Successful Fiction Writing: Important Rules to Follow
There has long been a debate about whether fiction or non-fiction are more difficult to write.
Fiction does require a lot of creativity while non-fiction will typically necessitate significant research. In both cases, a lot of preliminary work will be required. Building a convincing story and coming up with an interesting world, however, rank among the challenges that solely fiction writers face.
If you’re making your first steps in the world of fiction writing, you’re probably wondering what it takes to be successful. The following guide will highlight some of the most important rules.
Show, Don’t Tell
According to The New Yorker, this is the most important rule of making fiction writing successful.
Many inexperienced authors commit the serious mistake of telling their readers what they should see or feel when reading the page.
Don’t tell your reader that the grass is green. Describe its lushness, the slightly wet feeling it leaves on one’s fingertips when being touched. Describe the fresh scent of the grass in the morning, shortly after the sun rises.
By giving little details and painting a picture, you will get your readers to use their imagination and become fully immersed in the scene. Telling instead of showing is lazy and it lacks creativity. It is a massive cop-out that every reader will notice and feel displeased by.
Mastering this aspect of fiction writing requires practice and consistent work. In the beginning, you will have to go through the pages in order to correct such errors. Eventually, you will improve your writing style and the flow of the text will become much better.
Keep the Boring Descriptions to a Minimum
Good fiction moves the story forward. Descriptions are used as tools that give the reader some context. Don’t use them to fill the pages. This is especially true for flowery language.
Descriptions of places and people could make you feel like you’re giving the reader important details but this isn’t necessarily the case. Unless they serve a specific purpose, such descriptions are perceived as boring.
The problem with descriptions is that they bring the flow of the story to a standstill. Thus, they should be scattered between the active scenes and placed there strategically. Physical descriptions of characters don’t really accomplish a lot. Instead, the actions and the speech of your protagonist and antagonist will reveal who they are (unless the physical appearance of your characters play a role in the events that will unfold).
Obviously, there are masters who can break such rules and produce descriptions people will want to read. Margaret Artwood is an exception. The Handmaid’s Tale paints an amazing world that you simply cannot get enough of. The action is limited but the book still manages to be an impactful page turner.
Make Your Characters Three-Dimensional
Are your characters believable?
If you feature characters that are strictly positive or negative, the answer to this question is probably “no.”
Three-dimensional characters have strengths and shortcomings. They may be incredibly intelligent one second and acting in a cowardly manner the next one.
Even if you have a great writing style and an interesting idea, your work will suffer in the absence of strong characters that can provoke an emotional response from the reader. Give your audience someone to root for and someone to hate. Make sure that the characters undergo some development by the end of the book. If they are exactly the same as in the first few pages, what’s the point of reading the story?
Avoid turning your characters into clichés by relying on common stereotypes. Strive for originality, even if that means going down a bizarre road. George R. R. Martin accomplishes this goal in A Song of Ice and Fire. In fact, some of the characters are so deliciously bizarre that they had to be turned into mainstream tropes for the creation of the Game of Thrones Series.
Characters Need a Compelling Problem
Every single piece of fiction out there features a problem that a character faces and has to solve.
This problem shouldn’t be a focal point in your work but rather the tool that moves the plot forward. It will contribute to conflicts, character development, losses, growth and new connections. The conflict can be external or internal – it doesn’t really matter as long as some change occurs.
Make things happen and make them believable. Whether your character is fighting inner demons or an aggressive enemy, the story should be dynamic. A dynamic story does not necessarily have to feature a lot of action. Rather, it should speak of change.
Keep the plot believable and write about issues that you feel passionate for. If you can invest your whole being into the development of the story, chances are that your readers will also experience some emotion.
Dialogue Shouldn’t Be Forced
The problem with dialogue in works of fiction is that it often feels forced and unnatural.
Good dialogue reveals important information about the characters or the situation. In this sense, it moves the story forward. In addition, it gives each character a distinctive and easily recognizable voice. If all of your characters sound the same, you will miss on a wonderful opportunity to develop and reveal some personal traits.
You can use jargon and specific words to show how a certain character communicates but don’t overdo it. When readers can’t understand what’s going on, they will feel alienated and they’ll potentially give up the book.
Good dialogue is brief. Avoid small talk and meaningless, meandering conversations. At the same time, you should not use dialogue to dump a large amount of information on the reader. For best results, reveal little bits and pieces and sprinkle short dialogues throughout the text.
The final thing to remember is that you should practice. Good fiction does require experience. The more you work, the better you’re going to get. Your writing style will improve and you’ll become much more capable of presenting ideas to the world in a convincing and entertaining way.