Writing Fiction

February 23, 2016

I have been writing for a long time. Books, articles, columns, blogs, letters and beyond. If I added it up, it is probably hundreds of thousands of words (or, maybe, a thousand words just rearranged in hundreds of different ways). But I realized that, with the possible exception of my resume, everything I’ve written so far has been nonfiction and that this genre comes easily to me. I think of a topic, mull it around in my head for a bit and then the words just come out onto the page. Granted, in the last few years, I have been blessed with great proofreaders and editors who no doubt have elevated the quality of my writing.

But now, for the first time, I’m writing fiction — a book titled “Coyote Courage.” It’s an old-fashioned Western novel, inspired by the talented Louis L’Amour. I’m about 80 percent done with the book, and I’m excited about it. But, I’ve come to realize how different the writing process for fiction is, at least for me. I have written 21 chapters (for a total of about 45,000 words) and with each chapter, when I started it, I didn’t know where it was going, or how it would end. Even now, when I know I only have a few chapters left, I still am unsure as to where the book is going.

I have come to love the characters in the book and find myself thinking about them a lot. I go back and reread the previous couple of chapters, and then try to figure out where these people I’ve created would be going — and how they would get there. Sometimes, it comes quickly, and sometimes it takes days of thinking about it before I know how to start.

Now, I feel their personalities have been developed enough that I have to be true to that. You sometimes will hear an actor express that their character would never do (or say) certain things, and I used to wonder about that. I no longer do. It’s almost as if the characters in “Coyote Courage” have a life of their own, and while I can direct the story, in some ways, they are now alive and I need to be true to them.

I lay in bed this morning thinking about the next chapter I’m going to write. The main character is Brock Clemons. Once I knew what I wanted to have happen in the chapter, I found myself, for the first time, thinking about Brock as a person and asking myself: “What would Brock do here?” It’s an exciting chapter (22, if you ever read the book) and I’m excited to get back to writing it and finding out what Brock did in fact do.