Fictionally Challenged

I’ve been challenged to write a story based on a picture, which is cool, but I must confess…

I have never written fiction.

Oh, that’s not entirely true. A year ago November I wrote 50,000 words of fiction. 1667 words per day. A novel, to be sure. Or, at least, the makings of one. I was challenged back then by Damn, Girl to participate in NaNoWriMo and I took up the challenge. I had this novel floating around in the back of my mind that I outlined in 1993 but never wrote. A month after I outlined it I turned it into the introductory adventure of a new superhero RPG campaign and my wife made a character for it. We’ve now run 630 continuous such adventures based in that world over the course of the last 25 years. Plenty of material there.

But when December 1st , 2017 came along, I set the half-completed manuscript aside and never looked at it again. In that same vein I’ve probably started 600 short stories in my 50 years of life, but I’ve never finished one. Most I didn’t even save.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. My 10,000 hours of human mastery, as explained by Malcom Gladwell, is undoubtedly my ability to make up stories. As a lifetime gamemaster I can put adventures together in a pinch, combining disparate characters (and players) into a concentrated whole, invent a universe around them, and quickly create an integrated story to be enjoyed by all. My ability to portray non-player characters that are rich and believable has been remarked upon by many throughout the years.

So imagination, I would say, is not my failing.

I also believe I’m fairly talented at crafting sentences. I get the whole concept of nouns and verbs and adjectives. Putting them together to produce long, drawn out sentences that don’t feel overly produced – while holding to a modicum of interlaced adverbs – comes fairly naturally to me. Short sentences do, too. Mixing them together to create interesting paragraphs and, like, blogs and things is kind of fun.

So it’s not that I can’t write.

I just can’t seem to put my imagination and writing together to produce fiction.


You tell me. Put on your analyst cap and, with brutal honesty, tell me why Tom can’t (to this point) weave yarns. And, if you’d be so bold, take it one step further and tell me how you do it. Do you have a process?

For example, do you outline?

  • Introduction
    • Man walks through forest clearing, thinking about his prey and the damage that it has unintentionally caused. Allude to length of hunt.
    • Man thinks how lucky it was that the prey’s last leap didn’t land on a farmhouse or other domicile.
  • The Hulk
    • Slowly reveal that this man, and his team, have been hunting Dr Banner’s alter ego for some time.
  • Conflict
    • Team finds Banner, sleeping, sets a perimeter.
    • Banner wakes.
    • Banner escapes the clutches of his hunters, running into the forest blindly.
    • Team catches up with frantic prey at bottom of cliff-face. Cornered.
    • That is not good for the team.
  • Conclusion
    • Team picks up the shattered refuse of yet another unsuccessful hunt, continues chase.
    • Team comes upon a shattered farm house at the bottom of the prey’s last leap.

Or do you just start writing and let the chapters unfold?

The destruction is terrible; it always is. Branches, entire trees, as old as the county itself broken – shattered – without forethought or regret. The terrible thing just bounded this way and then bounded away. We are ants in his giant world. Tiny things hardly visible in his perception, only noticed when our anthills block his path, however barely, or when we deign to pinch him. Our mightiest assaults are only that to him, a pinch.

But we have to find a way to kill him.

Or is it something else for you entirely?

I’m legitimately curious as to your thoughts, and as to your approach. Lord knows I have failed, time and again, to get my stories to start somewhere, move somewhere, and finish somewhere.

Are some of us just not built for writing fiction?

