Hump Day Humor: ‘The Dark Side of Writing’

By Jayne Bodell

I have wondered about the dark side of writing. You know. That place where everything is made up, people have unusual names, and they express their thoughts and feelings while following a conflict-ridden plot line to a final resolution. We’ve all heard of it. Some of us have ventured into this world, and dare I say, prefer it. You know what I’m talking about. Fiction writing. Achhh. Let pause to shiver.

Wanting to write fiction baffles me. You have to create characters; then, you have to make those characters do something, preferably something interesting.  Next, you have to write about their feelings. Explore the inner machinations of your characters’ minds to figure out what they are feeling and why. I have enough trouble dealing with my own feelings. Why would I torture myself by creating a character who has to deal with her feelings too?

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Then there’s the rejection.  What if someone doesn’t like your story? You’ve poured your heart into this piece of fiction, and someone finds your character bland, or your plot boring. There are too many variables to be judged.  It’s an emotional ride that I don’t want to take.

Leave that kind of writing to the dreamers. I’ll keep my feet on the ground, firmly rooted in common sense and reason. Nothing gets the juices flowing like a real-reasoned essay.

Remember learning the five paragraph essay in middle school? The concept was simple to teach and easy to grasp, introduction, three paragraphs discussing your three points and a conclusion. It was as beautiful and true as a simple math problem: 1+2=3.

Today, we non-fiction writers no longer keep to the five paragraphs because we are more sophisticated and mature with our form, but deep down that structure is with us. It’s part of our core.

Our opening paragraph will introduce the subject. A strong first line will draw the reader in wanting to read more. Then, we’ll sneak up on the reader with the thesis statement. The anticipation starts to build. Will the reader accept your statement or not? If not, will he decide to read more wondering if the argument holds? Can’t you feel the anticipation?

And then in the tightly written prose that you are well known for, you present your points supporting your thesis, each one flowing effortlessly from the first until your conclusion is merely a formality. You gently remind the reader what your thesis was and finally deliver your finished essay tied up with a pretty bow.

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Why would I ever want to leave the tidy non-fiction world? It’s a left-brained activity, and probing my left brain is much more fun than probing my right. It puts my world into focus and creates order out of chaos.

Non-fiction is practical. The opportunities to make money writing non-fiction far outweigh the fiction opportunities. Wanted: blogger, yes. Wanted: short story writer, no.  This isn’t a hobby, folks. If I’m putting all this time and energy into writing, I’d like a return on my investment. I’m not getting any younger and that IRA isn’t growing fast enough for my future needs.

If someone told me that I had to write a novel, I’d tell them that I’d rather be a 4th-grade band teacher on the first day her class gets their instruments, get a root canal, and help someone move. (I really hate moving.)

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Recently, I read two books of a trilogy by Ken Follett. The trilogy spans three generations. Although I enjoyed both books, I decided after finishing the second, I wasn’t going to read the third. I had to keep looking at the program because I’d forget which family a character belonged to. What possesses a writer to want to do this? Eleven families, with four to five members in each family, plus all the extraneous characters and you’re writing about seventy some characters and their feelings.  Put me down for another root canal.

I must admit there comes a time when you need to venture into the right brain because after all, that is the creative part, and even non-fiction has a creative element. These words forming sentences don’t put themselves together. We create them. We non-fiction writers should probably exercise that other side of the brain once in awhile, if only to keep it from atrophying.

When you need a good dose of imagery in your non-fiction writing having some practice under your belt will come in handy. It’s a good idea to balance out your brain use so you can spice up those well-reasoned arguments.

One way to dip your toe into the fiction water is to write flash fiction. I’ve tried this genre as a way to exercise my right brain. I found a free course “103 Easy Steps On How to Write Flash Fiction” and methodically went through all agonizing steps. I was supposed to have ten stories when I was finished, but alas, I was only able to churn out three because I developed RBF (Right Brain Fatigue). I knew no one was going to read them; my mother’s bridge club had long disbanded. I did it purely for the experience, and to say that I had tried writing fiction found it agonizing to write and impractical.

When I finally filed the little bast—-s, I mean darlings in the cloud, my friend called to ask how my writing was going. I told her of my little flash fiction exercise and without hesitation and true excitement in her voice she asked to read them. Incredulous and speechless, I must have mumbled “yes” because I was adding all the typical caveats. These were first attempts. These were exercises. These were not final drafts. Blah blah blah. And before I knew it, they were off in cyberspace, ready to be read and worse yet, critiqued.

