OUR FICTION WRITING CRAFT

A Statement of Fiction Writing

Fiction writing is art; therefore, the craft has few mathematical or scientific limits to its evolution. The writer must always push forward and strive to reach new levels of storytelling. Good fiction comments on reality, but also transports the reader to a sensational world of wonder and interest that far outweighs tangible existence.

But there are rules we must abide if we’re to be well-received authors. It'd be easy to fill pages with highly detailed techniques and advice on every aspect of the craft, but we’ll leave that to the recommended books listed below. Those how-to-write titles are must-own texts for any writer seriously pursuing a fiction career.

What this page and the Pittsburgh Writer blog provides are chunk-sized portions of advice, so a writer can strengthen his or her craft. These tips may be viewed as fundamental to some, but they are the building blocks of the great stories each of us attempts to write.

Show, Don't Always Tell

One of the biggest failures for a story is the lack of Word Painting: the art of using words to illustrate scenes. As writers, we must show, rather than tell the thoughts and feelings of the Point-of-View (POV) character(s), the notable characteristics of their environment, and how they perceive the story’s situation.

Characters are three-dimensional people. They have use of their five senses, feel emotions, and have working minds. Reporters and technical writers tell or instruct their readers. Fiction writers crawl inside the minds of the characters to show their readers what’s happening from unique perspectives.

As a successful fiction and nonfiction writer, I’m here to tell you the fiction and nonfiction mediums have little in common. The blog contains articles that illustrate these differences.

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“I” “Turned,” “Looked,” and “Saw” “Her.”

There are words we sometimes use, use again, and then use again to get through a first draft of a fiction or nonfiction story. Stephen King discusses the overuse of words in his book, On Writing. I especially enjoy what he said about use of the word was. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is another must-own book.

In first-person narrative, the trick is to bury the (I), so to speak. If a story contains multiple sentences per page that begin with “I did this” or “I did that,” the reader will run away in tear-ridden frustration and reach for the closest bottle of cheap whiskey to dillute the horror of your sloppy words in her mind. We don’t tell the reader what the character is doing, we show the reader what the character feels, thinks, and how he or she reacts while the story unfolds.

That's no easy trick. Most writers work on perfecting that part of the art form throughout their creative careers. Don't kick yourself too hard if your story requires six or seven drafts to achieve the desired result.

We must also watch the overuse of pronouns like he or she in any narrative. It’s our job to find the balance of character actions and reactions, their thoughts, and their surrounding environments.

The last thing I’ll mention here is the use of like[d], turn[ed], see/saw/seen, and look[ed]. We should rarely write that a character looks or sees someone or something. Illustrative writing takes care of that chore. The same goes for turned. Our characters are not usually robots. There's really no need to trumpet their slightest movements as a triumph of engineering.

When it comes to like, we often use that word to begin a metaphor or simile. Yes, it is acceptable to write like in a story, but its overuse will reek of an unpolished narrative. We need metaphors and similes to illustrate a scene, but we must inject them in a seamless fashion, so the reader doesn’t stumble. Like may force the reader to consider the metaphor, which kills the story’s natural flow.

Please Note: all of these words can be used as often as necessary to complete a first draft of a story. It's important to not get tripped up on mecahnics while you struggle to type out an entire story.

Choice of Narration

Choosing the correct form of narration for your story depends on many factors, such as personal strength, but also on the kind of story you’re writing. If your object is to craft a tale that shows the world through the eyes of one or a few characters, I’d recommend a first-person narrative. If you wish to take a step back and closely observe your world while still showing the story through the eyes of one or several characters, a close third-person narrative may be the ticket.

I will never recommend choosing a second-person narrative for any fiction. Sure, there are novels and shorts through history that were well received by large audiences, but in modern fiction, those stories are almost always rejected by major publishers. Second-person narrative has become the publishing standard for “How-To” and other technical nonfiction books.

I also do not recommend choosing a third-person omniscient narrative for any kind of imaginable fiction. When a writer pulls so far back that a reader can no longer experience the feelings of characters, there’s really little point to a written story. Again, there are stories through history that were well received, but in the age of multi-media entertainment, omniscient should be saved for stories that depend more on visual and audio stimulants, such as video games and films.

There are professors and seasoned writers who argue with this advice, but as working writers, our focus is on crafting stories that lead to success, for us and our readers.

Stay True to Your Story

The publishing industry has undergone drastic changes in the past three years, due to the influx of eBooks, Print-On-Demand (POD) small presses, and successful indie authors seizing more and more marketshare from the bigger publishing houses. The market is essentially in a fluctuating state and will continue to transform over the next 10 or more years.

With that said, a writer should rarely respond to what he or she believes will sell. Stay true to your vision of a story and write your dreams. Far too often, a writer will decide that one genre or topic is hot. After spending a year or two crafting a novel, it turns out the trends have shifted far from the intended target, leaving the author with a dispassionate manuscript tossed in some random laptop file folder.

No matter the state of the publishing industry, when a writer crafts a story of passion that reflects a high level of learned skill, readers will respond. Pour your heart into your tale. If you love it, there's a good chance many others will agree.

Critique & Mentorship

A vital component to fiction writing is finding a critique partner. These trusted allies exchange drafts and provide objective criticism. A solid critique partner understands the elements of fiction writing and gives valuable feedback in a fresh perspective. In the social media age, many writers seek each other out on Facebook or Twitter. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a long distance relationship with your critique partner. But there's a lot to be said for a local friend who will take a real interest in your progress.

More to Discuss

There is much more that could be discussed here, but then this wouldn’t be a webpage, but the outline of a how-to-write book. I discuss more on my blog. You can also follow me on social media (links in the header of this website).

How-To-Write Basics

The Elements of Style
Strunk and White
Critical to fully understand English usage in any writing medium.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Browne
Editing guide that strengthens work for publishing.
On Writing
Stephen King
A practical book about the craft by one of the best living authors.
Word Painting
McClanahan
The ultimate guide for illustrating scenes and characters with words.

How-To-Write Advanced


How Fiction Works
Wood
An in-depth analysis of the fiction writing craft.
Plot & Structure
Bell
Instructs the writer on how plot influences story structure.
Scene & Structure
Bickham
Instructs the writer how to build story structure, scene by scene.
20 Master Plots
Tobias
The 20 proven plot structures used in the best fiction.