Writing Fiction while Sitting by the Bogwood Fire

Bogwood.n. Darkly colored wood that may be 10s of thousands of years old recovered from marshes and bogs in typically northern latitudes that is dried and used for fuel in areas where other wood is scarce or absent.

Just as the captive Jews sat by the rivers of Babylon and dreamed of Zion, so the Irish displaced by eviction and starvation in their own land kept their fires in the United States, Australia, Africa, New Zeeland, India and China. Scattered in countries of the expanding British Empire, those descended kept ingrained cultural ties with Ireland, even though it might be generations before any of them might return. Like any assimilating population their ties were stronger with the first generation of immigrants and weakened as time and family connections with immigrants from other countries were made. As the hand-me-down cultural heritage was weakened, radio, movies, TV and videos brought new exposures of Irish culture to those who had never experienced it first or even second hand, but now will self-identify to be of Irish descent which may have been five or more generations past.

Can a person be homesick for a land they have never seen? Travel agents will tell you that this is an unquestioned fact. There is no compelling reason to visit Ireland, vs. Spain, Egypt or Bulgaria, or any other place with more historic sites, gentler climates, better food options, etc. Yet, many thousands return to Ireland each year to see a storied land that they have thus far only experienced through the creative activities of others. If you cannot go, how can you experience a country without ever having been there? The answer is you obtain this experience from writing fictional stories based on the Irish experience.

Writing Fiction

Writing fiction is putting mental mind-travel adventures featuring characters of your own creation which you vividly picture in your mind and transfer onto paper. If you cannot visualize a scene and have it play out frame by frame in your mind, you can’t put it down on paper in a convincing manner. Writers and film directors know exactly how they want their next scene to come down before the cameras start rolling.

Can you visualize a set on stage and have your characters move on it? If you can the next step is to write your fiction where you describe the settings you have researched, the characters and allow them, through dialogue, to tell their stories and get the book started. You do not need to know who all the characters when you start or where they are going. Give your characters full and exciting lives and their actions and world events can help you set and tell their life stories.

People are complicated. They can and have experienced many different events throughout their lives including wars, natural disasters, loves won and loves lost, children, disabilities and ultimately death. These events woven through your characters’ lives can’t help but produce a gripping novel. Whereas a short story may only recount a single incident, the expanded space in a novel allows you to cover an entire lifetime including their interactions with historical and fictional individuals who might be friends at the start, but turn out to be bitter foes in the end.

Watching the bogwood fire burn brought me to thinking of the millions who had done the same. Their lives at times gave off brilliant shoots of flame, and at other times more smoke, but beneath was a bed of red-hot coals that radiated warmth into the room and seemingly across the centuries. Put this fire in its hearth in any of the thousands of ruined stone cottages that dot rural Ireland. Read of the times, see photos of the landscape and let your mind’s eye tour the landscape, smell the wet earth, take in a hint of the sea and rotting kelp and let your characters tell their tales by the light of the sparking fire. This how generations of Irish spent the dark winter days when there was no money to buy oil for their lamps and it was too early to go to bed.

Where would I start a story? Perhaps 10,000 years ago with the tree was in full leaf and wooly mammoths walked among them. Maybe I would start during Medieval Times when Viking raids threatened the entire coast each spring. Perhaps there is a tale to be told during “the troubles” that culminated with the Easter Uprising and the formation of an Independent Republic of Ireland. Or I could start it today with the uncertainty of a hard or soft Brexit and its potential impact.

There is ample material to be mined here to keep writers of Irish fiction busy for the rest of their lives, and I have not even touched on magic, superstition and fantasy. It all begins with time. Pick your time, select your characters, give them purpose and let them drive the story through trials, tribulations and conflict towards some ultimate, perhaps not fully realized, success. This is Ireland after all. All will turn out well, but likely not as quickly or easily as might be imagined – and that is what makes a good story.

One of the best recent examples of this sort of expansive Irish fiction is the 1992 movie, Far and Away, which was co-written by Director Ron Howard and Bob Dolman and stared Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman. The movie follows the life of a young Irishman who after a botched attempt to murder his landlord escapes to America with his landlord’s daughter where he and her go through a vividly shown tableau of late 19th Century life to restart their lives by participating in the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. In this case the screenplay was produced without the benefit of a prior book, but Howard and Dolman visualized each step of the process before the first foot of film was shot.