54 thoughts on “Fictionally Challenged

      1. Haha. It is, since we’re making things up, things which need to be logical and attention-grabbing. Agreed, it’s time- and energy consuming. I almost get sick writing sometimes. Finally, it’s a craft if we have at least some talent. Practice makes perfect, so keep up the good work.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I have a hunch you’d write (or finish) an excellent fiction novel if you really put your mind to it. I guess it takes some determination, time and figuring out a way to let go of that fear of writing something really, really bad. That’s how I got to writing approximately 90,000 words that I’m hoping to publish one day. I’d say that the hardest part was finding the time.
    I did have some general idea of how I wanted the story to unravel, but I’m not opposed to letting my mind play around and improvise. I’d say I use a combination of those two approaches.
    Obviously, you have the needed imagination and you know how to craft sentences (which is something I still struggle with… but hopefully, I’ll learn), so in words of Shia LaBeouf… I think you need to “just do it”. If you really want to, of course. And if it’s something you enjoy doing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the input, 5yais! I’m willing to bet the edit portion of the journey is even more strenuous than the writing portion. It’s a tough hill to climb. I mean, you gotta REALLY want it, don’t you? Especially when it comes to novels. Stories? Boy, I should be able to churn those out. Maybe my heart just ain’t in it, and all I really wanna write about is Tom. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re completely right. So far, editing portion of the journey isn’t very fun at all, to be honest. If I had more money, I’d definitely pay a professional to help me out. But I think the real suffering will begin when I get to the formatting part.

        There’s nothing wrong with wanting to write about Tom, as long as it makes you happy. 🙂
        When it comes to short stories, has it ever happened to you that you started writing a short story, only to realize that it won’t be as short as you initially thought? That’s what got me to thinking that writing a novel maybe won’t be impossible after all.

        If you do take a break from posting about Tom on your blog and post a fiction story instead, I’ll gladly read it. I love short stories.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. If I do, I’ll take ya up on it! You know, I’ve often heard it said that writing a short story, in many ways, is more difficult than writing a novel. In a novel you can draw things out, in a story you have to find a way to make your point in with minimal word capacity. Do you find that true?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, I think that there is a lot of truth in that. It’s been a long time since my last short story, and I can imagine I would find writing it even more challenging now since I used the “larger canvas” for so long.
        Years ago, I concluded that writing short stories just isn’t my thing (unless I can somehow connect them into a bigger picture) but I still very much admire people who write them. I’m currently reading Lovecraft’s short stories, and so far I enjoyed most of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am no master storyteller by any means, but I have written a novel and started a second one that has been sitting on the shelf for several months but will be exhumed eventually.

    All you need to do is have an idea, write an outline, sit your ass down, and WRITE without any conscience. Don’t worry about what it sounds like, how it reads, spelling, punctuation or any of that stuff. Just get the words down, and revisit it later. If you’ve written short stories, think of a novel as a bunch of short stories woven together. Of course, you have to want to do it, otherwise all you are doing is torturing yourself and your wife

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Really good point: you have to really want to do it. I’ve never written a (completed) story, either. Maybe I’m just not that into fiction. I don’t even read much of it these days. But, man, back in the nineties I read a couple of sci-fi books a week for a while. How come I never got the itch then? I guess it is not to wonder why but simply go forth how the heart guides us, eh? Why torture myself. Why torture her. 😅

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What was the question? Wait, there is a clearing in the Forrest… ??? Tom, I’m just kidding. Fiction or not you have to love what you are writing about. What do you want to explain? Fiction or not. That’s my two cents and now I’m broke. I got nothing more…😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Who knows. Even I don’t know what I want to write about until the fingers start clicking, most days. I’ve got my “to do” list and I’ve got Mrs C’s “honey do” list and I’ve got work and “church” and this stuff is what I do when I’m not doing all that. If I’m happy, why ask why, right? 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brilliant!

        So let’s just call this entry “something to write about on a Thursday morning” more than a cry for help. But, I am curious about the processes others use to write. Do you have any rituals, dear Kim??

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nope. I have what I call ‘word snowstorms.’ Get me something to write on because it’s going to be a long day of writing… many times it ends up in the trash, but those few times it doesn’t are what I’m after. Oh! I buy those regular old, single subject, spiral tablets for 79 cents at Walmart or 99 cents on Hollar. I keep myself stocked. I write all my ideas, stories, poems, in one of those bad boys, when it’s full, I review it. It’s a keep or a throw. I have a magazine holder for the keeps… there aren’t many to be honest!😂🤣😂 That’s all I got, my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s exactly what I was going for! Thank you, Kim, for sharing your process. I love it and I learned a couple of things: (1) Writing is a dig-in all the time process no matter how “easy” some people (like you!) make it look, and (2) Most importantly, you LOVE to write! That may be the single most important (missing) ingredient in my repertoire. I don’t have snowstorms, just occasional light showers. 😁


