Creative Writing/Fiction technique
Writers usually want quality fiction for novels, novellas, and/or short stories. This is achieved using technique, and in order to help this technique, this page outlines rules that... aren't required, (much like grammatical rules) but are generally recommended. Many of these were developed through trial and error by published authors, screenwriters, et cetera throughout history, including authors from ancient Greece for example. Some rules are rigid, and others are flexible. The astute writer who wishes to master fiction will know which rules to adhere to, and which rules to break.
Note that fiction technique does not cover getting an agent, submitting a manuscript, getting out of the slushpile, negotiating contracts, dealing with rejection, and/or grammar advice. It is primarily for developing good writing skills for fiction. All of those steps don't even describe how to write good fiction, and it'll all be covered on the next page.
The following is a suggested outline of the planned article structure. This comment should be removed once the sections are fleshed out.
We Begin With Plot
Plot can be described as a series of events that make a story a story. With good phrasing and use of words, you can convince your reader that the events in the story happened. This is the "suspension of disbelief".
If I told you that the sentence above was written in less than ten minutes, you could believe it. If I also told you that the sentence above needed no research to write and was based on previous teachings from other authors, you could also believe that.
Sometimes the reader consist of people who aren't you. While it's fine to like a work, even one that you've written yourself, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone in order to tell it effectively.
A book having any number of chapters means nothing in terms of basic plot structure. It just means all the author needed was that many chapters and pages to tell the story.
A story can be simple...
- There are two characters. A and B. Having met B a long time ago, A is ready to confess their love to B. Will A do it?
...it can also be complex...
- But B meets C. And C has the potential to stop A from loving B. Will C stop A?
- But D kills C, inciting B to vow revenge. A is related to D, and doesn't want either of them dead.
Plots don't have to be violent though. Consider killing as a metaphor.
- D actually sends C to a distant land ("killing"), maybe a boarding school, as a punishment, but B still has contempt in their heart for D, even though A is still related to D. How will A settle this?
The writer's job to choose whether they want to answer the questions. That is storytelling. Some don't have ends. Some do.
- B confesses to A. The simple story has a happy ending. The rest are uncertain.
This may seem like a plot hole, but it isn't. While it's never actually revealed at what point B loves A, it happens anyways. Because before the confession, the whole premise is that A loves B, not the other way around. This is a surprise.
Most of the time, readers don't like it when you don't answer questions the plot asks for. Some stories are just so tragic it feels more painful for them to even find out the answer, and at the lowest points it almost feels as if it's not worth getting to the end. Some others go off to a bad start, but get better over time.
When it comes to answering questions from your reader that you don't explain in the story, maybe you can clarify what happens in the next iteration (the sequel, etc.). Maybe you don't want to. How you tell the plot is up to you. The best way to do it is to figure out characters.
Before moving on, also note that jokes can also use plot to sell a punchline. Some jokes are rants, or rants with a twist, but some are stories. Usually they use the plot to build up to the punchline. Otherwise, it'd be one bad punchline.
Characters and Character Development
A character moves the plot. Otherwise, there would be no plot. That means a character can be anything. Notice stories about a tree that blossomed talking to its apples, or a house that sat talking to its furniture. The character doesn't have to be human! The character can be anything! What sets it apart from an object, or a "plot device", is human behavior. A character can be inanimate. And no, human behavior doesn't always mean emotion. Lack of emotion is also human behavior.
A character doesn't have to be fleshed out either. As an adult, it becomes easier not to align with characters in a story that's told to children. Children aren't as complex when it comes to human behaviors, which means writers can only do so much for children to understand the character. Sometimes adults can think the way children do, which allows them to tell great stories to kids.
In the context of a story, characters are what they do on the page. Not only does the author have to explain their personality and desire, but they also have to show this personality and desire.
- The lazy dog happily ran in the field on a normal summer day.
Is the dog really lazy?
Not only should a writer know a characters fears, hopes/wishes, and motivations, but they must also show them. These don't have to be explicit either, they can be implied. What matters is how it drives the character, because you don't want a lazy dog doing energetic things; that's entirely out of character. Characters could say something based on their own knowledge and experience. The writer doesn't need experience, only empathy and a good perspective. When doing research on fighting with specific weapons for example, their wielders can tell of their own experience using the weapon(s) and if it causes pain, is difficult to work with, and so on. If you don't have good (or any) experience, research helps a lot! Good research helps a lot.
