Five Things I Love about Writing Fiction

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve written and illustrated stories. In primary school I filled the back pages of my exercise books with romantic tales and drawings of the heroines. After my parents tucked me in at bedtime, I’d lie in the dark, inventing adventures in my imagination. They were so exciting they kept me awake . . . or so scary they gave me night terrors. I sometimes wondered whether I shouldn’t have been counting sheep instead.

As an adult, I’ve written in various forms – short stories for myself, non-fiction books and magazine articles for publication. But it wasn’t until seven years ago that I actually began writing a novel. The process quickly became all-consuming. Meanwhile, the ironing pile grew inexorably higher, a layer of dust settled comfortably on the furniture, and my family found themselves dining ever more frequently on takeaway dinners. That was five books ago, and nothing has changed.

So what is it about inventing stories that’s so addictive? Here are the things I love about writing in general, and fiction in particular.

1. The sense of escapism

Story-telling allows me to escape into a world of make-believe, to explore physical and psychological places that I wouldn’t necessarily visit in the real world. There are occasions, however, when my story becomes so dark and confronting that I’ve very glad to return to reality.

2. The element of wish-fulfilment

As an exercise in wish-fulfilment, fiction is enormous fun. Think of all those dream heroes who populate romance novels. In my own case, I’ve always dreamt of owning a small herd of alpacas. I can’t have them in real life, so I’ve put them into my books!

3. The magic of words

All my life I’ve been fascinated by words. When I turned eight, my mum gave me pocket money, expecting me to spend it on chocolates or lollies. Instead, I saved up the weekly windfall until I could afford a ‘Pocket Oxford Dictionary’. I still love the magic and power of language. Like a child playing with building blocks, it makes me happy to construct a narrative, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

4. The journey of discovery

In everyday life I’m fond of checklists and agendas, but as a novelist, I’m quite the opposite. I have no plan beyond an initial concept and a few guideposts. It’s liberating to allow the narrative to unfold, driven by the psychology and actions of the characters. For me, writing is essentially a process of exploration and discovery and I enjoy the surprises it brings me.

5. The feedback

I’ve always believed a book only comes alive when it finds a reader. I feel honoured that people make the choice to read something I’ve written. And I’m doubly honoured whenever they take the time to send me their comments.

Deborah O'Brien
First written for Random House Blog: April 2014
Revised August 2016