I have published five books of poetry (The Uncollected Works of Mike Stone, Yet Another Book of Poetry, Bemused, Call of the Whippoorwill, and The Hoopoe’s Call), four science fiction novels (Why Is Unit 142857 Sad? (or the Tin Man’s Heart), The Rats and the Saps, Whirlpool, and Out of Time), and one book of essays culled from my blog (The Uncollected Essays, Conjectures, and Whatnot of Mike Stone). I love to write.
I have a single rule of thumb that governs the quality of my writing: I write what I would like to read and what hasn’t been written before by anyone else. I love to read.
I need to write. The reason is that I don’t just want to communicate with others. I want to create in others the emotions I felt when I had certain experiences. This requires readers who are willing and able to respond emotionally to the experiences I describe. It also requires that I be capable of describing those experiences.
But wait a minute! We’re talking about writing fiction, not autobiographies or history books, right? Yes, even in fiction, such as science fiction, science fantasy, who-done-its, and romance novels, you should write from your experience; otherwise, it will not be plausible for your readers. They will not want to suspend their judgment, which is necessary for them to flow with your story.
How do you do that? You can take your own experience and dress it up in a fictional character in any timeframe you want: past, present, or future. The fictional character can be a human, an alien, a robot, a ghost, a god, or whatever. The place can be anywhere: another country, another world, an alternate universe, or in your mind. The fictional character can be based on the character traits of several different people you have known well. Remember, you don’t have to just change the names of your characters to protect the innocent; you can bring to life new characters who will live in your readers’ minds.
I mentioned plausibility a couple paragraphs ago. To make my fiction plausible, I research the subject I’m writing about and learn as much as I can. If I want to write about a space ship, I read about current designs, their advantages and limitations, and current respected (scientific) conjectures about near-term and long-term developments that seem possible.
Another thing I do is map out a rough outline of the story. It usually starts as a bare-bones outline with a beginning scene or chapter and a final one. It is important in writing a novel to know how the story will end before you start.
My poetry doesn’t work that way, oddly enough. When I start a poem, often I just have the first line or just a few words. Once I write it down on paper or digitally, one line leads to another and to another, until I decide that the line would make a good last line.
Back to novels. After you have the first and last scenes, you have to figure out a plausible way to get from the beginning to the end. You come up with an intermediate scene. Then you conjure a scene to get you from one scene to the next and keep doing this until you have a well-developed plot that flows smoothly from the beginning to the end. You don’t want your reader to ask, “where did that come from?” That is called “deus ex machina” (a god from a machine). See deus ex machina (Wikipedia). It is a common style no-no of inexperienced or clueless writers.
This is how I have written my fictional novels. Different writers have different rules and techniques.