  4. Can you write fiction, do you have the skills and the imagination….of course!!!! But, I get your predicament. I am also a good at starting and not so good with the follow through type of writer. I think that is why I write poetry and blog posts; they are fragments, snapshots. I do find that if I am reading fiction, I get more inspired to write fiction…well, if I am reading at all, I am more inspired to write, so that it just another vague example. I am super helpful here, aren’t I? What about sci fi flash fiction? I say it is your wonderful imagination and you have to let it take you where it will, in whatever genre feels right! From what I have read from you, Sweet Tom, you write non fiction, fiction and poetry (oh yeah, don’t think I have forgotten about the poetry)!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! Awesome, Susan, I appreciate all of that. The truth is I write blogs – essays about the world according to Tom. I read some fiction, a lot of non-fiction, and almost no poetry (y’all are the only exceptions). I have written poetry but, like fiction, my heart just isn’t in it much. I guess my reply to your reply is the answer I was looking for, eh?

      “Why doesn’t Tom write fiction?”
      “Tom doesn’t much enjoy writing fiction”

      I enjoy making up stories and play-acting, but writing? I guess I like spending that time churchin’. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Tom, this post felt like it was speaking to me! I’m going to say something predictable here because novel writing is something I’ve been wrestling with myself (not just recently but for several years). I’m no expert, but I think it’s best to start with Why? Wby are you compelled to write fiction (or anything else for that matter)? There are millions of methods as there are authors, but none of them have helped me write better, reading some of these “rules” can even be detrimental to finding your unique voice and style. Another blogger told me there’s no such thing as fiction, I had to agree, it’s all based on real experiences and emotions. Writing fiction can be freeing for the imagination, but because of this it needs certain constraints such as real emotion, truthiness/believability, relevance, otherwise the narrative becomes dissonant, the suspense gets lost or stagnates. I’m intrigued to find out what motivates you. After some soul searching I realised I simply wanted to make books and stories that I wish existed. That’s all. Some well intentioned friends suggested I do intensely detailed outlines like Faulkner, others suggested I do a poll or a forum to decide on best possible plot lines. But I decided that’s well and good for some authors, but I’m not doing it for money or fame or to cater to anyone but myself. No one can speak for you but you. And if I had just a few years or months to live, this what I’d like to finish before I go.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is such an awesome response. All of you with your heartfelt admissions and advice have given me a lot of clarity of thought. For you, I say write, write, write. Do it with everything you’ve got and don’t not do it, ever. Because if you do it’s too easy not to do it again for a while. Write everyday, at a set time and place, with peace surrounding you. Why? Because if you had “a few years or months to live” that is what you’d want to do. That’s called passion and, sister, you’ve got it.

      The advice that I would give to me, in contrast, is: don’t do it.

      “Tom,” I’d say, “Don’t try to write a novel. Don’t try to write fiction.”

      Why?! Because my twilight hours would be set for different goals. For dogs and beers and music and (bad) dancing, and rooms full of raucous friends and maybe finishing a chore or two that I really want to do. I’d probably arrange my garage one last time if I knew I only had a few hours left. 🤣

      I’m not a writer, really. I write, here and there. I’m a thinker, a dreamer, and a storyteller – one with some writing skills – but when I sit and think about things to do I hardly ever think “I want to write something!” More like I “should” write something, because I can.

      But “should, because I can” is not passion. “Should, because I want to” is. You want to. I can. Well, we both can, obviously, but you really want to!

      This is not to say I never will, by the way. I’m closer now than I was when I was 30. But I don’t regret not writing a novel at 30 and I doubt I’ll regret not writing one at 50 when I’m 70.

      But who can say?

