Nonfiction is not fiction. Write that down somewhere.
Your nonfiction essay is about ‘What’. What happened, is happening. Pick a topic, keep the matter as factual and dispassionate as possible. If you let too much feeling and opinion creep in, you’re writing propaganda or a diatribe. I suppose there’s a place for those, but it’s not what I try to do with my nonfiction essays.
But this blog is primarily about fiction. So how do you begin?
Ask ‘What if?’ Simple, right?
What if you found yourself in the distant past, Earth’s Pleistocene? That’s the beginning of Darwin’s World. But pick your own what-if, I found DW first! What if vampires were real, zombies, what if space travel was ordinary, the moon was a few hours flight away, you’re in the endeavor to terraform Mars and/or Venus, just…what if?
Now it’s time for part two: ‘why’. Followed closely by ‘how’. Why can bring in all sorts of solutions, and how can be as detailed as you wish. But beware of doing that in science fiction. Some of those ‘how’ things may make you revered as a prophet of the future, but most will see your book discarded as knowledge evolves.
Consider an old, but still relevant series: Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘Tarzan’. What if? A child was left alone, adopted by apes…
Dated? Certainly. Formulaic? Absolutely. And the underlying theme of unknown territory, Darkest Africa, was soon overtaken by events. No great apes. No lost cities, lost tribes. Nonetheless, the books still sell, movies are still based on them, and Burroughs’ themes are still relevant to later writers.
Part of that why and how is where authors get to shovel in lots of imagination. That’s what makes fiction fiction, imagination.
Do you have that quality? Sure you do. You’ve daydreamed, right? Imagined what would happen if you won the lottery? Had the ability to pick up buses and move them aside so you could park (OK, maybe not) but maybe leap tall buildings at a single bound…
It’s what sells comic books. They’ve been doing well since I was a child, back when wheels were still square. Even the characters are often the same.
Your challenge is to bring your imagination to the story.
If it’s to be a good story, it will be internally consistent. You won’t invent a new talent for your character on the spot; there must have been clues, hints, before. If he’s never piloted a car or a boat, it’s something of a stretch to suddenly make him a successful starship captain. Still, some have done it. Heinlein, for example. I read it, loved it, didn’t think about RAH chortling at readers while playing a monumental prank on us (Starman Jones). Think about it: a stowaway, in just one trip, becomes captain of the ship. From cleaning up after the animals, the lowest job on the craft, naive, a rube, somewhat bumbling but likeable, in one trip he is carried through a number of adventures but still progresses to dizzying heights. HOW Heinlein makes that happen is the book. If you’ve never read it, do so. Dated? Sure. Computers now invalidate the plot. But it’s still entertaining.
Because Heinlein began with ‘what if’ and had enough imagination to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’.
I hope I can do as well, someday.
Maybe you can too.