Fiction Writing

Most writers have probably heard the advice ‘write what you know’. While this holds true, American Author Flannery O’Connor’s ‘start with anything you can make real’ approach is less stifling and opens the door to creative possibilities.

Many people who take up the craft of writing turn to fiction. Perhaps writers gravitate to fiction because everybody has a story to tell. You can create fiction from life or from your imagination. You can create fiction that tells a 500-page story or one that tells its story in a few pages.

Unlike other genres that fall within the non-fiction world (such as memoirs), writing fiction allows limitless imagination. You can invent worlds and create ordinary or awe-inspiring characters dealing with real issues, the supernatural or heart-stopping terror. But it takes more than just imagination.

Story Concept

It’s vital to have a concept or idea in mind first. Once you have this, it’s a good idea to plot your story. Remember to have an unexpected twist or two in the story; a basic structure of a beginning, middle, and end; and a thorough knowledge of your characters. Fiction takes dedication, so be prepared to spend a great deal of time on it.

Enjoy the Ride

When writing fiction, don’t make readers arrive after the crisis has happened, have them on the edge of their seats waiting for that big bang.

I watched Jessica disappear under the car.

Could become:

Jessica stepped back onto the road to take in the whole sunset over the mountains. A loose rock stole her footing just as a car hurtled down the gravel shoulder and headed straight for her. I leapt towards her, willing my legs to move faster. I shouted, but it was too late. I glimpsed Jessica’s wide eyes before her body disappeared under the moving vehicle. Her fading screams echoed through the deafening screech of brakes and the sickening thud of flesh mingling with metal; burnt rubber filled the air.

Now we can see it, hear it and feel the anguish and pain – we’re experiencing the action as it happens.

Give Life to a Scene

Read your work out loud. This will help to expose many grammar errors that can slip in or phrases that don’t make sense. It allows you to get a better feel of how your manuscript is flowing.

As writers, we learn how to describe a scene, but are you describing it efficiently?

The sun shone on the golden sand as the spume pulled away from the receding waves that struggled in the sand.

This certainly paints a picture, but is it doing enough? If we add the other four senses then it may become something like this:

A salted sea breeze crept towards the shore and mingled with the day’s humidity. The sun threw down unforgiving rays of fire that scorched the sandy beach. Rolling green waves crash upon the thirsty sand while hopeful seagulls cried out beneath the clear blue sky in search of food.

Not every setting will have something for each sense, but stop to notice the sounds, tastes, smells and tactile elements. Remember that these sort of descriptive passages have their place. They tend to slow the pace, so you wouldn’t have a full on descriptive passage in the middle of a scene where you want to create excitement or urgency.

Characters

Most novels and short stories are about a person or group of people with a goal. In many cases the events of the story dictate that goal. This can be as simple as a teenager deciding to take a job at the local surf shop, because he has a crush on a girl who works there. Everyone he meets and everything that happens in this village can be linked to the romance.

Develop your characters. Decide on the traits your characters will possess and give your characters experiences. If someone is a gentle and kind person then you may have that person help an elderly man with a chore or drive him to visit his grandson. A mean spirited person might stomp on a child’s favourite toy. Sticking a quick-tempered person, who is running late for an important meeting, in a traffic jam on a hot day has potential for the writer. The character could rant and rave, even kick the car if it boils over. It shows the character’s demeanour and keeps the storyline interesting. Use situations that stimulate emotion and create a fuller storyline. Emotions also help readers relate to your characters.

Dialogue

Make the characters believable.

A small feed store supplier whose customers are mostly farmers isn’t the kind of personality who’d say something like this:

I apologise for the delay with the arrival of your order. Our courier experienced a shipping displacement that should be resolved in twenty-four hours.

It would be more likely for this character to use language that would suit the clientele. If the customer were a farmer, then perhaps the employee would say something like this:

Sorry mate about your hay order. Somebody put it on the wrong truck heading the opposite direction, but it’ll be here tomorrow, you can count on it.

A person who had little education would speak differently to someone who was a scholar. A business person would talk differently to a rock musician. Think about who your characters are.

Add a Twist

Referring back to our story about the teenager working at the surf shop for the love of a girl could end with a happy ending, but what else could happen? Think about the possibilities. After several dates, the surfer realises this girl isn’t for him, but in his attempts to win her over he has become a skilled surfer. He competes against the best and wins. He gains popularity and a sponsor where he meets the sponsor’s daughter. You could even throw in another twist and have the readers reeling in their seats wondering what else was going to happen.

Revise, Rewrite and Edit

It’s more than just taking your manuscript from the seeds of imagination to having it actually written, it still has to be presented to readers (and appropriate publishers if that’s the way you want to go). Your story needs to be a saleable product. You may dream about being a professional writer with your books in stores all over the country. However, publishers care about their investment in a product and how well that product will sell. That’s why it’s up to you to present the best copy to a publisher.

