Maybe you’ve heard that as a writer, you ought to keep a journal.
But have you ever wondered why? After all, what does your boring life have to do with epic fiction?
I know I took my journal for granted for ages. But a couple of decades and more than a million words later, I now credit my journal as one of the primary tools that has helped me become a better writer.
I know of at least seven ways your journal can empower your fiction writing — and I’m not even talking about fictionalizing your life (though there’s nothing wrong with combining fiction and autobiography).
Are you ready to super-charge your fiction writing skills? Try these out in your journal!
1. Recognize a story worth telling
If you’re already keeping a journal, try to observe the topics you write about regularly and the events you leave out.
Why don’t you mention loading the dishwasher every night? Maybe because it’s boring. (Didn’t think of that, did you?)
What you do journal about are the events that are emotionally charged. That’s the same criteria for a good novel!
So go back over your journal and see what was meaningful enough to make it into those sacred pages. It may give you an idea of what’s important enough to write about in your fiction work, as well.
2. Use basic story structure
You probably know your novel needs a bit of structure: Characters, a rising conflict, a climax, and a resolution.
Did you know the events of your life follow that same structure? Next time you sit down to journal, think about the true story you’re telling and try to identify those four basic parts of story structure.
Practicing in your journal will help you get it right when writing fiction!
3. Get in touch with your emotions
A good book is all about the emotional journey. But it can be so hard to connect with the emotions of fictional people, even if you feel you know them like the back of your hand.
Practice getting in touch with your own emotions first, in your journal. Next time you sit down to write, concentrate on how you felt about the events and why you think you felt that way.
Then apply what you learn to your fictional characters.
4. Hone your observation skills
Bringing a fictional world to life begins with observing the real world.
Do you have your author periscope focused at all times, everywhere you go?
To find out, try journaling about the places you go and the things you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. You’ll solidify the real world in your mind and have a wealth of inspiration for your story worlds.
5. Describe your world
“Show, don’t tell.” More cruel words never were uttered. It’s so much harder to show instead of tell!
Here’s the secret: Sit down with your journal. Observe the world around you. Then write about it with emotion. Don’t use language that merely expresses what you saw; use language that expresses how you felt about what you saw.
Boom. One world realistically brought to life.
6. Capture characters
Characters: The heart and soul of your story, and of your life. Everyone knows you should observe people in order to write people.
What better way to practice than to journal about the people you know? Pay attention to how they act, how they speak, and how they look, and once again fill your journal with language that expresses how you feel about the character you’re describing.
7. Find your purpose
You’ve been told a really great piece of literature has a theme. The million-dollar question is, how do you find a theme?
Why not try your journal again? Go back over your entries and find out what topics you write about again and again. These life themes really mean something to you. I’ll bet these same themes could easily be applied to your fiction.
Both your journal and your fiction come from your life experiences, after all.
There you have it: Seven ways keeping a journal can improve your writing without necessarily copying your life into your fiction.
Do you keep a journal? What other ways have you found it helpful to your writing?