By this I mean primarily writing moral fiction, because this is the field which I can come closest to guaranteeing results. That is not to say I cannot assist in anything nonfiction or fiction, from screenplays to history to poetry to comic books (all of which I have worked on).
I asked my wife how I ought to approach this, and she advised me not to be proud about it. Therefore, I tell you upfront that I believe writing fiction is a fairly worthless activity. You are better off doing anything else for which man might pay you, because hardly anyone reads fiction, and those who do get very little but entertainment out of it, and it does not approach God in the same safe and simple manner as the lowest of menial labor. Many people are attracted to it out of vanity and pride, some out of avarice, and I have been the worst of them all.
However, because of the corruptions which I pursued before repentance, I am wedded to it. I even believe, through long discernment and the help of holy priests, that God has me yoked to it in service to Him, that I might redeem and make reparation for all of my sin. Because still there are people out there who hold books which I wrote in their hands that are full of blasphemy, lust, and heresy. I have been very careful to stem the flow of this. If you would blame me for it, then please pray for me, that I somehow attain Heaven and avoid hell.
That having been said, I have seven fully completed and edited books published. Of those seven, there are probably three that are worthwhile. Besides that, I have one more in the late publishing process, another 90% finished, two non-fictions, several articles, a children’s book in the works, another novel at about 50%, and several others below 50%. All these I write consistently, and I write something nearly every day. Some are on hold for research, but most are active. I can say fairly confidently that I expect to publish a book every year.
Therefore, I have demonstrable ability at finishing a book. Some people say these books are of a very high quality, and others say, “It was good.” What did they think about it? “I enjoyed it.” Such is the feedback you get from people on writing, and it is a very right and just thing.
Writing fiction is a craft as much as anything else. It has more abstract elements than the average craft, but it is still nothing more than that, and if God reveals Himself through it, then that is a prerogative He can take equally with rocks and stone. I do find, however, that because the nature of writing and our particular and final judgments, He tends, out of mercy, to prevent many people from finishing or otherwise succeeding at it. That is because if I am to utter a blasphemy or a heresy, I have merited hell. If I am to write one down, not only do I merit hell, but every time someone reads it or it has an otherwise sinful effect, my position in hell becomes more dire and tormented. Hence why the Apostles burnt books, and why burning books can easily be an act of charity.
It is a very risky and frivolous activity, writing fiction. I again highly recommend you steer clear of it. If possible, it would be good to avoid reading fiction. But there are many, like myself, who have determined through careful thought that the most prudent and virtuous thing they might do with certain segments of their time is to read fiction.
Because of these, it is a service prompted by the virtue of hope, it seems to me, to write fiction. If you have waded out into the field, you will see how evil most of it is, and how often you might stumble into extremely seductive temptations by reading fiction, without expecting it. Therefore, the good and wholesome desire of many people, is to write good fiction. And the quality does not even necessarily have to be very high, so far as the craft is concerned, because the average quality is so low already. It would be a huge improvement if we could read simple and frivolous stories simply without sinning. Let alone for our perfection. Let alone reading stories of gravity and solemnity that raise the mind to God even during recreation and leave a savor of heavenly things for the contemplative functions of the soul well after the last page is consumed. That last is my desire. I wish to be a saint, and if I am to write fiction, I wish for all men to be able to read my fiction and understand that I was a saint by it, as they ought to by everything I touch. Better to say I hope for it. By God’s command, I hope for it, and by His same command, I resist the discouragement by which I am tempted every time I read my own writing, and rather, I sit down with my tools, and I try to do it better.
Thus far for the first requirement of succeeding at crafting a book. It must be moral. If it is not moral, what is it? What is the point? At the final judgment, we shall all see the contents of each other’s minds from conception to death, and whatever we might write or not write, will be no mystery. The only thing that will matter is our motivations for writing it, whether those corresponded to grace. That means we must glorify God. And there is no glory in sin. Even if you do not ever think about that and consider it with great gravity, you must know, that God by His Nature, will prevent you from finishing a work that will harm your soul. If He does not, then you have many reasons to fear.
