Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to write Southern fiction

If I could sell ten books every time someone asked me “How do you get your ideas for writing?” … well, I’d be rubbing the best-selling shoulders of Mary Higgins Clark and Danielle Steel. Contrary to popular belief, we fiction writers do not get our ideas from flashes of divine inspiration. No, they generally come from good ol’ Planet Earth.

I’ve put together a list of places in which I find ideas for my novels. Let’s call it: “Turning Life into Fiction (Or: How to get published even though you spend six hours a day cleaning, cooking and schlepping the kids around town.) Here it is:

Keep journals everywhere. In the kitchen. At bedside. On the back of the toilet. And, most importantly, in the car. Record everything that amuses or moves you because you never know what you might use months or years later. An entire short story or novel might be hidden in the one line your eight-year-old utters on the way to school … or in the look of melancholy in the crosswalk guard’s face.

Consider the struggles in your life. (And, hey, let me tell you, as a stay-at-home Dad with a teenage daughter I have plenty of fodder in this arena!) Often, other people share these struggles, and they enjoy reading books that show they are not alone in their silent, daily battles. Look for conflict in your life, both minor and major, and decide if it’s worthy of a story. We read novels because we like to see characters tackle human, realistic problems. Remember that plot is nothing more than characters trying to solve their problems.

Keep a file of newspaper clippings … news events and personalities that interest you for some reason. It might be nothing more than an ad for used golf clubs or a story about a woman who is trying to keep the state from cutting down her canker-infested orange tree. When it’s time to write, dump all these things (along with your journal ramblings) into the computer and – like a puzzle – see what pieces fit together. This is how I start every book.

Remember that you are a welder; you meld personalities. After writing twenty pages, you might discover that the main character is not you after all; maybe it’s the quiet Japanese man who dutifully makes the sushi every day in the Publix deli … and maybe it’s he – not you – who is thinking of having the affair with the clerk at Nu Image Dry Cleaners. If you’ve based a character on yourself, don’t be afraid to let him or her morph into something beyond yourself. Remember that you don’t have to exactly mirror a character. The character might very well be living your own story … but perhaps she has your best friend’s temperament and your cousin’s limp that he got from falling off a horse at age ten.

Remember that everything in your life can be considered for your fiction – the relationship you have with your boss, the way your wife holds her coffee cup, your three-legged cat and her battle with cancer. Write all these things down. Be on the lookout for details from your own life that will add depth to your character’s personality.

Save your emails. They are journal entries masquerading as correspondence. Anecdotes and details often hide within them. And try to limit your email correspondence; it drains the energy you need for writing fiction. I have many good writer friends are not authors because they spend all their time writing emails.

So…. happy writing! And feel free to drop me a line through my website at Sometimes it takes me a few days to respond, but I always do.
--Ad Hudler's comic novels have been published in five languages and featured on NPR, CNN and in the New York Times. He is known for creating quirky but realistic Southern female characters. His next book, "Man of the House," a sequal to his novel titled "Househusband," will be published by Random House next fall.


Keetha said...

What great advice! And so timely for me; the night before last I took my young son to the little circus that had come to our small town. "Circus" is actually a pretty generous word to describe the one-family show and the "animals" that were people in scruffy costumes. I'm still thinking about that family, wondering what their story is. Maybe they'll show up in a novel or short story.

Thanks --

Anonymous said...

All good ideas. I think writers get their inspirations from as many different places as the topics they write about. I do think it's best to write what you know about. It would difficult for someone not born and raised in the South to write Southern fiction. It's what I know so it's what I have written 3 books about.

Glad I came across your blog-will bookmark it! Keep reading and writing.