The Most Difficult Things Writers Have to Explain to Non-Writers, Part 1


“Where do you get all your ideas?”

Anyone else ever been asked this question? Of course you have. We love people who don’t write for fun. They are amazing. But there are just some things, like ideas and stories and characters and plot bunnies, they will never understand.

Yet sometimes we find ourselves caught in that loop. We want to be nice and tell people what it’s like to be a writer, but that requires a lot of explaining. The reality is, writers are just like non-writers, except to writers, writing is like breathing. You can explain how it works, but the reality isn’t quite as magical as what you might imagine from the outside looking in.

Difficult Thing #1: I come up with this stuff as I go, I’m really not that clever

English class is a great place to look if you’re trying to find metaphors and symbolism you never would have otherwise noticed in a story. It doesn’t mean the author didn’t do it on purpose, but not all writers are creative masterminds.

Most of the time, we’re just making it up as we go along. Some of the best stories are written with the freedom of mind to let things happen the way they’re supposed to, instead of trying to force yourself to plan everything out down to the last detail. As writers, we’re pretty smart. But we don’t come up with this stuff just to give you something to say in your next lit analysis. This stuff just sort of happens and we just go with it.

Difficult Thing #2: If the story is over, there doesn’t need to be a sequel

Every story has a beginning, middle and end. At least, that’s how it appears on the page. If you’re a writer, you know there’s another part to every story: everything you imagine but don’t actually include in the final product, and for good reason.

Some back stories and side plots aren’t meant to be written. Just because a minor character still has some secrets by the end of the book doesn’t mean there needs to be a second book that reveals all those secrets. Sometimes a writer chooses not to tell the whole story, because the story that’s been told is plenty. There doesn’t need to be more just because you still have questions. There are plenty of other books out there. It’s over. Move on.

Difficult Thing #3: My characters made me do it

It’s not my fault that plot twist just came out of nowhere, I promise. And that cliffhanger ending? Also not my fault. I don’t have as much control over this story as you probably think I do.

It’s really hard to explain the power characters have over the writers who create them to someone who has never spent enough time on a story for this phenomenon to occur. It makes us sound a little silly and probably like we’re exaggerating. But we’re definitely not. “My characters made me do it” is a legitimate excuse. They’re very persuasive. And they like to have their way.

Stay tuned for Part 2! If you have any suggestions for the second installment, compose your words of wisdom below.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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