emotional pain, but I did—and it not only added depth and relevance to Liam’s interactions with his wife Rachel, but flavored his emotions about his addiction struggle. And, yes, I found the self-psychoanalysis to be healthy and even healing.
Key #2: Plow into Plot
James Scott Bell is a former trial lawyer and a Christy Award winner for excellence in inspirational fiction. He wrote two instructional books for Writer’s Digest’s Write Great Fiction series, and I go to this series and his volumes time and again. In his book Plot & Structure, Bell quoted Ray Bradbury (“There is only one type of story in the world—your story.”) to start his chapter on how to explode with plot ideas. Bell wrote: “Before your plot exists, it is a notion you have. A spark, which at some point ignites. But it is here where many stories are doomed from the start. Not every idea is of equal value. To find the best plots, you need to come up with hundreds of ideas, then choose the best ones to develop.”
I knew the inner enemy Liam was going to face, but what was I going to do with him as a government assassin? I followed Bell’s directive. I came up with a bunch of ideas, a holy mess of them, and then ruminated for weeks before I hit on what I felt like was the best one to pursue. Liam was going to be winning the war on drugs with his own ruthless version of final justice. Yet another war loomed for him: a madman whose warped beliefs (Heinrich Himmler’s Nazism) and obsession with a legend (the Holy Grail) compelled him toward an act of terrorism deadlier than 9/11. Suddenly, I had a novel that blended fiction with fact, and religious legend and terrorist fanaticism, while telling the story of a man confronting his greatest demons of all.
Next week, I’ll continue this series on fiction writing and share with you the “High’s (and Higher’s) of Creating Character Bios” for your novel.
NOTE: Get Bell’s Plot & Structure for his twenty ideas on how to get hundreds of plot ideas, and acquire Morrell’s Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing. I highly recommend both.
I want to hear from you!
Share a daydream, and the emotion it evokes, that you could turn into myth through your fiction.