Writing fiction by Vanessa Grossett

There are two types of writing styles as far as the book industry is concerned: fiction and non-fiction. Many people think that writing for the two styles is the same, that there are no techniques to writing, you just pick up a pen and write. However this couldn’t be further from the truth.

With fiction writing, there are techniques that every author should pay attention to. Writing fiction is the most complex of the two, yet it contains the most fun and creativity.

When you are writing fiction, your creative juices have to be constantly flowing, in order to produce a great enjoyable story. You need to use adjectives more than nouns.

If you want to write fiction, here are five vital components to producing a great story that publishers look for, and that readers can enjoy.

Show and not tell:  Showing is very important in fiction writing, and this is the first thing that publishers seek when they consider a fiction manuscript for publication. Publishers have turned down manuscripts simply because they was no ‘showing’. What do I mean by this? Well, here are some examples:

‘Her hair was black’ would not be acceptable in fiction writing, as you are ‘telling’. Instead, you would write ‘Her ebony strands were curly’. This is ‘showing’ – not only are you describing the colour, but you’ve gone a step further by describing the type of hair.

‘He wanted to sleep’ would again not be acceptable in fiction writing, as this is telling. Instead, you would write, ‘His eyelids drooped until his eyes were shut’.

‘She was crying’ is telling, and this noun is commonly used in fiction writing. To show this, you would write ‘Water streamed down her rosy cheeks’.

Get the idea? I know this can seem long-winded; however the whole idea with fiction writing is to get the reader to use their imagination. This is why showing and not telling is important, and makes the difference into getting your book published.

Character Building and Scenery Description: It is important when you are writing fiction that you build your characters, making them as real as possible. I have read manuscripts where I felt like I didn’t know the character at all; I couldn’t even relate to them.

Authors, who struggle with this concept, don’t view their characters as human beings. They have the viewpoint of ‘It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t know their age or date of birth, they are not real’. Believe it or not, to the reader it does matter. People read fiction as a way of escapism from their own reality, as well as for enjoyment. They want to read about characters they can relate to; they want to read characters that can make them laugh, smile, cry or even angry. I know this sounds surreal, but it is the truth.

If you are struggling with character building, the best thing for you to do is firstly look at the character as a real-life person. Write a list of descriptions concerning them; for example, their height, hair, skin colour; their likes and dislikes; their relationship status; what job they do, etc, and then you can build on your character further from these bases.

It is also important to describe scenery; many manuscripts that I have read have lacked scenic descriptions. It’s no good just writing ‘They went to the cafe’. The reader wants to know what cafe they went to, what was the weather like, what day was it, was the cafe full or empty, what was the interior like, etc.

Though the characters and scenery are fiction, as the author it is your job to make them as real as possible. You do not want to leave your readers wondering what the character and scenery were like; you have to bring the story to the reader. If you get stuck, remember to answer the five important questions: who, what, where, why and how.

Realism: This is a pretty simple one, but I have seen manuscripts that have been over exaggerated. Though your work is fiction, you have to be realistic. I once came across a sentence that read ‘The car humbly sat on the driveway’. A car is a machine; it doesn’t know about being humble. It is better to write ‘The car sat on the driveway’, this is more realistic to the reader. Yes, you must describe, but don’t over exaggerate. It is better to use a tell word – ‘parked’, for example – than to over exaggerate.

Good transition: Your story needs to flow correctly. Readers don’t want to be confused. I have read manuscripts, where I was wondering if I was still on the same scene or in another one. Readers need a good transition from one scene to the next. Some authors think that creating a new chapter is a good transition onto the next scene, but this doesn’t have to be the case. You can move onto the next scene within the same chapter smoothly and without causing confusion.

The most common way that my authors do this is by writing a different day or time, or by leaving quite a big space between the last sentence and new scene.

Example one: ‘Rose slipped under her white soft duvet, her eyelids closed’.

‘It was a wet Tuesday at 6:00am, the buzz noise pierced Rose’s ear. Her oval-shaped lids unfolded. She yawned and stretched her arms’.

Example two: ‘Rose slipped under her white soft duvet, her eyelids closed.’

‘Ding dong, Jimmy rushed to the door’.

Example one is starting a different day to move onto the next scene, and example two is leaving a space between the last sentence and new scene. No new chapter is needed, as the transition is clear for the reader.

Quotation: It needs to be clear which character is speaking. I have read many manuscripts where I was unsure who was speaking. Most authors overcome this hurdle by adding the character name at the end of each quote, but this is not always necessary; the dialogues can be written in a way where it is clear to the reader who is speaking.

Example: “Hello, Peter. It’s been a long time!”

“Hey, Rose, you’re looking good. What have you been up to?”

“I’m well. Just been working, moving house. What about you?”

With this example, no names were added at the end of each quotation; it was clear which character was speaking. However, if you feel more comfortable adding names, it can be written like this:

“Hello, Peter. It’s been a long time!” Rose said.

“You’re looking good. What have you been up to?”

“I’m well. Just been working, moving house. What about you?” Rose answered.

Whichever method you decide to use, with both quotes it is clear to see who’s speaking.

There you have it, five vital ingredients to writing fiction. Once you have these bases covered, everything else will fall into place. Remember to show and not tell; do not over exaggerate; describe, and build your characters.

Happy fiction writing.


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