Publishing Options

Once you have finished and it’s ready for publishing, you need to consider which publishing avenue you want. If you want to obtain a publisher, your focus turns to a synopsis. This gives a perspective publisher a clear understanding of what your story is about in clear concise paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to reveal the entire plotline to your publisher. They need to know your book is worth their effort and the money it takes to produce, market, and ultimately sell it. If they don’t think it will sell then they won’t accept it.

Unfortunately, not all good manuscripts are accepted. You may have written a worthy story, but if it doesn’t fit the criteria that the publisher is looking for or if they have already produced something similar then they may not present you with an offer.

If you want to self-publish, you’ll need a book blurb to help sell your book to readers. This publishing option means you will need to cover the cost of front cover and layout designers, editor and proofreader, printers, and marketing. While you’ll have complete control as to what your book will look like, you have to handle all the work, make all the decisions, and organise designers and printers. With the exception of printers, the rest of the workload and expense still applies if you opt for self-publishing an e-book. Self-publishing has improved writers’ dreams of being published, but whichever way you want to go, enjoy the journey.

 

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Writing A Novel

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a niggling idea for ages or tripped over inspiration on the way to work; if you have made the decision to write a novel then congratulations. Making the decision to write a novel is the first step. There are of course many others, but having reached this decision is an excellent start.

Some writers like to brainstorm, make copious notes, and generally organise themselves into a story. Other writers jump straight into the deep end regardless of where the story’s start, middle or end is. Writing isn’t always a perfect process. It proceeds backwards, inside out, or upside down more often than simply forward. You are the writer; it’s your decision. Do what feels right for you, but make sure the finished product is worthy of a publisher’s time.

What Is Your Story About? 

Deciding the course of your story is actually working out the plot. It could be about a ravaged refugee fleeing his war torn country, or a little boy that is bullied for being disabled, or a sweeping romance set by a lighthouse on a remote island. Once you have the main storyline, subplots will emerge until you have a full-bodied plot. A plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. It also must have conflict and a resolution.

Who Are Your Characters?

Usually there’s a main character (a protagonist) and readers want to see this hero win or overcome whatever happens. To help conflict along, there is usually another character that is evil, mean, cruel, or whatever negative points you wish to add. This villain is the story’s antagonist. You need to know all your characters, even the ones playing minor roles. You have to know their faults, their weaknesses, and their strengths. They have to have likes, dislikes, and habits.

To help you visualise these, you could draw rough sketches of them or use models from magazines. Be careful not to have all your characters looking beautiful with perfect bodies unless there is a specific reason to do this. Write a list of characteristics, such as age, facial hair, tattoos, hair colour, eye colour, and so on. You need to know them well, so you know how they would react in any given situation. Remember that not all people will react in the same way. Make sure your characters are believable and natural.

Don’t make your protagonist perfect. If your protagonist is flawless, your readers will have trouble connecting to him or her. After all, nobody’s perfect. For the protagonist, character development is very important. Scenes must tell the reader something more about the character. This will help the readers feel more strongly about him or her.

The same applies to the antagonist; he or she shouldn’t be completely bad. If they have no good or human qualities then they will seem wooden and the story will fail. There must be something about the character that readers can relate to or understand.

Serial killers are a different type of character and, even if the readers don’t know who the killer is, they will hate the person. Even if the readers understand the motivation behind the killings, they will celebrate at the killer’s arrest or death.

Start Writing

There are several common approaches to writing:

  • Begin with the ending in mind. If you know the ending of the story, it can help you form the theme, the plot, the settings, the characters, and it can help you progress more easily towards that ending.
  • The big picture approach. Try to create the world (the overall setting and environment), treat it like a canvas, and then paint your characters and situations to create your novel. Your canvas could include geography, races, towns, cities, capitals, cults, factions, governments, etc.
  • Dive in approach. You have an idea and you start writing while it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • Start with characters. Create three or four characters and let the plot build around them. This way will allow the characters to be more embedded in the plot.

Make The Commitment

Understand what you’re undertaking. Many wonderful writers go unnoticed and unread because their drawers are filled with unfinished novels. If your novel isn’t written, or if you don’t attempt to get it published, then the blame is yours. Set small goals so it will inspire you to continue when you achieve each goal.

Create a Writing Habit

It’s no big surprise that humans are creatures of habit, so make it work for you. Train yourself to write every day – whether it’s a few paragraphs, a chapter, or a nominated number of pages – and dedicate the time to work on your novel.

Set aside an hour where everyone understands it’s your time to be alone and write. If children are likely to interrupt during this period, then create a reward system where they are treated if and only if they leave you alone while you’re at your computer or desk.

