One Problem With Writing Fiction

by Randy Murray on July 10, 2012

I’m currently writing a new play called “This Place On Fifth Avenue.” I’ve done months of research and have spent countless hours planning, thinking, and dreaming about it. From the moment of inspiration I had a complete idea of the shape of the play and the general plot. But in the writing, in letting the characters begin to speak, I’m beginning to think that I didn’t have any idea of what they really wanted to say.

When I sat my two characters down and let them begin to talk with each other, the most amazing things come out of their mouths. My play is focused on two writers: one revered and famous, the other, virtually unknown today. I wanted them to talk about their ambitions as writers. But right now they’re talking about what they know (or think that they know) about women and love and how they view the people around them.

It’s frightening and thrilling at the same time. And I believe it happens when writing virtually every type of fiction, especially if the writer has done their work and lets himself or herself enter the dream state of writing that first draft. It turns out that my characters, James Thurber and John McNulty, know more about what the play is about and what is interesting and engaging than I do, or at least than I do consciously. I find my self muttering at times, “Hey, who’s driving this bus?”

There’s an urge to fight with them, to get them back on track. But when I do that I find that my writing becomes dry and stilted. It’s best to let the characters have their say, see if it works, and reshape what I thought the story was going to be. Maybe. I’ve found in the past that I just need to let it come out and find out what it sounds like, how it works, when actors first read it in a staged reading.

My advice is this: let your first draft pour out. Just let it happen. Then let it sit for a while. When you return to it, see if it is what you want. Plays and other types of fiction require many drafts. Let your characters tell you the story first.

The One Problem With Writing Fiction by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Iain Broome July 10, 2012 at 8:04 am

I know exactly how you feel, Randy. I try and plan ahead, but I don’t honestly think you can fully understand what you want to do until you get started and learn what you (and your characters) really want to say. And to be honest, that’s part of the thrill of writing fiction.


Randy Murray July 10, 2012 at 8:45 am

It’s a very specialized thrill. Many won’t understand or relish it. For me, being a story teller isn’t just about telling others stories, it’s telling stories to myself. I want to find out what happens and why as much as any potential audience.

Looking forward to reading your book on release!


Joe July 10, 2012 at 3:18 pm

It’s a bit like riding a rollercoaster-but laying the track as you go. You pray you’ve got what it takes to bring the car safely ’round to the gate, but you don’t know. Therein lies the challenge, the fear, the thrill, that makes each ride as wild and worthwhile as the first.

As for theme and content, I fully believe you learn your tale in the telling.

Good luck!


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