How To Write Fiction

How to Write Fiction

How To Write FictionWriting fiction, and by that, I mean writing (hopefully) good fiction, is a completely different set of skills as well as mindset. Don't be a hack, there are already enough of them. That said, there are really very few rules in writing fiction which you can't turn on their heads if you know what you're doing. While this shouldn't necessarily be your goal, if you have an original story, sooner or later you'll have to break the rules.

The major difference between writing fiction and nonfiction is that nonfiction is (what I call) mechanical, while fiction is creative. They require totally different skills. You have to create a complete world, and populate it with people (characters) also created by you, and invent fictional situations and problems, which they themselves have to get themselves out of. This isn't easy, and requires a lot of imagination to pull off.

The other thing to beware of is most fiction is deeply rooted in reality. So while you're creating this fictional world and characters, they have to be believable and not exceed the bounds of what ordinary people, in extraordinary situations, can accomplish.

What I'm trying to say is, writing good fiction isn't for wussies.

First and foremost, something which no one ever seems to talk about, if you want to TRULY to write fiction, you need cash flow. You need to be able to treat your writing like a job. While writing may be free, living isn't. You need to have either money coming in from other pursuits, or be in a position where money isn't a concern. Or your writing is going to take a back burner to everything else in your life. If you don't have either one of those, then you'll need determination and tenacity in spades.

In addition to money, you'll also need

  • Time to write.
  • A place set aside to write.
  • The tools to write.

The very first thing you have to do is…

  • Read, read, read, and read more of "classic" fiction of whatever genre you want to tackle. (i.e. If you want to write horror, read Shelley, Bierce, Poe, and Lovecraft.)
  • Read today's bestselling authors of the genre you're deciding to tackle.
  • You need to understand what's been done, as well as the current trends in your genre.
  • Study the way they put the story together. (I mean REALLY study it)
  • Pay close attention to what you like (about their styles) and what you don't like.
  • Read the dozens of good books out there written by writers on writing. (Stephen King's "On Writing" if nothing else)

This is the way I do it, but don't feel obligated. Any way in which you're able to convey your story, and more to the point, the EMOTION of the story, is the way to write it.

  • I start by reading newspapers and online reporting to get general story ideas.
  • Create a basic theme for your story. (Main character "A" is a (Occupation) who uncovers/discovers "B" who then decides to "C" but is thwarted by "D") Something very basic, and very general.

Stephen King in "On Writing" (I think) called this the "What if" guy. Which is a good of term as any. He used the "What-If Guy" to describe situations and create an overall theme. "What if an alcoholic writer took a caretaker job in a haunted hotel, in total isolation and went slowly crazy." (The Shining)

  • Next, you need to determine your characters. You need two kinds of characters(at minimum) -good guys, and bad guys. The good guys need to be "real," likable, and someone everyone can relate to. (I use composites of people I know) The bad guys need to be as repellent, and over the top, as the story allows.
  • You should treat any locations, or techno gizmos as characters as well, using the same "good guy-bad guy" formula above.
  • Do basic research necessary to complete the story. Just find what you'll need to create the story. This should be superficial at this point, not in depth.

Now you need a plot to carry the story. There are a lot of good books out there on plotting, so I won't go into it. One is "20 Master Plots and How To Build Them" by Tobias. Google it or go to Amazon. There is also a lot of writing software available which can also help with this.

  • Once you have the above, you're ready to start outlining the story. Once again, some people do this, some don't. I'm just describing what works for me. But at the very minimum, you need to decide at this point, the action which is going to take place in the beginning, middle, and end of your story, and how to fit them into your plot structure.
  • Some people start at the beginning and work forward, other start at the end, and work backwards. Others just start writing and figure it all out later. Some don't outline at all. Whatever works for you.
  • Create a goal for yourself. (i.e. write "X" number of words, or pages, for XX number of days, or months)
  • Set aside a time everyday to write that fits with your goal.
  • Simply write. At this point, if you've got the basic above down, write anything and everything that comes to mind within the structure you've created. Don't edit, don't rethink, don't try to make it perfect. Don't worry about it…just write.
  • Write until you have absolutely no more to say on the subject. Finish the manuscript.
  • Put the completed manuscript in a drawer for 30-45 days and let it "simmer." Resist the urge to take it out and look at it, or make small edits. (Almost impossible

After a month or so, take the manuscript out, and go through it.

  • Use grammar checking software (linked above) to fix misspelling and obvious grammatical errors.
  • Do in-depth research now on any subjects needing further explanation or detail and add to manuscript to strengthen.
  • Tighten the entire manuscript up by deleting unnecessary words, characters, situations, etc.
  • Now is the time to make the manuscript perfect.
  • Find an editor in your chosen genre. (Not always easy) Have them look over a chapter or two, (or the entire manuscript) and get some insights. What you want to determine is if you can work with them. If you can, and they add value to your manuscript, pay them.
  • If you trust your editor enough to pay them, then LISTEN TO THEM. You might not like what you're going to hear, nor do you have to implement all suggestions, but you're a fool if you don't listen to what they have to say.
  • Lastly, once the manuscript is completed, find some "beta readers" and have them read your manuscript and get a "readers" opinion of your work.
  • Take your book to market.


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