I’m not talking about following your passions in each and every life decisions. If you follow your feelings in what you do each day, your life will turn into a mess and you’ll never get any work done.
But, in writing, following your passion can help you discover what you really like writing about. Because just “writing a story” is too vague. What sort of story? What genre? What style? And then, what is your focus in the story? Do you explore relationships or action? Do you examine corruption or magic?
And it can be hard to navigate all the questions that come from putting words to paper or screen. How do you know whether you should give more page time to your romance or move on to the next big battle? To include the inner workings of the “powers that be” or to focus on the “lowly” citizen?
Initially, it can be useful to explore both, to use the “dictums” of genres and other books as a loose guide. If you are writing a fantasy, read other fantasies, and then spend a similar amount of time on similar subjects. If they go into detail on their battles, try doing the same thing. If they summarize government procedures, do the same.
But, after you’ve been writing for a while, it can be helpful to throw the advice and genre expectations overboard and write what you’re passionate about. Craft your story so it focuses on the things that interest and excite you. If you like battles, plot an action/adventure element into the story to where a lot of battles take place. If you prefer dialogue, put your characters in situations where they’ll talk.
This doesn’t mean you won’t have to write elements that you don’t like. There will still be scenes where more description is required than you’d like, or places where some action is needed. You will still have to actually work at your writing. But every story doesn’t have to have the same elements. Some focus on the villain and spend a great deal of time showing what she or he is up to, helping the reader feel suspense by knowing things the characters don’t know. And other books, while still having villains, treat them more as side characters.
Take Pride and Prejudice as an example. Jane Austen gives the plot a villain–George Wickham–but spends most of the book on Darcy and Elizabeth, on Bingley and Jane, and on all the human reactions and interactions that pertain to the main couple. Wickham is a side character. We don’t see him struggling with his debts and laughing at Darcy. We don’t see him catch Lydia’s eye. We don’t see him plotting to ruin her, or scheming to run away with her when he leaves his regiment. He only comes into the book as he helps or hinders the primary focus.
And I think this is because Austen’s primary interest and passion was to show ordinary people (or the gentry, rather) in ordinary situations, interacting with their family, their friends, and each other. Even though things like duels and seductions, elopements and such come into the overall plots of her books, they aren’t the primary focus and frequently, they don’t even happen on the page. Primarily, the characters are told about them rather then experience them direction, and then they have to deal with the consequences.
Her novels aren’t an exploration of crimes of passion as much as an examination of their aftermath, of how adultery in one of the members affects a family (Mansfield Park), how an elopement can change how a family is viewed (Pride and Prejudice), how a gentleman handles the situation when the man who seduced his lady-love is trying to court another woman he loves, years later (Sense and Sensibility). And it wasn’t as though dramatic, gothic stories where such events happened as the primary focus weren’t being written in Jane Austen’s time. It’s just that, ultimately, those weren’t the stories she wanted to tell.
So let your passion help you craft the story you want to write. Don’t feel that you have to spend a great deal of time writing battles or intrigue or romance, even, if that’s not who you are. If that isn’t what really interests you, then it shouldn’t be part of your books. You will write your own version of fiction far better if you write what interests you, and not what you feel your story “has to have” in order for it to be marketable.
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by Prawny, Creative Commons