Writing Tips for Fictional Work

Noble Prize winner Toni Morrison is an acclaimed author. Her writing profoundly explores the African-American experience with the aid of vivid storytelling and complex characters. I have read three of her novels: The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon; they helped open my eyes to numerous issues, the most prominent one being internalized racism.

While I myself have never written a fictional work, I know that many students do. Here are some of her best writing tips:

  1. Write when you know you’re at your best. For her, this happened to be the early morning, pre-dawn hours…because she feels that she is “not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.”
  2. “There’s a line between revising and fretting” It’s important for a writer to know when they are “fretting,” because if something isn’t working, “it needs to be scrapped”.
  3. A good editor is “like a priest or a psychiatrist.” One of the marks of a good editor? She doesn’t “love you or your work,” therefore offers criticism, not compliments.
  4. Don’t write with an audience in mind, write for the characters.Knowing how to read your own work—with the critical distance of a good reader—makes you a “better writer and editor.”
  5. Control your characters. Despite the ever-present and clichéd demand to “write what you know,” Morrison studiously tries to avoid taking character traits from people she knows. As she puts it: “making a little life for oneself by scavenging other people’s lives is a big question, and it does have moral and ethical implications.”
  6. Plot is like melody; it doesn’t need to be complicated. Rather than constructing intricate plots with hidden twists, she prefers to think of the plot in musical terms as a “melody,” where the satisfaction lies in recognizing it and then hearing the “echoes and shades and turns and pivots” around it.
  7. Style, like jazz, involves endless practice and restraint. Speaking of Jazz, Morrison tells she has always thought of herself like a jazz musician, “someone who practices and practices and practices in order to able to invent and to make his art look effortless and graceful.”
  8. Be yourself, but be aware of tradition. Of the diversity of African-American jazz musicians and singers, Morrison says “I would like to write like that. I would like to write novels that were unmistakably mine, but nevertheless fit first into African American traditions and second of all, this whole thing called literature.”

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