      Thank you so much for giving me a wonderful perspective on it all your response, MP! I can’t wait to read what you write!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Beautiful Tom! Thank you! I will do that!
        I don’t think you will regret not writing or writing if its a “should” that comes from inside as a conscious decision. When I was in school my teachers often told me I would be a great writer someday. My creative writing teacher in high school told me I “should” move to NYC and pursue a writing career in earnest. But I never wanted to do it because I felt I didn’t have any stories worth telling. So I pursued other things for most of my adult life with no regret. It wasn’t until recently that the stories found me, so here I am full circle!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I started so many novels it’s ridiculous but then I got into blogging, from there poetry and from there short stories and I honestly didn’t think I’d ever do anything else. However, a few months ago I wrote a short story and I could ‘feel’ the characters (daft as that may sound), I knew how they sounded and what they looked like and how their lives would unfold. I am now 27,000 words in and they just keep on coming.
    I have no doubt that you have the talent to write a novel Tom, you just need to find the one that unfolds from within you, the one that could never be written by anyone else because it is wholly yours :O) xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that! I can’t wait to hear more about your novel, Lisa.

      I’ve only ever started one novel (the NaNoWriMo one) but I’ve started several stories. I never finished one. I have never really written much, except in journals. The process of writing, in the past, always drained me. I figured it should energize me, excite me, but … mostly … it made me tired and unsocial.

      Now I blog. I love to do that. I get all of my writing fix from doing it. I hardly journal (though I think I should, because that seems to keep me on my path). I like creating stories but I don’t like writing them. Is that odd?

      Maybe it’s okay. I get my writing fix here. I get my creativity fix in gaming. I get my legacy in having a clean garage. Okay, I need to work on my legacy. But I am fulfilled.

      I don’t know that I’ll ever be a novel or story writer. Maybe it’s just as simple as not enjoying it. I don’t. know (yet).

      But now that you’ve intrigued me with your story I want to hear how you write. Outlines? Free-flow? Set times? Set hours? Give me your routine or lack thereof!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you get your fix, that’s all that matters; if writing isn’t a pleasure then why do it? I love your blog and your pleasure in writing it shines through 😊
        With my story, it started as 5 separate short stories, from that I got a theme and it just sort of went from there. It’s always free flow and I have no set times or hours. Saying that I write most days and usually between 2,000 and 3,000 words in a sitting. Once it’s finished I’ll go back over it all, make corrections, check it all flows, possibly develop the characters further and make certain that I enjoy reading it; i figure if I don’t take pleasure from the read no-one else will 😉 xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Smart thinking! I’m always interested to know if folks go back and read what they wrote immediately, and do any editing, before moving forward. When I wrote the 50k words I wrote back in ’17 I just wrote ’em; I still haven’t read what I wrote! 🤣


  7. Maybe it’s not enough of a challenge to you. That’s an idea I’m just throwing out there—I like to throw things out and see what sticks, although I do try to have some basis for my conjectures.
    Here, for instance, I think of Hitchcock. He could plot out a whole movie in his head, every scene, every angle, and when it was time to get started filming he’d be bored. If he didn’t have the studio breathing down his neck he might not have made most of his films.
    Try finding a challenge in it, something to make it fun.
    Also I think of the writer Robert Ward whom I met, and whose books are fun but he admits they’re not great because he enjoys the thrill of the first draft but he doesn’t want to do the work of editing. But if he could still manage to finish several novels maybe you can too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! That could be it; I may be like Hitchcock. I did a lot of work preparing that novel back in 1993 only to turn it into a game instead of a book. Coming up with the ideas, and running ’em in a game, are fun for me. Writing down the chronology of what happened, and updated all the files I keep on it all, is less fun. I guess it’s the studio in me making me do all that!

