Writing Fiction Tips (Part I)
Whether Stuck in the Middle or Ready to Edit
What makes me qualified to offer tips of how to write fiction? As someone with no formal training and not a single published book all I can say is not a damn thing. But I am a reader, which is exactly who writers are trying to appeal to. I am also a writer and have had the opportunity to review multiple rejection letters. I am also actively involved with two forums in which writers swap stories and critiques. Some of the tips I am offering here are among the most common points I have either given, gotten or both.
1.) Be your own audience.
The best way to truly know if a story flows is to read it out loud to yourself. Sure you know how it sounded in your head but reading it aloud gives a better idea of how other readers will take it in. I know of no better way to begin the editing process and move past rough draft then to understand how the story comes across to readers. This helps find the places that need extra description, could use some trimming, trip up on too many awkward words or have a repeat of words like said during conversation. In fact, on that note…
2.) Let’s talk about talking.
Almost every piece of writing above flash fiction length could use some conversation. Stories can unfold without it but dialogue helps break up the monotony of the story telling format and offers insight to the characters. Sure you can simply introduce a new character and write that she is from the south or you can have her enter the story like this:
“It is just spittin’ ice out there,” came a hard southern drawl from under a mound of teased red hair. She swiped lingering bits of hail from the shoulders of her rain jacket. “Don’t get much of that back in Alabama.”
Because people can be from the south and have no accent and some come equipped with not just the accent but a wide array of colourful sayings that can only be found in their neck of the woods.
3.) Know what I’m sayin’?
The other key to convo is to avoid using a dull structure to carry it out. I have read many an otherwise good piece of fiction with a rather important conversation and can’t get past the fact that each line starts with he said, she said, he said, she said… Mix it up; this is where creativity and passion for the art of writing should be the difference between writing a science text book and composing a work of fiction. So for example:
He said, “It looks like it is starting to hail outside.”
She said, “Yes, I hope the horses have already made it to the barn.”
He said, “If not they’re surely on their way.”
She said, “True, besides it probably won’t last long.”
(Painful, right?) So with little effort it can be transformed into:
From the doorway behind her he said, “It looks like it is starting to hail outside.”
She glanced up from the sink, suds clinging to her hand as she used a finger to push aside the curtain. “I hope the horses have already made it to the barn,” she replied.
“If not they’re surely on their way.”
“True,” she said as she nodded her head, “besides it probably won’t last long.”
The word said is still used twice, but by altering the sentence structure and peppering in some elements to make these two bantering humans feel like real people the result is (hopefully) more engaging.
4.) The last thing I will say about what is being said…
Lastly, on the topic of conversation, do keep it real. People do not talk the same; whether it is a heavy Russian accent, a tendency to drop their G’s, the use of curse words, an attempt to use big words out of context, or anything else you can think of; try to offer a little distinction if it adds to understanding a character or shows how educated one person is over the other or demonstrates both are inner city gang members. Whatever their situation and lifestyle make the manner in which they speak and the vocabulary appropriate and realistic.
5.) Cliché critique #1 – write what you know… or at least be informed.
While this tip is tired and overused, there is a reason for it. The easiest and purest approach to writing your fictional piece is to write about emotions, situations, events, career details, etc that are familiar to you so they seem authentic in the story and for your characters. It is much easier to write about the main character being employed as a graveyard shift waitress if that is something you have done or are somehow familiar with enough to know the little details that make it not just real, but accurate.
Of course this isn’t always possible and if you have a character or situation that needs to be in your story but you are unfamiliar with it then educate yourself on the topic. Search the internet, especially for forums with discussions to monitor, or ask people you know. Even if you haven’t been to Puerto Vallarta but want it mentioned in the story find a snippet or two that make it real (aside from just a Mexican beachside town popular with tourists). Have the characters meet outside of Rosie & Ritchie’s (the Italian restaurant that’s been on the malecon for 12 seasons). Or if you are going to make it up, make it plausible. For instance don’t write details about a job that a pro in that field would easily identify as incorrect.
Please don’t settle for cliché. If your character has been doing yoga for 12 years but you have never even considered it, do not simply mention the practitioner doing downward facing dog pose because it is the only pose you have heard of; it is overused and if you want to make someone sound like they are very into something it is good to have a better example.
What type of canvas would a painter use with oils?
What type of music would your average 14 year old listen to right now?
Would a beachside restaurant in Puerto Vallarta be busy on a Tuesday evening in August?
What type of gun does a cop carry?
Can a story that mentions lottery tickets be set in a state that doesn’t have a lottery?
Would a pet Husky be a good fit for a bachelor living in Miami, or is that a better example because it shows he doesn’t care if the animal is uncomfortable as long as he gets the pet he wants?
Get the idea?
That’s a lot to digest so stay tuned for Writing Fiction Tips #6-#10