Day Ten: Breaking into Fiction #2—Surreal Boogaloo

(estimated time: 75-90 minutes) 

In our last session, you started with a real memory and you fictionalized one thing. Today, you’re going to make that move again, but with a twist—this time, your fictionalized addition will be a magical, supernatural, or otherwise unreal element.

Why? I’ll address that question for the staunch realists in our first reading for today, Writing the Unreal, which will come after the prep.


Every writer has good times and bad times. Some days you trip the light fantastic, some days you crawl through the valley of dry bones (and some days you envy those dry bones because at least they don’t have to write).

The main thrust of the kickstart is to get you up and running. But now that we’re nearing the end, take a few moments to think about what will keep you running, especially when the running sucks as bad as, like, actual running. Toward that end, I invite you to try the following activity.

Acknowledgments Page

You know that cheesy “Footsteps in the Sand” poem? I wouldn’t be surprised if that mopey beachcomber was a writer. When you encounter hard times as a writer, it’s easy to feel like you’re all alone. But the truth is that you’re not alone. Don’t worry—I’m not about to say that you’re riding piggyback on Jesus. I’m saying there are dozens of people in the room with you. Everyone who has ever supported your writing, everyone who cares what you have to say—they’re all right there with you in spirit. They’re all rooting for you.

Let’s list those people. We’ll do this in the form of an acknowledgments page, which is the part of a book where the writer thanks her agent and her partner and her neighbor Betsy who read an early draft, etc. Your acknowledgments page will be slightly different. You’re going to list all the people who have helped or encouraged you in your writing life, from your Dr. Seuss days to now. For each person, add an explanatory phrase, like so:

Miss Wagonblast, my third-grade teacher, who was the first to call me an author.

Once you finish, keep your acknowledgments page close at hand (maybe in the back of your notebook). Whenever you get down, visit the page. Remind yourself that you’re not alone, and in fact you never were. Go ahead and cry a little (Hell, I’m crying as I’m writing this, and I haven’t even done the exercise yet.). Then cuff the tears from your cheek, give a big groan, and say, “Fine. Fine. You people win,” and get back to writing.

And everyone on your list will cheer. Even Jesus.

Set your timer for 11 minutes and write your acknowledgments.



Writing the Unreal, or: How to tell the Truth

“Blue Moon” by Jerome Stern, from MAKING SHAPELY FICTION


The starting point will be familiar from your last writing session: Browse your notebook. Look for a memory/experience you don’t mind messing with. The “I remembers” and the neighborhood map are fertile gardens for this exercise.

Once you find a memory you’d like to work with, change one detail to bring in the unreal/supernatural. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Give a character a power.
  2. Change the laws of nature in your world. Set your story in a world exactly like ours in every way but one (e.g. men have babies, or dogs can talk, etc.)
  3. Drop a strange visitor into our normal world. In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez drops an angel into a village. In “Cavemen in the Hedges,” Stacy Richter has cavemen infest a suburb. You get the idea.

One final note: don’t worry too much about making the supernatural detail meaningful or perfectly metaphorical. Great metaphors don’t come from your conscious mind, anyway. Just go with your gut. Trust your subconscious, and the odds are good that later, while revising, you’ll realize that it’s meaningful in a way that you never even noticed, much less intended, while you drafted.

Now go write, you knucklehead.


How did this writing session go?

Adding the unreal element—how did that affect your writing?

What did you learn about yourself as a writer?