Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Great Work of Fiction

I enjoy writing about my own life.  It’s a fascinating topic – one that I never seem to tire of.  Unfortunately, the market for light-hearted, humorous memoir is rather small.  I’ve noticed that the memoir pieces in literary journals and magazines usually involve some sort of trauma: being stricken with a horrible disease or losing a loved one in a senseless tragedy.  And although I consider my life to be riddled with disappointment and drama and horrific struggles (like my ongoing addiction to television or the fact that my breakfast taco came in a corn tortilla even though I specifically asked for wheat), I realize that other people might find my life mundane.

If I really want my work to be published, I should probably branch out and start writing fiction.  As Katherine Paterson once said, “I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.”

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.  I’ve always been imaginative.  As an only child, I spent countless hours playing with my dolls and stuffed animals, and I not only gave them names but personality flaws, sordid backgrounds, and conflicting motives.  I used to pretend that my two identical Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were twin sisters named Mandy and Sandy who were torn apart by jealousy and competition.  If that isn't the makings of a great fiction writer, I don't know what is.

Even when you have a natural inclination, a blank page can be intimidating.  Where do you begin?  All great stories have great characters, so it makes sense to start with the protagonist.  Unfortunately, creating a three-dimensional character out of thin air is no easy task.  I always end up basing my characters on real people.  I’ll start with someone who looks and sounds a lot like my mother.  Then I’ll give her a mean streak and a drug problem to spice things up a little.  But then I worry, what if someone who knows my mother reads this and thinks, "Oh, I always knew she had two sides to her!  I wonder how long she’s been hitting the pipe."

I have the same problem with screenwriting, but since I’m usually writing a comedy, the worst case is that I make a hilarious joke at someone else’s expense.  And I’m sure everyone realizes that it’s all for the sake of the joke.  That’s the beautiful thing about comedy: you can get away with almost anything!

Perhaps I should write comic fiction.  A Confederacy of Dunces has always been one of my favorite novels.  Of course, the author eventually committed suicide because no one was willing to publish it.  It was his mother who finally got his novel published, and it took her eleven years.  And I don't have half the writing talent that he had.

The other challenge of writing literary fiction is, well, making it literary.  I scored in the 99th percentile on the GRE Verbal section, so in theory I know lots of big words.  I just need to practice using them.  Recently I started incorporating fancy language and rhythm into my everyday speech.  Instead of asking my husband “So whaddya want for dinner?” I’ll say “When we come together this evening to gormandize, what succulent fare do you envision on your plate?”

I'm also considering signing up for an online writing class.  I enrolled in a fiction writing class once before, and I crumbled under the pressure and dropped out after the very first class.  Hopefully it goes better this time around.  

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