Are you new to writing fiction? It can be a challenging process. Last week, I created a class for my students to demystify fiction. They’d managed to become so involved with techniques, genres, and marketing that they were writing little. They definitely weren’t enjoying their writing.
A couple of new authors said that they struggled to complete their novels. They ended up with thousands of words which went nowhere.
Here are some tips from the class; the class focused on mindset and imagination.
Writing fiction is a state of mind: free your imagination
The biggest challenge for new authors is finding a way to free their imagination. In today’s entertainment world, we allow others to guide our imagination via TV shows and movies.
We forget how to release our own imagination. My theory is that this accounts for the popularity of fan fiction. Writers kickstart their imagination with other authors’ characters and plots.
While there’s nothing wrong with that — E.L. James parlayed her love of Twilight into the uber-successful 50 Shades of Grey series — using your own imagination is more fun. And usually, more profitable. If you manage to create a memorable character, like Harry Potter, you’ve made your fortune.
Let’s look at some tips to help you to tell great stories.
1. Remember that fiction is stories which have a plot, and meaning
To outline or not to outline?
Much as I love pantsing short stories and novels, there are challenges if you’re new to writing fiction. You can end up with a story which isn’t a story at all. Or, you can end up with a mishmash: trying to cram three or five stories into one.
Neither is satisfying.
The biggest clue that you don’t have a story is that you can’t create a blurb (description). FWIW, here’s a definition of STORY: an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. However, a story needs a plot: it has to mean something. Stringing meaningless events together irritates readers: they want meaning.
We need meaning in our fictional worlds. Unlike daily life, fiction needs to make sense.
Here’s an example of a “story” which isn’t a story. It has no plot and no decipherable meaning. An author sets out to write a mystery novel. He has a sleuth, and a dead body. The sleuth gets sidetracked into another crime. And another. His teenage daughter’s romantic challenges take up five chapters, and then… By this time, the readers that get that far (still hoping against hope that there’s a plot, coming real soon now) give up.
Not sure about plot? In your novel, or short story, something happens to a character. He has a problem, preferably one of life or death. The story’s plot is your character resolving the problem. Once the problem’s resolved (boy gets girl, sleuth gets criminal, spy saves the world) your story is OVER.
I occasionally suggest to my students that their fiction’s story is ONE thing, basically, not endless things which are never resolved.
2. Follow the emotion: what scares you? What do you love?
Have you ever had a nightmare? You wake up, suddenly wide awake as if you’re still in the dream… It takes a while for you to reassure yourself that you’re OK.
Powerful dreams have one thing in common with fiction: emotion.
Readers read for emotion.
There are many ways you can inspire emotion in your readers. Few have anything to do with events, such as serial killers’ blood and gore (thrillers, fantasy), or bodies doing things to each other in romance fiction.
You can use tone, word choice, characters’ thoughts…
Consider the opening paragraphs of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The first sentence is:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
(You can read the paragraphs via Amazon’s Look Inside feature.)
Consider the words du Maurier uses in those first paragraphs: padlock and chain; forlorn; supernatural powers; (nature’s) stealthy insidious way…
Those first paragraphs are a masterclass in using words to evoke emotion. With those evocative words, du Maurier sets the tone for the book — and she maintains it. Nothing much happens in Rebecca, but the emotions keep you turning pages.
Read du Maurier’s paragraphs, and if you haven’t read Rebecca, read that too, it’s a classic novel for a reason. Your local library will have it.
All competent authors know how to evoke emotion in readers. It’s a skill you can develop quite easily with a little study and practice.
3. Forget the words, tell the story
Which brings us to another challenge.
Words are important in fiction, definitely… BUT you need a story. Something needs to happen, and that something needs to have meaning.
Your story (what happens, to whom, how it happens, and why it happens) is more important than anything else in commercial fiction.
In your first draft, forget the words. Just tell the story. Tell yourself what happens. In later drafts, once you know what your story is, and what your story means, you’ll know what emotions you want to inspire in your readers. Then you can play with words as much as you like, because you know the effect you want to have on readers.
In fiction, your story (with its plot) is what counts
Get comfortable with your imagination.
Look on your imagination as waking dreams. Write the stories — and the emotions — your imagination presents to you — and have fun. 🙂
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