What had I done? I had opened myself up to vulnerability, created internal angst, and was forced to face my worst writing fear.   I had opened the door and crossed over to the dark side.  I was a fiction writer waiting for someone to say, “I liked your story.” I had to put a stop to this thinking immediately. That was a road I was determined not to travel.

I wrote these stories as a right-brain exercise as a way to improve my writing. They were not “real” stories. They were not going to be published anywhere, and I wrote them for fun.

She’s already had a day to read them; I wonder what could be taking her so long. I bet she’s trying to figure out how to deliver her review without totally crushing my self-esteem. Oh wait, I think I see an email from her. She liked them! I should write more and put them in a book? You’re kidding? Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, you really think I can do this? Are you sure you liked them? You’re not just saying that.

Wow. I have a fan.

Does this mean I’ll have to write about feelings now?

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Jayne Bodell

Jayne

Bio:

Jayne Bodell graduated from UW-Madison with an English degree many, many years ago. About two years ago, she renewed her interest in writing by starting a blog about grammar but soon realized that she wanted to expand her subject matter. She now blogs about keeping life simple, smart, and sassy at www.JayneBodell.com. In between blog posts, she’s planning to branch into the scary world of writing fiction by writing a collection of flash fiction stories.
Jayne lives in Wisconsin and fills her spare time with gardening, photography, knitting, reading, and a side of coloring. Her favorite way to vacation is to pick a general destination and drive, no time constraints and no plans.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) Tell Me Your Why

2) Hump Day Humor: ‘Most Hated Phrases’


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13 comments

  1. Ahhh, Jayne! I just experienced a delightful voyage reading your post!

    Felt as tho’ I was your Second Mate rounding the Cape Horn of fiction writing discovery.

    The fearful, intriguing challenge of navigating unknown waters, repeatedly checking your position, intentions and emotions, reefing the sails, hoisting the sails, reefing, hoisting. And finally…wind at your back, full sails. Bravo!

    Wonderfully written, easily read…your humorous portrayal of steps involved immediately produced the images you intended.

    This was fun, and funny! Thanks…absolutely brightened my day! More to come, I hope!

    Like

  2. Jayne, My favorite part is that your mom’s bridge club disbanded. haha. My mom had a bridge club, and they are some of my biggest readers to this day! I am sure it all started when my mom brought something I wrote to bridge. I am a story teller so fiction is fun for me. The facts of non-fiction not so much. I think it is cool how diverse we all are, don’t you?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jayne! You crack me up! You just described the range of emotions from beginning to end. Beginning with self doubt to validation from a friend.
    Where are your fiction stories? I would like to take a gander at them? 🙃

    Like

    • Thanks John. I’m glad you liked it. I don’t know what to say about your offer. I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know if I’m ready for criticism yet. I’m still in the learning stages and not ready for the stage. But I’ll keep you in mind for the future.

      Like

  4. Another delightful read, Jayne! I can so relate to so much of this! You have captured many of the same objections and aversions (and maybe downright fear) I have as well toward writing fiction.
    Funny. Just yerterday I was telling hubby I don’t (and can’t) write fiction. He looked at me incredulously and said, “What so you mean? You live in a fiction world! You make up lives and stories for people you know nothing about, you convince yourself that you’re not really eating a donut if you’re just eating donut holes, and the entire accounting system you use to balance our checkbook originates in fiction!” Still, don’t know if I’m as brave as you are and will try venturing into the dark side just yet! lol!
    Such a fun read! Thank you, Jayne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome. I think when we have to work too hard at writing, we lose the fun. Writing fiction is only fun if an idea hits and I can make a story. This happened this week. I had an idea in the middle of the night, and that morning, I wrote a 600 word flash story.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jayne, I can relate to the strain and struggle of switching from nonfiction to fiction. I love writing memoir, however, the three fiction manuscripts I wrote helped develop my ability to create a story arc. I’m still writing both fiction and nonfiction, but I’m most at home with nonfiction. I think they complement each other. Are you going to keep writing both? By the way, thanks for making me chuckle. 🙂
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    Like

  6. I do write short fiction stories as a hobby. It’s fun and easy. I use the old 5 or so paragraph format. I make up some characters and I borrow others. Most of the time the stories just come to me and I just have to fill in the details.

    I guess I’m the lucky one.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi, Jayne. Wow, you have a fan. And yes, you have to respond with your feelings to the fan. So, let the torture begin – write fiction with all its made-up parts or schedule the root canal, or delve into the band director’s role. Since those were the only choices you gave in the post, I’d opt for writing.

    Fun read, but made me think as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading Marilyn. As I get older, I want to stay in my comfort zone for longer periods of time.

      Like

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