How does writing fiction differ to writing an autobiography? The differences can be enormous depending on the project at hand—a crime thriller can’t, for example, follow the exact same planning process as an autobiography.
In my case, my new book Dirtbirds will share many themes and a similar writing style to my comedy memoir Lord of the Rams. However, one of the key differences in the writing process this time round revolves around the planning and structuring.
Because a memoir is—or at least should be—primarily based on fact, the author already knows his characters. Their hair colour, their personalities, their phrases—the author generally doesn’t have to think twice about these things.
With fiction, things are slightly different. The characters are derived from the author’s imagination, so unless he outlines their traits from the outset, it can be easy to lose track of things and make mistakes. For example, a book’s characters should have phrases associated with them only, as would be the case in real life.
If you’re writing a book with authentic Irish accents/phrases, it makes sense that one of your characters might say, for example, “No bother” on occasion. Common sense dictates that only one of your characters would speak like this, but it’s easy to unwittingly create characters who mirror each other’s language—the everyday language of the author even. Imagine watching an episode of Home & Away where everybody called each other “flamin’ galahs” a la Alf Stewart! Dialogue is something that needs to be checked and checked again to ensure that your characters are speaking in a realistic fashion. Autobiographies need to follow the same rule but fiction, which generally features more dialogue, is especially susceptible to this problem.
Timelines also need extra attention when you’re writing fiction. Whilst timelines are important in an autobiography, they can be verified and checked via research, photographs, etc. (although a surprising amount of autobiographies contain timeline errors that should have been picked up at the editorial stage). With fiction, the author creates the timeline and then must take steps to ensure that it is consistent throughout the novel. For example, if your novel is set in the present and your main character is 30, the timeline you create needs to be consistent with everything this character would have experienced during his 30 years—music listened to, world events experienced, etc. Again, it sounds like common sense, but it can be easy to include errors/inconsistencies in your writing if you don’t do some planning from the outset.
Dirtbirds is—I think—is beginning to take shape. I’ve just reviewed and edited the first five chapters and have another chapter waiting to be typed up. The chapters, thus far, are very short. But that’s the way I like them. I should surpass 10,000 words before Christmas and then I’ll take a nice break! 2011 will be a pivotal year in the writing of the book.
Word Count: 7,029 (typed)
Chapters Complete (1st Draft): 5 (typed)
Are you writing a book? Share some of your experiences via the comments box below.
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