When I expressed an intention to write fiction, I was warned it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to make the switch from technical writing to writing fiction, because the left hemisphere of my brain was obviously dominant. Writing fiction, I was told, required a dominant right hemisphere. In researching the subject, I read an opinion by a learned man, who said we’re literally two thinking beings residing in the same body. Reading his comment caused me to worry that in pursuing fiction I would end up stuck in some tortured place between the right and the left hemispheres of the brain and couldn’t get back into either. Or maybe my personality would change and I wouldn’t recognize myself and neither would my family and my friends. I gave up the absurd idea that I should write fiction.
The idea wouldn’t give me up. The little girl inside kept knocking on my mind and whispering, “Fiction. Fiction” I reconsidered. After all, I was used to being warned that misfortune would befall me if I pursued some “crazy notion.” I was warned when I returned to school to study language and speech that I wouldn’t be able to support myself through writing; I would be homeless; I would starve. I proved them wrong, and had supported myself on income from tech writing for more than 10 years.
I tried fiction again; wrote some awful material. Even I knew it was terrible. Whatever is worse than writer’s block–I had it, but never when doing technical writing. “They” were right. I was left-brain dominant and my left brain wasn’t going to easily give up control of my mind.
One day, I was thinking about fiction and staring at a blank computer screen when my right hand started doodling on a pad of paper. It drew a circle and I wrote a character’s name inside, then drew another circle and another and another. I wrote a word inside each circle. More circles. More words. When done, the words created a personality and a physical description for the character. That was my break-through experience, the first time in years the right hemisphere dominated my brain.
Using the words inside the circles as a base, I wrote a scene, gave the character lines and a look. The result was a two-dimensional, repressed Pinocchio. I needed a plan.
After cajoling my right and left hemispheres into working together harmoniously, I researched and made a list of the elements of fiction, including narrative, introspection, dialogue, setting; description, point-of-view (POV), story arcs, tags. At the local bookstore, I gathered writing technique books, lots of books, until I had checked off each of the elements on my list.
One-by-one, I learned the elements. When learning dialogue, for example, I wrote dialogue only until I could get inside a character’s head and write in her personality and rhythm. When I learned point-of-view, I described settings in first and third person, and became obsessive about eliminating head-hopping from the vignettes I wrote.
The technique hardest to learn was how toexpress emotion with only words. This was also the most important, because fiction is emotion. In addition to reading books, I made a list of emotions and the senses, the six senses because I write paranormal stories.
After feeling comfortable with the elements, emotions, and senses, I allowed myself to write a 5,000-word short story. It was quickly acquired by a publisher. Although the prep work took a year or more, I saved time, money, and disappointment by waiting to send queries until I wrote a publishable story.
I learned that technical writers and novelists all use both the left and right hemispheres of their brains to create their particular types of writing. The novelist creates a plot, a left-brain endeavor. The technical writer creates charts, document design, graphics; that’s right-brain territory. Today, I write technical material and fiction with equal ease and writer’s block is a distant memory
Note: This post originally appeared in NovelSpot.com during July 2008 when I was a guest blogger.