When writing fiction, the author must rely upon his/her instincts and experiences to create a story. This article will provide an overview of 7 of the major elements of writing fiction in good form, i.e., the form editors expect.
Plotting and characterization carry the other elements of the book. The plotting must be believable, plausible, and interesting. It is a sequence of events connected in a cause-and-effect manner. Generally the plot consists of a series of increasingly more intense conflicts, a climax (the most intense part of the book), and a final resolution. The plot must advance as the book unfolds. Usually the closer to the end of the book the climax is placed the better.
Long works like novels can have many subplots and secondary climaxes and resolutions. Avoid using subplots in order to have clichÃ© characters. Avoid too many coincidences.
Flashbacks have been overused. A book is stronger when it runs chronologically.
The reader should be able to identify with and care about the characters in the sense that the characters seem real to the reader. The characters must do something, and what they do must seem reasonable for them to have done it.
Characters should be introduced early in the book. The more often a character is mentioned or appears, the more significance the reader will attach to the character. Also, the main character should be introduced before setting, so that the setting can be introduced from the point of view of the character. The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters. The author should allow the reader to make judgments about the characters; the author should avoid making the judgments for the reader. The feelings of the character should be demonstrated rather than told by the narrator.
Yet, there are some very good books in which much of the narrative voice is about a character’s feelings and thoughts or in which the narration goes into great detail and analysis of a character’s feelings and thoughts at some point. So one rule about writing fiction is that there are no rules, or maybe: If it works, it works.
Scene includes the place and time in which the book takes place. The scene should be described in specifics to make the book seem real, to set the atmosphere and mood of the book, to place limitations on the characters, or to help establish the basic conflict of the book. Weather can be an important part of a scene.
The scene can be used for contrast, having something taking place in an unexpected place. Also, the more unfamiliar the reader is with the setting, the more interesting the scene.
Dialogue makes fiction seem real. However, dialogue that copies reality may actually slow down a book. Avoid unnecessary or repetitive dialogue.
Dialect in dialogue can be difficult to read. A small amount of it can be used to establish the nature of a character, but overuse will intrude on the book. The level of use of language by the characters- pronunciation, diction, grammar, etc.- is often used to characterize people in a book. Most often the main characters use the best English.
Profanity and vulgarisms can be used where they seem appropriate. Overuse amounts to author intrusion and can interrupt the reader’s belief in the book.
Too much exposition through dialogue can slow down a book. Characters should not repeat in dialogue events which have already happened in the book.
Also, one character should not tell another character what the second character should already know just so the author can convey information to the reader.
The form of dialogue should be varied to keep the reader interested. However, don’t try to find too many different ways to say “said.”
Interior dialogue is what a character is thinking. Dramatic dialogue is a character thinking out loud, without response from other characters. Indirect dialogue is the narrator telling what a character said.
Dialogue should be used to develop character or to advance the book. It should not be used just to hear characters talk.
Point of View
First person point of view has the main character telling the story or a secondary character telling the main character’s story. Everything that happens in the book must be seen or experienced by the character doing the narration. The reader’s judgment of other characters in the book will be heavily influenced by the narrator. This can be very limiting. Also, a book written in first person usually means that the main character won’t die in the plot. However, first person point of view gives a sense of intimacy to the book.
Third person point of view can be objective or omniscient. An objective narrator describes actions but not the inner thoughts or feelings of the characters. An omniscient narrator can describe all the actions of all of the characters but also all of their inner thoughts and feelings as well.
Genre is the main category into which a book fits. Most stories meet the criteria for multiple genres, but you should have some focus, identifying a market before you begin writing fiction.
Narrative voice is the way the author uses language. The longer the work the less important language becomes. Above all, the author’s work must tell a story. The author should not be more concerned with the words used than with the tale the author is trying to tell. Don’t be a fanatic about words. The language is less important than characterization and plotting. However, a combination of a good story and good narrative voice will be a delight to read. Mistakes in English amount to author intrusion and detract greatly from the book. The most effective writing uses the active voice, and nouns and verbs so specific that they require no modifiers. The choice of words can help set the tone of the book.
Beginning authors often miss one critical fact about writing fiction. It is up to the author to please the reader, not the other way around.
Patrick Dent is the author of the new covert ops thriller, Execution of Justice.