Writing questionnaire

My old writing coach is writing a book about writing and “voice.” She has a chapter she is currently working on about “the storytelling impulse as an element of voice.” She sent her current and former students/clients a questionnaire. I just sent my answers off to her, and thought I’d put them in here as well for posterity’s sake.


1. How did you come to realize that fiction was a natural fit for you? Do you write in other genres as well (which ones)?

Wow. Realizing fiction was a “natural fit” for me goes so far back into the womb of time I don’t actually remember coming to that conclusion, although I’m sure I did at some point. I know I didn’t consider the idea of writing fiction until I was eleven years old, and that I subsequently wrote fiction, poetry, essays, academic articles, and journals. The only form of writing I wasn’t particularly successful at was poetry. I didn’t write *bad* poetry, necessarily, it just wasn’t something that caught on with me after my teenaged angst period, and the stuff I wrote reflects that sort of self-involvement.

In my teenaged years/early twenties, I felt the *urge* to write fiction but didn’t produce much–a few short stories and one novella, written either as school projects or at the urging of friends. I *knew* I was capable of writing fiction and *wanted* to do it, but *didn’t* do it successfully and regularly until I had something to say, something to communicate with my writing. I didn’t have any ideas with enough originality and passion behind them until I was in my late twenties.

I still write essays and I still journal, although fiction is my favorite genre of expression.

2. How would you describe your own fiction? (what length, tone, audience, subgenre if any?)

Generally, I write long stuff, novel-length pieces. A good portion of it would fall into the “lesbian fiction” genre (for lack of a better term; its more general or women’s fiction that happens to have lesbian characters). Both in the past and now, I have also written science fiction and fantasy/action-adventure. Lately, I’ve been writing action/adventure fantasy in screenplay format.

3. What makes fiction (or storytelling) a good form for you? What do you like best about writing fiction?

My imagination is a stronger muscle than my powers of observation (lol). I have more interest in what my imagination comes up with than what I see in my everyday life/the world at large (to put it crudely, I’m the sort who has sexual fantasies about people I make up in my head rather than people I know.)

I think fiction provides me with more flexibility in giving concrete form to what’s underneath that wants creative expression–feelings, themes I want to explore–than a memoir or non-fiction would.

4. Which of these feel the most important or inspiring to you, and why?

Plot Character Dialogue other (Humor, Language, Conflict, Epiphany, Theme, etc.)

Character, dialogue, and theme are my strengths/interests.

I would characterize my stories as (nearly always) a psychological exploration of a fictional character. My main characters are usually archetypes that I have come across in my life that have personal resonance for me, such as, for example, “the emotionally screwed-up tomboy with parental issues.” The writing is then a psychological exploration of such a person.

Dialogue is easiest for me to write. I nearly always start writing a particular scene by writing bare-bones dialogue. Which means that most of my scenes center around interaction between characters.

Theme is also really important to me, although it usually emerges OUT of a story that *begins with* with the characters. I only figure out “what it is I want to write about/say” (the themes) after I start writing it. Big themes for me lately: family, identity, isolation/connection.

5. How do you come up with your ideas for writing?

They burble up from the unconscious. I can keep notes of interesting things I see and hear, but if I sit down and try to write about them, my enthusiasm usually wanes fast. My daily experience has to be absorbed inside me, broken down, reformed by my imagination, and connected to themes already of interest to me before it really catches my interest.

Once I’m on a writing project and need ideas about different details/plot points in a story, I brainstorm about them, and then set ideas aside and wait for the un/subconscious to do its work choosing and creating the ideas I will eventually go with.

6. How involved do you get with your stories or characters? In what way?

I think about the characters, plot, and action quite often and act them out in my head or with my body as they occur to me, but…I’m not sure what this question is asking, really. Writing is my favorite pastime, and I think about it a lot, I write *about* my writing process some, discuss my characters with readers if they are interested, but…still not sure what this question is getting at.

7. Does your fiction tend to be autobiographical? To what extent? If so, why do you choose fiction over nonfiction? (What does fiction offer you that nonfiction doesn’t?)

It’s autobiographical in the sense that all writing is autobiographical–we “write what we know/(have experienced)” or what we can glean from research. But no, events in my stories are rarely lifted whole from my life or the life of someone I know, at least not in a deliberate way.

I use the analogy of a stained glass window. Imagine all the experiences I’ve ever had in my life are a large stained glass mosaic. Ooops! I accidentally dropped it on the sidewalk so it shatters into a million tiny pieces. I pick up random pieces and put them back together in a totally different order. In that sense, yes, I am including the tiny little details of my life into a story.

For example, in a novel I wrote, I had my characters living in a fictional town I made up instead of a town that actually exists. The fictional town was a conglomeration of every place I’ve ever lived. It had the town square (actually, circle) of the town I grew up in. It had the layout of a section of Houston I once lived in. My main character lived in an apartment that resembled the apartment of some guys I partied with in graduate school in Tempe, Arizona. None of these choices were made deliberately; I just wrote my story, had a picture in my head of how something looked, and then realized, “Oh, hey–I know where I got *that* from.” (and sometimes I don’t know where I got it from)

I borrow from life liberally and as needed to grow my fictional world and its characters.

8. If your fiction is all or mostly invented, how do you make it feel real? Do you do research, and if so, do you enjoy it?

I do *a lot* of research. Every little detail, if I can’t find something from my own life to give it appearance and a sense of reality, is researched. From a character’s shoes to the trees on a street to the slang of a minor character from a different walk of life than me. Thank God for the internet. It can be a pain having to stop the creative process to research something, especially if it’s something you’re not particularly interested in, but when it makes the story sound better and work better, it’s very rewarding.

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