Writing Tip #36

Just make stuff up. People always ask me where I get ideas for my fiction. And I usually just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know. Things just come to me.” That’s partly true. I will be driving or showering or watching TV and suddenly have the urge to jot something down. But I do know where those ideas come from. They come from me. Sure, I get inspired by the outside world, from everywhere and anywhere, never knowing what’s going to strike me as interesting or clever. But ultimately that input is filtered through my imagination, my way of deconstructing the world and putting it back together in a new and unique way. That’s the fun of it — to see a man walking down the street and imagining where he’s going or what his name is or what he might do when presented with a challenge. That’s how novels are born.

Research is not a very big part of my novel-writing. At least, not yet. As a journalist (my day job), it’s all about the research, about being factually correct, taking pains to diligently convey what people tell me in interviews, making sure I tell their stories as accurately as possible, making sure I’m “getting it right.” I think that’s why as a novelist I just let my imagination run wild and shy away from topics that require extensive research, anything that goes beyond a quick visit to a few websites.

As a fiction writer, “getting it right” is more about being in tune with yourself, with how you see the world, how you want to see the world. If you can “accurately” portray that vision, put it into words that are not necessarily factual, but relatable and understandable, then you can convince the reader that anything is possible.

As Laura Lippman wrote in her author’s note to I’d Know You Anywhere: “Mainly, I sat in front of my computer and made stuff up. That’s what novelists do.”

Indeed.

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