      Make it fun, eh? Well, that’s food for thought, Chris. Thanks for that input!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Personally, I think you’re a consummate storyteller and you weave a damn fine yarn even if it’s not fiction. As for me, in my non-blog writing, I usually start with a phrase or an image and take it from there. Mostly, I just see the visuals and then describe what I see. That’s how my new novel started–with one phrase and then a vivid image of two sets of feet running for their lives down an apartment hallway. I also get a lot of ideas when I’m in the bath. I highly recommend it:-)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! In all reality I’ll continue to spin yarns about life (though I just read “The Green New Deal” so a political post may be coming shortly) rather than make stories. I am 16 pages from finishing reading my first fiction book in a year, however (“To Kill A Mockingbird,” finally), so who knows. I have a very important fiction book to read soon, so stayed tuned for my thoughts on that one. 😉

      I really appreciate your input on the writing process. I know how different it is for everybody and I’m always fascinated how each great creator approaches a tale, a blog, a book, a poem, or a play. A bath, eh? I used to come up with great ideas in the hot tub, but I’d never get out in time to write them down. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Keep spinning those yarns, and I’ll keep gladly reading them! Also, I’ve been known to run across the room soaking wet to capture a phrase–I don’t recommend it on hardwood floors–very slippery!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. If that was your picture, I see what you did there 😉
    To answer the question; I’m winging it. I wrote many fictional short stories as a child, mostly with a supernatural theme. I was a weird kid. As for process, I think the ending would come first. As an adult, I’ve always written something, whether that be newsletters & information leaflets for work, or ditties for friends’ birthdays, but never anything purely fictional or long. Writing is just a much-needed creative outlet for me and a sanity saver. The unexpected bonus is it’s provided this introvert with a way of engaging with the outside world. So, I don’t write because I have a book in me and need to write in that sense, I write because I can be the voice I’d want to be if I was sociable! I like to make people laugh. Humour with heart is one of my favourite forms of entertainment so I use writing to hopefully be a creator of that too. I have no ambition to write a fiction novel, I don’t have the interest or skill. Some of what I’ve churned out is fictional, but again, only short pieces. I usually get an idea walking to work, get a couple of amusing sentences in my head, then go from there. My partner on the other hand is full of fiction and books. His approach is to physically map out a story, with post it notes and arrows, connecting the dots. Looks like he’s solving a murder! I agree with Suzanne above, I think you spin a great yarn, and use your skill to great effect. If the balance of your creativity works for you, you’ve hit a nice sweet spot. If however you’re feeling a gap, maybe you just haven’t found the right story to tell yet, or a novel isn’t the way to go 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lockwood, for the kind words!

      Yes, that was my picture, and that was the first story that popped into mind. I thought about sitting down and writing it – for kicks – or something else but, as I started to write, this all came out instead. I think my writing is more writing about writing than writing. Does that make sense?

      I really appreciate the feedback and input on approaches to writing – yours seems similar to Suzanne’s, and your partner’s seems more like I’ve tried to compose in the past. Outlining, taking notes, putting my entire soul and inspiration into the singular idea of producing … it.

      Although I don’t like the word “fail” I’ll use it loosely here —> we can see that all my attempts have “failed” thus far. To be more honest, and some of the others above have helped me reach this conclusion, I do not – at this point – enjoy writing fiction. Or, at least, I don’t enjoy the PROCESS of writing fiction, to this point in time. I’m fine with that. The same can be said, for me, with poetry.

      I’ve hit my sweet spot, as you say. I write what I want to write when I want to write (and have time to do so) and I enjoy it immensely. I don’t always have time to write and I don’t always want to write, and during those times I am doing what is (a) necessary, or (b) satisfyingly alternative.

      Will that always be the case? Heaven knows.

      Thank you again for the fantastic response. Y’all make my life sweeter still!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t know if I’m made to write a novel either. I lose focus after a while. That’s why, like Susan, I prefer flash fiction, short stories and poetry.

    Usually and idea will come and I’ll sit down and write everything I thought at the moment. Very rarely is the story or poem complete from the beginning. I leave them alone for some time. I return after a couple of months to see if I have found out what to do next about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great process, and one I’d probably have to follow very closely myself. Blogging is easy (sort of) because I can just take what’s in my head here, spill it all out on paper in some semi-organized fashion, and send it to the world. Also fits into my overburdened schedule, too.

      Thanks for popping in, Basilike, hope to see you more!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very good at this kind of blogging. I find it very difficult — just writing what’s on your mind, in a way that can be interesting to readers.

        You are welcome. Visiting you is always a pleasure.

        Liked by 1 person

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