Many people think that Fantasy is hard to write – and it is in its own right. But, as I prepare to make the switch back from writing Fantasy to writing historical fiction (or even just straight fiction), I’ve started to think about the challenges I will face – namely dealing with small plot drivers.
In Fantasy, you have epic journeys and life or death struggles, nail-biting fight scenes and more. But when you get to straight fiction, there really isn’t a whole lot of that (depending on the time period and subject of your story). Everything feels so….domestic. One of the things I struggle with most when I write outside of Fantasy is making the story line compelling and the struggles interesting enough that someone will want to keep reading. So, in this different space, how do you keep the readers engaged and drive your story forward?
The reality is not every story will have a sword-clanging fight scene. You may even have a book in which no one dies (nearly unheard of in Fantasy, I think :)). One of the things that makes literary fiction mesmerizing is the writer’s ability to take something small and make it intriguing. This is what I aspire to do.
There are a few different tactics that I’ve seen authors take to achieve this. Some decide to create a really out there main character or utilize a unique device like the unlikable narrator. This, of course, creates its own challenges. But, when this specific literary device was fresh, it was incredibly interesting for readers and it created a ton of fodder for book club discussions.
Another interesting tactic is the one adopted by Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone and several other stories. He utilizes refined and almost poetic prose to write about something ugly, sometimes shocking, and gritty. His skills are simply unmatched by other writers. The contradiction of this is intriguing and the images he creates are seared into your memory. Plus, he’s just fabulous with his words.
So where does that leave me when I start to work on Sappho in 2020? It leaves me in an ancient world that is so far removed from our understanding that I think I can adopt my own storytelling metric that will be unlike that used by other writers to tell such a story before. So, I have that going for me at least.
As you may know, this is a project that I’ve started and stopped at least once or twice before. But what is going to be different this time? Well, with a few books under my belt, I think I have the confidence and the experience to take on such a project.
Also, I think I’ve been growing as a writer. I think I’ve started to develop the skill of taking something small and building it up into a big moment, at least a little bit. One of my favorite scenes to write is that “what are we?” relationship scene. The awkwardness, the undertow of feeling that exists but each person is afraid to admit to because they don’t know how the other will respond, I love drawing it out and showing the body language stages as the give and take of the scene progresses.
For other plot issues, I try to think about my own life and the little dramas I’ve witnessed or been a part of, or even heard about from others. Rivalries, friends not talking to each other anymore, job loss and other changes. It’s just the stuff we go through as we grow up and go through life. When I start to doubt myself and my ability to craft something small, I remember the things I’ve witnessed or experienced and I start to try to think about them as if they were in a book. How would I handle the writing? How would a character respond? They are real, therefore they are believable, I remind myself.
Literary fiction is about character while other types of fiction are driven by the plot. The distinction may not seem significant, but it truly changes everything about your story and the purpose behind your writing. Taking on a fictional story after living the past four years in Fantasy will be quite a change and a challenge. But, it’s one I believe I’m ready for, sword fights or not.