Writing Novels With Honesty

Holding back from speaking your mind can be a good quality to have in everyday life, but when writing novels it is usually fatal - at least if you want your fiction to be alive.

  • Imagine if we never held back from telling the honest truth when it was sure to hurt or offend.
  • Imagine if we always said precisely what we were thinking, or acted in any damn way we chose, regardless of everybody else.

Censoring ourselves to save the feelings of others (call it good manners if you like) is crucial for oiling the machinery of society. But when writing novels? Forget about it.

Becoming a novelist is your one big chance in life to say exactly what you want to say, and in exactly the way you want to say it. So don't blow it.

If, instead of being true to yourself, you write what you think you should write, or what other people expect you to write, you are letting yourself down right from the start. So be brave!

Suppose you have always had a hankering to write romantic fiction...

Trouble is, you're a man - and real men don't write girly romances, do they? What would your family say? What would your friends say?

No, much better to write something manly, like a war novel, than risk people finding out you're in touch with your feminine side. Right?

Maybe you're interested in writing novels that deal with the darker side of life...

Say you want to write a gritty urban drama full of knife crime and rape and kids shooting drugs. The novel has been building up inside you for years, and you're excited about it - but you know you will never write it.

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Dr. Seuss

"If you have a skeleton in your closet, take it out and dance with it."
- Carolyn Mackenzie

If you write a gritty novel, your family will want to read it. And your family always steers well clear of life on the wrong side of the tracks.

Much better not to rock the boat than start writing the type of fiction your loved ones won't like. Right?

Or say you want to write a novel all about loneliness...

You've got a lot to say on the subject because you often feel this emotion yourself, even when you are with other people (in fact, especially then).

Nobody else knows you feel this way because you're the kind of person who keeps things inside.

You believe that to write a novel like this would be a great cathartic experience. But it would also mean standing naked, as it were, in front of everyone who knows you - and everyone who doesn't know you, too. And you just aren't sure that you have the courage to do that.

Much better to keep your true feelings locked up inside. Right?

Perhaps you've had a great idea for writing horror fiction...

You love reading horror novels, but only when nobody else is around to see you doing it. For the rest of the time you read those literary novels with fancy-sounding titles, and although you enjoy them (the bits you understand, anyway), you still prefer your horror fiction.

You want people to think you are well-read and intellectual, though (because everyone you know is). And horror novels, as every refined person knows, are kind of trashy.


Maybe you plan on writing a novel about everyday suburban life...

It is the kind of fiction you enjoy reading and you've come up with a great plan for a similar novel of your own.

Trouble is, there's a sex scene in Chapter 8 (quite a graphic one, actually). Oh, and there are quite a few f-words (and worse) along the way.

You know your Great Aunt Ethel is going to love the book, all except for the sex and the swearing.

It makes you blush even thinking about her reading those parts. And even though you strongly believe they are important components of your novel, you decide to take them out.

Good decision. Right?


When writing novels, nothing less than total honesty will do.

Write what you want to write, in exactly the way you want to write it (subject to the requirements of the market you are targeting) and let your family and friends, and the wider reading public, make of it what they will.

You never know, Great Aunt Ethel might secretly love it.

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