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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.