I can think of at least five kinds of writing that I do better and more easily than fiction:
- Gently-worded diplomatic overtures in the workplace
- Bally-hooing business propaganda
- Letters of advice
- Hoaxed letters, email messages, and news articles that amuse and terrify people
- Contemplative blog and journal entries
(I suspect I’d be pretty good at speechwriting, too, but I’ve never had the opportunity to find out. I used to be adept at love letters as well, but these days I’m like, “Hey, it’s awesome you’re alive. Let’s go eat pizza rolls and watch true crime.”)
In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that fiction (description, exposition, dialogue, plot, etc) is actually the kind of writing I’m WORST at. It’s certainly what I feel least comfortable doing, as though my mind doesn’t work that way naturally. I don’t even know how to practice at it, though I’ve written thousands of exercise paragraphs.
If there’s a story of mine you like, there’s a good chance that it isn’t structured like most stories. It’s a teenager’s science fair paper or a near-death experience or a series of letters or fragments of research books or a fake acknowledgements page from a book about ghosts.
Now that I think of it, I’m not sure I even believe in fiction, the arbitrariness of story-time, the contrived third-person stance outside of events. Most of what I write pretends to be non-fiction, as though I’ve chosen the wrong genre to tell it.
(I lie and exaggerate too much for ethical reporting, alas.)
As I struggle on this next novel, I’m wondering about my future as a writer of fiction. Between writing the only two chapters that exist, I wrote an entire 16,000-word novelette while cackling insanely with amusement. What was the difference? The novelette was stitched together from many forms and perspectives — fake books and newspaper articles and court transcripts.
A few things bother me about writing that way:
- It feels like a cop-out to avoid learning to write more “storylike” narratives.
- Editors hold it at arm’s length because it isn’t as “satisfying” as normally structured prose. Most people want to be told a story, not to have a bunch of linguistic Lego blocks dumped at their feet.
- How long before it becomes a schtick? “Oh, a new Ludwigsen story. This one’s told entirely in Craigslist missed connections!”
Even so, I’m still deeply uncomfortable writing stories that don’t somehow explain or hoax their existence in the real world. The forms that please me like newspaper articles and diaries and letters fit so much better with my aim of making stories part of our lives. Everything’s a story if you look at it close enough.
I guess this is just my fair warning that even if it shortens my career or loses me readers, I’m going to keep telling my stories as fake found objects.
If you’re looking for authorial-voiced guy with a pipe in his mouth (“In the hinterlands of Merlindor, the ancient cobbled roads wind unguarded through primeval forest…”), that isn’t me.