I always thought it would be fun to write fiction. After all, it’s just made-up stories, right? So, I started writing, and I enjoyed it immensely. Well, until I realized my stories needed a plot to make sense, and some sort of structure and plan. I needed to learn the basics of fiction writing.
Off to the bookstore I went, to find a couple of self-help books. But, I’m more of a hands-on learner. I closed the books, and put those principles into practice. All right, I was onto something. It was looking good. Until I sent my first chapter to a critique group. I was so embarrassed by all the corrections, and the not-so-gentle suggestion, “…you really need to polish this more before you send it in…”
Maybe fiction writing wasn’t as easy as I thought.
How do you know you’re a fiction writer? What clues you in?
Here’s what led me to believe I may be destined to write fiction:
- My mother. She called me a storyteller a long time ago. It wasn’t a compliment.
- Years of living in my imagination–my “happy place”–creating stories in my head.
- Reading my way through the fiction shelves at the local library. While reading, I was figuring out a better way to tell that story.
You might be a fiction writer. But–brace yourself–it’s not easy. Matter of fact, it’s a lot of hard work. You not only have to begin a story, but end it, and the ending, or “denouement” needs to make sense, and satisfy the reader. Quite the challenge, especially in this age of instant books, when writers crank out multiple novels a year. Their loyal readers devour those novels as quickly as they appear. How did they do that? Let’s dissect the thing and find out.
Write. Sit down and write. There’s no substitute for it. Tell your story, as only you can. And, while you’re at it, learn the craft. Read, study, follow blogs, take classes, attend conferences. Fellowship with other writers. Find a good critique group–this last one is essential–truly the best way to learn. Notice I said, GOOD critique group. Find a group, either in person or online, that will challenge you and help you grow as a writer. As Sara Turnquist said in Back to Basics – How to Start, choose a group that has at least one published author.
A good work of fiction includes…Even in fiction, facts are not only welcome, but necessary. What makes a really good story? It’s believable. It could really happen. It mirrors real life.
Like the house built on sand, a story with no foundation will quickly wash away, and its writer will look very foolish. Include a factual foundation, such as, basing a story in a real place, or using everyday articles that might be found in someone’s home. Sometimes, good characters and engaging dialogue are enough to ground the story. Think of the best scenes in your favorite movies. Don’t they usually include dialogue and interaction between the characters? They become real in those moments, and you become part of the scene. That’s great fiction.
Showing … not telling–One of the greatest commandments of fiction writing! Fiction is a finely-crafted work of art. A really good story doesn’t just tell you what’s going on, it shows you. You get so wrapped up in the story, you feel what the character feels, see what he sees. You’re emotionally involved. I read an excellent blog post on this subject, written by Cindy Sproles, on The Write Conversation. You can access that article here: Writing With Emotion.
Read good fiction. Find writers whose books you love, and read. I use the following list of questions as I read:
- How does the writer make me want to turn the page?
- What draws me to the lead character?
- When are the stakes raised?
- How does the writer integrate minor characters?
- What makes a scene work?
- What’s the key to the conflict?
- How does the writer handle dialogue?
These questions also work with television shows and movies. The answers can be very revealing. What are the author’s strong points? What are his shortcomings? What’s your takeaway? Challenge your own writing in this way, and you’re bound to improve.
I don’t claim to know it all, because I don’t think it’s possible to learn all there is to know about writing. It’s an ever-changing scene that needs to be edited and updated, molded to fit genres and themes. And there’s no way I can tell you all you need to know in 750 words or less. But, if you really want to learn, and you want to excel at the craft, or at least develop your personal style and voice, you can achieve that.
Writing Prompt: Your main character (Jill) has just moved to a new city, where she’s taken a job. Jill accepts a coworker’s invitation to an informal gathering. As she steps inside the room, describe the scene, using conversation between Jill and the coworker.