Use whatever time is available to you – morning or night. The ideal time to write is when you are the most creative, which will vary for each individual; however, this may not be possible so don’t give up. The important thing is to write even if it isn’t at a time when you’re creatively tuned in. Train yourself to be able to write when you have the time and you’ll adapt. Bottom line: just make sure you write daily.

Create a workstation or area for your writing. Find a cosy place where you can relax and there are no distractions. Select a good chair to sit in, which won’t give you back pains, and position your equipment accordingly for optimum work without causing any injuries or stress to your body. You don’t write a book in an hour, it takes months, so protect your body.

If you are a procrastinator, try setting an unbreakable deadline. Writers tend to work better when there’s a deadline to face.

Seek Constructive Feedback

Never show your precious writing to someone you don’t completely trust. Your writing is in its ‘baby stage’ and it needs to be nurtured and loved. You need someone who is encouraging yet honest. If a part of the story or character isn’t working then you need to know that.

A manuscript assessments from a professional is a good way to obtain unbiased feedback that is constructive. Knowing what works and what needs work allows you to move forward with your novel.

Drafts

Rewriting is what makes the story better, but be careful not to over edit because this can knock the life out of your story. Always save and keep every draft. You never know if your computer will suddenly develops a flutter – you don’t want to lose your hard work. Or if you get a little carried away with editing, then you still have a previous copy elsewhere. Label each draft clearly so you know the order of the drafts. Add a date and time to your labelling if it helps.

Example:
Novel Title Draft 1 or Novel Title Draft 1 4.15pm 12032019
Novel Title Draft 2 or Novel Title Draft 2 6.30pm 14032019

Spelling

If you’re using a spell check program to help pick up typos, ensure the default language has been changed from American to Australian spelling. Auto-dictionaries will undo the correct spelling in favour of its default, so either turn the spell check off or ensure it’s set to Australian English.

Publish Your Work

Make sure your manuscript is polished and is fit to be seen by a publisher. Consider hiring a professional editor or have it professionally assessed.
Don’t forget to ensure your manuscript fits the intended publisher’s format requirements and guidelines.

Other Important Tips

A good way to start writing a novel is to think about what interests you. If you don’t write for yourself, your novel will seem superficial and plastic. It’s better to share your plans with someone else that you feel comfortable with and discuss plotlines. Write what you know and enjoy the process.

Keep a record of any ideas you may have. You might want them later.

An amazing process can happen when developing characters, it’s as if they come alive when a writer’s fingers move frantically across the keyboard trying to keep up with the characters’ dialogue. It feels as though the characters have taken control and want to have their say in their own words. The writer is merely a puppet trying to take down the quotes as if it were being dictated. Something wonderful is happening. It’s magical! If this happens to you then don’t fight it; go with it. You have accomplished something that authors yearn to do and not everyone has achieved.

Try not to lose heart in your book. When you get to a boring bit and stop for the night, you might not want to go back to that part. If you feel that way, try writing an exciting bit to get yourself motivated again.

Don’t be disappointed if you lose heart. Many writers pen hundreds of stories a year, some which never get past the first page let alone the first chapter! You’ll know after a while if a story you’re working on has captivated your attention and imagination. If you don’t feel this right away, then keep developing ideas and persevering. Sometimes it helps to listen to music or go for a walk. Think of different scenarios and adventures. Think about how the characters might feel about these adventures, or themselves, or even other characters around them.

Never give up! Some people will discourage you, but many more will love what you write if you love it as well. Write with passion.

Jot down your ideas. Its good to see at a later date what you were previously thinking about a subject matter, character or situation in case you view things differently.

 

Simplifying How to Plot a Story

Plotting a story can terrify even the most gifted writer. But it sounds scarier than it actually is, and it can even be fun once you embrace the challenge. Let’s simplify the process to get a better understanding of how things work.

Think about your plot as driving from your departure location (the beginning of the story, which we’ll call Point A) to your destination (the end of the story, which we’ll refer to as Point B) with a few scenic stops along the way.

Using the familiar ‘boy meets girl’ scenario, let’s look at the basic story plot. ‘Boy meets girl’ is our Point A.

One such story that comes to mind is Grease where Danny meets Sandy on a summer vacation. Of course, the first meeting could be a bumpy ride where the boy doesn’t impress the girl. Just Like Heaven is an example of this when architect David leaves a bad impression for Elizabeth who doesn’t like his carelessness when it comes to her furniture. Or another example is Elizabeth Bennett’s distaste of Mr Darcy’s behaviour in Pride and Prejudice.

No matter how the initial encounter goes, the boy has met the girl. Along the way the boy manages to peak the girl’s interest and then that’s usually when he does something to cause her to become angry, hurt or disillusioned. Other characters in the story may have initiated the problem, but the boy has allowed it to escalate. Or it can even be a series of misunderstandings that has caused the rift. That’s the ‘boy loses girl’ part of the story.

