by Hank Quense
Whenever you start a new endeavor you face a learning curve. When you graduate from college and start a job, there’s a learning curve. Enter a trade school and you’ll be on a learning curve for the entire term. Want to take up knitting as a hobby? There’s a learning curve for that. So too with writing fiction. It has a learning curve.
That’s what this article is about: the learning curve for fiction writing.
Books on fiction writing don’t talk about the learning curve. It’s as if they assume you already know the learning curve exists, so they don’t bother to talk about what is involved with learning to write fiction.
The purpose of this article is to point out where you are at if you’re just beginning to write. In that case, you are at the starting point of the learning curve.
This isn’t meant to discourage you. Rather, it will roadmap the way forward using a SWOT analysis to give you a plan.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is a popular way to analyze a situation in order to identify ways of improving the situation.
Its main value as an analytical tool is to point out areas that can be worked on to improve the situation. It’s essential that you view the SWOT analysis in that light. Don’t take it as an insurmountable list of obstacles.
Let’s talk about your strengths first.
All new writers bring these strengths to their fiction:
- Fresh ideas and approaches
The primary objective of a SWOT analysis is to grow this list of strengths. What follows is an explanation of these current strengths.
Enthusiasm: As a newbie writer you are probably brimming with enthusiasm and bursting with story ideas. This is a great strength and you have to fight to keep it at a high pitch.
Fresh Ideas and Approaches: Enthusiasm leads to lots of new ideas. This is another strength since writing fiction is dependent upon ideas, creativity and new approaches to stories.
Energy: New writers bring boundless energy to a new project. Keep the energy level high is necessary and it is tough in the face of conflicting demands on your time.
It’s important to keep these strengths from deteriorating over time and to grow the list.
Weakness are areas the writer has to work on to improve.
- Weak Story Design skills
- Weak story-telling skills
- Lack of a support group
These weaknesses must be addressed. In a SWOT analysis, the value of identifying the weakness is to expose them so they can be worked on. These weaknesses should be viewed as areas that can be turned into strengths over time.
Weak story design skills: Starting out means you don’t have much experience in developing characters or plots. Your initial stories may not have a character arc or an emotional arc. Scene design may be something you’ve never heard of. All of these areas fall under the story design issue. The good news is that this weakness can be resolved over time by studying and by writing stories. This weakness is especially vulnerable to critiquing. Having other writers critique your stories is perhaps the fastest and best way to change this weakness into a strength.
Weak story-telling skills: Story-telling skills, especially written stories, are not something we are born with. These skills must be developed through writing stories and getting them critiqued. Story-telling topics to be addressed include point-of-view — perhaps the most technical area of fiction writing. Others are show-don’t-tell, stimulus & reactions, foreshadowing and effective dialog. The good news is that this weakness can also be eliminated through study and writing.
Lack of a support group: In the beginning you are alone. You probably have few contacts who are also writers and you may not know anyone who can offer valid criticism of your stories. Family members don’t count unless they are also writers. Non-writers don’t have the knowledge to tell you how to improve your story and your writing. Only other writers can do that. Over time, your list of contacts will grow and this weakness will diminish.
Inexperience: The problem here is that inexperience means you will make a lot of mistakes. Another issue is that, with your inexperience, you don’t know that you are making mistakes. With critiquing, these mistakes will be exposed and your inexperience will lessen. Another weakness will bite the dust.
These opportunities are waiting for you to exploit them.
- New areas of learning
- Improve fiction writing skills
- Develop a writing voice
You may not be able to address these areas immediately for a number of reasons. These reasons may include: not enough time right now; too much other work at present; may involve expenses that can’t be covered at this time. Usually the primary reason is that your workload is too heavy to allow you to spend time on these opportunities. Nevertheless, the opportunities exist and are waiting to be exploited.
The best way to approach these opportunities is to choose one of them at a time to work on. Selecting all of them will probably ensure that none of them get exploited.
New areas of learning: There are many books on a variety of writing topics. Poetry is a possibility as are scripts and stage plays.
Improve fiction writing skills: This one doesn’t need much direct involvement since you’ll actually be addressing it every time you write a story or even work on the story design issues such as creating characters.
Develop a writing voice: This is an essential growth possibility for any writer. The simple fact is you can’t write a story using your speaking voice. You have to develop a separate and distinct writing voice. Once again, writing stories will help on this issue.
There are a number of threats you must deal with in the early stages of your writing career:
- Writing is tough
- Getting published is tough
- Too many story ideas
The cumulative effect of these threats can be decision to stop writing and move on to something else. That would be a mistake. Several of the threats shown here actually dissipate over time and with constant writing.
Inertia: Inertia is always a threat and can happen at any time. It usually appears as a reluctance to sit in front of a computer and write. An occasional day off is nothing to worry about, but when it happens consistently it is a sign that inertia has moved in. This often occurs after a series of setbacks such as rejections or critiques that rip apart your latest work. I think the inertia effect is quite natural, but it has to be shaken off. Getting back to writing is the best solution. Starting a new writing project is often the cure for inertia.
Writing is tough: Writing quality stories requires skill and craftsmanship. Both of these qualities can be acquired over time, but they require hard work and constant striving to improve. This can wear one down and negative consequences will result.
Getting published is tough: Besides the high standards that many editors and publishers have established, there is an ever expanding number of competitors striving for a small number of publishing slots in magazines and publishing houses
Discouragement: Based on the above threats, you can see that discouragement seems almost natural. It takes great effort to fend off this discouragement and to keep writing and submitting
Too many story ideas: This may seem strange, but it is a real threat. Once you get the hang of story design and what is required to create a story, you may get flooded with good story ideas, so many that there isn’t enough time to write them all. This can lead to a sort of paralysis as you wonder what to work on while a dozen potential stories are competing for your attention. The upshot frequently is that none of them get worked on as you struggle to prioritize them.
Over time, your efforts to change the threats and weaknesses will pay dividends. At the end of a year, the chart will be different. At the end of two years, the chart will be very much different.
However, if you make a new analysis at that time, you will end up with a chart that has an entirely new set of Weaknesses and Threats. Hey, that’s life. To compensate, the new analysis will also have a new and much longer set of Strengths and Opportunities.
Two of the identified weakness can be addressed by enrolling in online courses. Two of these are my Story Design and Story-telling techniques. Both are available through Udemy. You can find out more by following this link: https://bit.ly/32Kb7TI
For vacations, Hank and Pat usually visit distant parts of the galaxy. Occasionally, they also time-travel.
Besides writing novels, Hank lectures on fiction writing, publishing and book marketing. He is most proud of his talk showing grammar school kids how to create a short story. He used these lectures to create an advanced ebook with embedded videos to coach the students on how to create characters, plots and settings. The target audience is 4th to 7th graders. The book’s title is Fiction Writing Workshop for Kids.