To an imaginative mind a single event, seemingly trivial on its own, can create a novel which might expand into an entire universe of activities as occurred in the unlikely events related by Walt Disney’s animated mouse which grew into an international company with not only movie properties, but theme parks, TV networks and media publications of all sorts.

What Does It Take?

A professional writer can produce a book-length manuscript in about three months. This is working at it every day with only a few breaks during the writing period. Writers are generally not worth living with during this period, or at least I am not. The creative period is followed by the even more daunting tasks of rewriting, reorganizing and polishing which might consume another month. Then the manuscript goes through the submittal, editing and publication process that might drag on for a year or more. Manuscripts by new authors have an uphill climb to be noticed in the publication world. Authors brought to near desperation that this book in which they have invested so much effort might never be published, decides to self-publish it. It becomes another of the million books published that year to a lack-luster reception. Is that the end of the book and their writing careers? It could be.

A Following

Even before a potential publisher picks up your book, one thing that they will want to know is how big is your following? Do you have a presence on social media? How many people care about what you do? Have you published in the past? Are you for whatever reason, well known? If the answer to these questions is, “Yes.” Then your book might have a chance at being read and perhaps passed on for further consideration. A writer can develop his own following and even serially publish his book in chapter form to gather readers and ultimately buyers of his works. This was done by many writers in the 19th Century whose new books might be serialized in newspapers all over the English-speaking world. The Sherlock Homes’ mysteries, Dickens’ many stories, Mark Twain’s works, etc. were often first published in this manner. You can do the same with a dedicated blog about your writing project and your book. By the time it is ready to be published you will have already received pre-publication orders for it from your fans. This is; however, a long-term process, that will take months and perhaps years to bring off the first time. The second time, and subsequent, times will be easier as you will have already established a fan base.

Are you meant to be a full or part-time fiction writer? That is a question that only you can answer and time will prove. You might not have the physical attributes to be an athlete. Perhaps you cannot draw, sculpt or paint. But, if you can imagine and paint vivid scenes with words on paper, there might be a book writer in there somewhere. If you do not try, you will never find out.

Have you been writing mini-stories or plays since childhood? Many writers have. Do you enjoy stories told by others and even have invented some of your own? Very often writers are also adept storytellers. Have you participated in impromptu stage performances? If so, this is a good indication. Have others told you that this or that was a good piece of writing and you saved it? That might be worth looking back over, even if it were done many decades ago. If you have been checking off all of these things as you have read them, you have the creative capabilities to produce fictional works.

Learning the skills can be done through taking on-line courses, reading books on techniques and ultimately, sitting down and putting words on paper. You must get over all of the mental and physical hurtles of delayed starts and the “I cant’s” that prevent you from doing anything. Many writers find it convenient to outline the plot and characters on paper and this gives them the skeleton of the novel to flesh out and a way to conveniently keep track of their progress. This is also helpful if elements of the novel are not written in chronological order, as might occur if you are on location where a significant part of the action in your book takes place and you want to capture that portion while you have all of the resources and reference materials at hand.

It makes no difference where in the story line you start. The thing is to start and then flail through it until it is done. Do this and you can write your novel. Go to it. Now.

This, and many more, tips on starting your own business are contained in my most recent business book, Create Your Own Job Security: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife. This book will help you formulate different business opportunities, sort them out into short, medium and long term activities and implement them. It also contains the nuts-and-bolts information on topics like how to name your business, secure copyrights, trademarks and become registered in your state. This book is available as a soft cover and e-book through Amazon.com and other on-line resources.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is a registered Professional Geologist in Georgia. He is, or has been, a member of several writers’ organizations including the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association (GOWA). He is the author of 18 books with his most recent title being “Create Your Own Job Security: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife.” He has been a radio host and does public speaking on work and environmental topics with appearances in the U.S., Europe and China. He is an active blogger and the producer of over 725 YouTube videos on outdoor and business topics.