Naming a Character
At some point, you will have to name a character. If you get stuck here, one way to get out of it is to use a website dedicated to generating names, such as Fantasy Name Generators. It might seem cheap in practice to use one, but it puts less pressure on you for coming up with names yourself. And you can usually get good names by handpicking first and last names instead of using the given combinations; the key is to pick ones that seem good enough for your story rather than just using totally random ones. This is optional of course; if you feel confident enough to come up with your own names, then go for it.
The Plot Thickens - Plot Development & Dynamics
So now we know that plot is a sequence of events driven by characters. What drives these characters? A lot of things.
Narrative conflict is common. Here's the gist.
- Man vs. Man
- Two characters against each other. Disagreements are a trait of humans. No two minds are alike, and they will clash.
- Man vs. Nature
- A character against a world and/or its elements. A species may not be built to deal with an environment, or at least not alone.
- Man vs. Self
- A character against choices they can make. Moral and ethical dilemmas, and other problem solving applies here.
- Man vs. Society
- A character against a lot of characters. Sometimes, the group can be organized.
And no, it obviously doesn't have to be a man.
Earlier, I explained that if you describe a character who does the opposite of his description, that's bad. While you can legitimately do that in the form of unreliable narration, (and that will be covered) there's also a principle of "showing versus telling", where you can't emphasize straight up description as a way to get around the "database" of your characters. If your character is meant to be awesome, you should show them being awesome. It's very difficult to convince readers a character has a certain trait if you just tell them "(character) has (trait)" or if other characters say they have the trait. There are examples, but they're still described by their actions indirectly. You can say a political leader is corrupt and show it just by describing the dystopian society they've created from the perspective of a citizen, and you don't have to mention the leader. Of course, obviously you don't have to do this, but it gets across to the reader that the character has a certain trait. It's just good form.
Point of View
Pronouns in brackets refer to the protagonist or narrator.
- First person
- (I, Me, My)
The story is told as if it's personally between you and the narrator. It might not actually be, but that's the feeling.
- Second person
- (You, Your)
The story is told as if you are put in the story. Word of advice; don't do this with a linear story. The reader can (and most likely will) disconnect from the character's perspective, and will treat this as just a person (or perhaps the author) going through the story as a character.
- Third Person Omniscient
- (Their/They, His/He, Her/She)
The story is told as if the reader played god watching the action unfold. They are told how the characters feel even though the other characters don't know. They may not know all of the feelings each character has.
- Third Person Observant
- (Their/They, His/He, Her/She)
The story is told as if the reader had front row seats and that was it. They are never told how characters think.
Everyone struggles with writer's block at some point. Overcoming it depends on the methods you use to write. If you just tell the story as you write on paper, knowing how to continue the plot when you get stuck is really difficult to get out of. R.L. Stine's method of writing is to get the scenes down for each chapter, so that any problems figuring out where to go for the next is way easier to deal with. It might "spoil" the story, but again, you're not always the audience.
If that doesn't sound convincing though, here are some other methods.
- Write down anything that comes to mind. Try to draw ideas from what has been written.
- Take a break.
- Read other peoples' writing to get ideas.
- Ask others if they have any ideas.
- Write with the screen off, it limits your inclination to edit as you write.
- Don't be afraid of writing awkwardly. Write it down, and edit it later.
- Set deadlines and keep them.
- Work on multiple projects at a time
- Avoid sitting for hours on end staring at a blank page. Go out and do something different, then come back when you have more ideas.
- If you are jammed where you are, stop and write somewhere else, where it is comfortable.
Resources for Fiction Writers
- Books on writing
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King, technique
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway, technique
- The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, by John Gardner, technique
- Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, inspirational
- On Writing, by Stephen King, inspirational
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, inspirational
- Writing to Sell, by Scott Meredith, technique
- The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr., technique
- Guide to Ficting Writing, by Phyllis A. Whitney, technique with some inspiraton
- Novel Metamorphosis:Uncommon Ways to Revise by Darcy Pattison, techniques for editing and revising
- The public library
- Word processers
- Story generators
- Writing classes
- Paying for professional advice
Recommended Reading List
- A list of masterful works you should strive to learn from.
- The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
- The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
- Catcher In The Rye, by J.D. Salinger
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
- Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley
- Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
- Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Cormac McCarthy
- Short stories
- Famous Authors