Following the pattern, it’s now up to the boy to win the girl back. This usually means he must prove his worth to her. Perhaps he makes a difficult decision or performs a heroic act to show her how much he really does care. Depending on the circumstances, the girl may make it easy for him, meet him half way, or make him work hard to win her back.

In Grease, Danny decides to lose his ‘coolness’ and jeopardise his relationship with his friends in the attempt to win Sandy back. Sandy in turn meets him half way with a symbolic gesture when she turns up in that well-known skin-tight black outfit. A song or two later, and all is well and everyone is happy.

That’s the basic idea of where we start and where we want to end up, but how do we get from Point A to Point B?

To keep the explanation simple, every story is based on a series of events (or focal points) that drive a story from Point A to Point B. These events may be things that happen to a character, or it could reveal something about a character, or a character’s actions or reactions to a situation. It’s the author’s job to know the sequence of events that establishes the story’s plot. There are a number of ways to map out your story.

You can write each focal point onto a piece of paper or card so you can move them around as you map out the entire story. Something that you thought should go early in the sequence of focal points might actually be better at a later stage, so the movability of the cards is extremely helpful.

Some people prefer to use software that has the capability to plot a story and the ability to move the focal points around until the story has been completely mapped. Pick whichever way works best for you.

Remember though, each focal point should move the story forward. While focal points are the basis of the story, it’s the author’s prose, description and uniqueness in telling the story that makes it shine. However, the plot must be sound or it won’t matter how brilliant the writing is – the story will struggle.

Happy writing (and plotting)!

The Key to Being a Professional Writer: Create, Rework and Edit

Hello to all the writers out there. The best advise I can give regarding grammar is don’t let it consume you. Sit down in front of your computer or pick up a pen and writing pad and start creating. Don’t worry about grammar or where to stick commas; this isn’t the stage to allow yourself to be distracted. Write! Emerge yourself into the creative process and allow it to flow from you to the page.

But you haven’t finished yet. Here comes the ‘roll up your sleeves and start digging’ part of the process. Explore the possibilities until you have your start, middle and ending. Develop your characters so they act, speak and react in believable ways while remaining true to themselves. Use the full scope of colour and depth, smells and noises, and make it come alive for the reader. Play the ‘what if’ game and challenge yourself. What if this happened then how would each character act or react, and how would that affect the plot and sub plots. Keep working on it until you make it as good as you can get. Keep delving deeper with each draft moving closer and closer to the story that it’s destined to be.

Now here’s an important step: put your work away and don’t look at it for at least a week (longer if possible). If you can’t leave it for that long, then enjoy a coffee break at the local cafe, dance around the house as if no one can see you, or go for a long walk. Do whatever it takes to break away from using your creative side and distance yourself from your newly created work.

Return to your written piece with a fresh mindset and look at your work as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it. Now it’s time to start editing it.

Check your grammar and punctuation. Look up any word you’re unsure of in a good quality dictionary. Once you think the piece is at its best, give it to someone (or multiple people) you trust to read it that can provide insightful feedback. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague, but pick avid readers who are capable of providing quality feedback. If you don’t have someone like this in your circle of friends, then have it professionally assessed.

Listen to their comments regarding the content and understand they are trying to help. They are giving their point of view, perhaps uncovering an area you haven’t considered. Pay attention to what they question because that can identify storytelling problems. Are they having trouble understanding a particular section, and that’s why they are questioning it? Perhaps it’s not clear enough and the section needs reworking. Perhaps the sequence of events has been revealed in the wrong order and isn’t working with the timeline. If they point out a word or punctuation mark that seems inappropriate — look it up!

Rewrite the piece taking the feedback into consideration. You don’t have to take all feedback on board when reworking your story if it goes against what you want to achieve. For instance, a suggestion about changing the plot might tell a different story to the one you want to tell. However, understand why a suggestion was raised and if you can improve your work without compromising on the story you want to tell. It doesn’t matter if it takes 20 drafts. A story takes as long as it takes until it’s right.

Have you finished yet? Not quite. I’d recommend hiring a professional editor. Family and friends can help knock the rough edges off and highlight understanding difficulties within a story, but you still need a professional who knows the rules and who has been trained to see the inconsistencies in a story.

If your goal is to have your work published then you have to be professional — that means your attitude as well as your work. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s important. If you were applying for a job that you wanted, then you’d make sure your résumé was impressive before sending it anywhere. Sending your manuscript to a publisher works the same way. You’re competing against all those other writers.
Even if you opt for self-publishing, you’re still competing with other writers to get a reader’s attention.

Another important rule, perhaps the most important of all: don’t give up! Hard work and dedication will get you there, but be prepared for the long haul. Everybody wants their dreams to become reality today, but the most important dreams – the ones that mean the most to you — take time. And when those dreams start to turn into reality — you’ll know you’re on your way.