Starting a Work of Fiction

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A question that I see frequently on writing forums is how does one start writing a work of fiction. The question often comes from an aspiring writer overwhelmed or confused by the challenges associated with writing a complex and compelling novel or short story.

Writing something like a novel is not nearly as daunting as many people fear. As long as you are reasonably organized, have experience with or are willing to research and verify the topics discussed in the book, and satisfied to continually work on grammar and character development, then you are perfectly capable of writing a novel, short story, or other fiction product.

I will explain how I go about writing fiction in a moment but let me first make a simple confession. I’m a liar. Not only am I liar, but I’m also a professional liar. I lie all the time. I tell two-hundred or three-hundred lies a day. They’re convincing lies, too. When I’m on a tare I might tell five hundred lies in a single twenty-four hour period. That’s about 21 lies an hour, or one satisfying falsehood ever three minutes. But of course, I don’t work 24 hours a day. I need to eat, sleep, sail in my yacht, drive my Ferrari to the grocery store, and chat with my friend Bill Gates. So I have to pack all of this lying into a scant eight to twelve hours. It’s a wonder I’m able to maintain such a tight grip on my sanity.

When I’m writing a fiction novel the very first thing I do is tell a lie. Sometimes the lie is a whopper. Frequently the lie is subtle and mischevious. At other times it is merely a prelude to a more substantial invention.

That first lie must meet two criteria. It must be believable, and it must be compelling. If you fib and say it’s raining outside, another person will likely believe your lie but they won’t care. Alternately, you might say an overnight storm was exceptionally ominous and so severe that the thunder shook your entire house while you feared the wind would actually rip the clapboard from your exterior walls. Now people have no reason to doubt the veracity of your claim and your story is compelling.

You must forgive me for I have lied again. I never start a story by talking about the weather, but I hope you get my point. Sorry, falsehoods have become something of a habit.

After I have told my first convincing lie and made it as succinct, believable, and compelling as possible, I tell another lie. The purpose of this lie is to lead the reader seamlessly and inexorably to a third lie.

And so it goes. One deception precedes another. As one fabrication ends, another lie begins. The purpose of each falsehood is to build the foundation and scaffolding on which future lies can be supported.

When I write, I tell one lie after another after yet another until I hopefully arrive at a fundamental truth. After all, if a book has no fundamental underlying purpose then who will believe any of its lies. I had a stepfather who lied about everything. There was never any purpose to his lies so nobody ever believed anything he said. If he said that water was good for you, nobody in the house would drink it. It’s taken years of therapy and multiple treatments for dehydration to get over that little misconception.

Oh, no! I’ve done it again. I’ve implicitly lied to you this time. I’ve suggested a work of fiction is nothing but a pack of lies (please excuse the accidental cliche). That’s not the whole truth (oops).

You can make your lies more believable by sprinkling in a bit of truth here and there. When a reader encounters something they know to be true then they are more likely to believe even your most flagrant fabrications.

Unfortunately, truths are seldom an integral part of a fictional work. You might explain the proper way to paddle a canoe or describe a fast and easy way to make a sumptuous meal, but these truths will seldom be germane to your story. These tidbits of reality are provided to offer complexity, character, and to make the reader accept the deceptive parts of your fiction as unadulterated truth.

In reality, these truths are merely an integral part of a higher-level class of falsehoods. As any great liar will tell you (if you get him or her sufficiently drunk) the key to any good lie is to infuse it with an ample supply of superfluous and verifiable truths.

And there you have it. It’s short and sweet. If you want to write a good fictional piece, lie; a lot. Craft your lies to be both believable and compelling. Add ample truth to the mix to make your lies more convincing. Ensure every lie is designed to support and nourish the lies yet to come. Allow your largest and most salient fabrications to point directly or discreetly to some fundamental truth.

To make your work even more compelling, add two cups of flour, two whole eggs, a cup and a half of cayenne, and a cup of milk. No, wait—

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