The second requirement is the knowledge of the craft. This is very simple. We are to make something good, beautiful, or true, and beauty is dictated by simple principles, which nevertheless, take much longer to discover by experience than by instruction. It has taken me fifteen years or so by simple trial and error (without a clear system for testing) to discover some of these principles. Because of what I have produced and what feedback I receive now, I have reason to believe that I have gained enough knowledge to do it well.
What I am saying is that, no matter where you are in skill at the craft of writing fiction, whether you have a vague desire or you have written a book or several books already and simply want to improve it, simple and definable techniques can help you advance. Here is an example: one of the steps along the process seems to be where you can begin a story well, but you cannot advance it or end it. Ending takes quite a while to learn, and so the next step is rather to advance it than to end it. The person at this stage tends to write many short stories, and oftentimes writes a short plot (less than 100 pages let us say) that is open ended with no good final conclusion. They may force a conclusion (which is fine: forcing is highly underrated in composition, but it is as useful in this craft as it is in carpentry: always worth a try), or they may leave many stories unfinished, or they may write a partial ending marked by the fact that they expect to write a sequel.
The easiest solution to this stage is to simply force the next short story to fit with the last one. What does that mean? Let us say I have the beginning of a science fiction novel in which a man is on a space station enjoying himself in some sort of idle, futuristic amusement (call it a spice den). Very good, I write that scene, then I put it away. Some months later I come up with a short scene in a modern setting in which a young boy evangelizes an old, worn out retiree. What I then do is take the accidental details of the newest scene and make them fit into the details of the previous short story. I have the young boy in a space station rather than a modern setting, I have him say the exact same words (within reason) to the reveler as he would have to the old worldling, and then I pause for a moment. I ask myself, “What would somebody like this say in response to this?” And whatever it is, I write it (within morality). If the old worldling might have been receptive but the reveler not, then I change it. It may look like this:
My son’s friend John was visiting one day, as he sometimes did, and was playing with my boy. Or maybe they were working on a project for school, or something, because truth be told, I was not paying much attention. No, I had the football game on, and, to be very honest, I cannot even tell you how that was going. I do not remember who was playing. I do not know if I even knew at the time. I always had it on at that time, and I stared at the screen, and I thought about nothing and everything.
But John stared at me. He had done that before, too, sort of thoughtful, but said nothing. This time he said something.
He said, “Mr. Richards, do you ever pray?”
“My dad prays a lot. And I was just thinking. I never see him watching television, but I see you doing that, and I was just thinking about it.”
“Oh,” and I do not know, maybe I was in a lucky mood, or maybe it was a grace, like somebody told me, but I said to him, “I do sometimes. Do you think I should more?”
That would be the latter story idea. Now look at the former, which this aspiring author wrote months before. We will sum it up: here is this man, the main character, having enjoyed himself in the equivalent of a private opium room. Now let us force the newer plot into the older:
He was getting a little tired after all this. The red spots at the edge of his vision smelled more like black to him, and maybe that was why he was so rude when John came in to talk to him.
John knocked on the door politely enough, but Jimmy Dominico said nothing. Somebody must have forgotten to lock the door, because it slid open when John pressed the button.
“How did you get in here?”
“I just walked in…”
“This is a private establishment!”
Jimmy looked around and realized he was back in his quarters. When had he left Ward Nine?
He must have had a look on his face, because John said, “Mr. Dominico, are you alright?”
“Are you making fun of me? I’m fine, kid.”
John turned red and looked at his feet. Then he looked up and said, “Mr. Dominico, why don’t you pray more?”
“What kind of dumb question is that?”
Voila, you now have two chapters instead of two stories. And you have lost very little. Moreover, because of the necessities of making details fit, you have generated more material to bang around into more plot, just in order to get to the one piece of dialogue that came to you by inspiration.
This is the sort of simple technique that allows someone to advance. Many people trying to write just do not know, because there is no one to tell them, for instance, that two chapters are more valuable than two stories.
There are many more examples, but it is like plumbing. I need to see the problem before I can fix it. So I invite you to contact me, and if you can pay me, consider it alms, because I am fairly destitute. If not, then still do contact me, and hopefully I can help.
Mr. Nathaniel Slattery,
Taurus Necrus Publishing
In Cordibus Jesu et Mariae
Ss Ignatius pray for us