You’re writing fiction. You want readers. I was tempted to call this post “how to write fiction and leave out all the boring crap”, because that’s all you need to do if you want readers — leave out anything that’s boring.
A digression. You may know that I spend a lot of time on Pinterest. Although I tell myself that I’m “marketing”, I’m mainly there for the fun. On Pinterest, I’ve noticed a lot of pins with long lists of words to substitute for other words.
Here’s an example: substitutions for “said.”
That sound you can hear is me, banging my head against my desk.
Listen up. There are NO substitutes for SAID. When you need to use said, just use it.
Stop thinking of fiction as WORDS. Fiction is FEELING, and experience. And emotion. Not words. So please, no word lists.
In essence: if you want readers, stop writing, and just tell your story.
OK, end of digression.
Fiction secrets — write and leave out the boring stuff: four tips
There’s only one rule if you want readers: leave out anything that’s boring, especially if you’re trying to control your readers by force-feeding them information. Your aim as a novelist is to ignite your readers’ imagination. You want your readers to feel something, as they read.
Here are some tips to help you to do that.
1. Everyone wants something, always
I’m not by nature a writer who plots for the joy of it. I plot because I need to know what every main character wants. Knowing what characters want doesn’t involve writing character bios. You don’t need an extensive bio: just figure out what each character wants.
If you don’t know what a character wants, either delete the character, OR give the character something he’ll fight for. Everyone wants something. The difference between fictional characters and real people is that in fiction, characters fight for what they want.
No fight? Your character just wants to ponder life, or complain? Kill the character now. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and misery, because if you write that sucker you won’t get readers.
2. Write in scenes, so you can leave out the boring crap
I love this post… From A Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit:
SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.
1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?
I’m always encouraging you to write in scenes, scenes, scenes — because when you train yourself to write in scenes, you’ll leave out the boring crap automatically. As long as you remember the above three things. 🙂
Write in scenes. Before you start, know what each character in the scene wants.
3. Know your characters: “Tim is a cop, who…”
Readers read to watch characters change. Your primary characters won’t be the same people at the end of your novel as they were at the beginning. Usually. Sometimes a character is pretty much the same at the end of the book. If you’re writing a mystery series for example, your sleuth won’t change much at the end of each novel in the series, but he will change a little: he’ll be affected by what he experiences.
You’ve heard of the character arc. It’s a graph of how your character changes in the course of your story. To get a handle on that your character arc, write yourself a little note about each character: name, job, primary attribute.
Tim is a cop who’s looking for his mother’s murderer.
Connie is doctor who suspects that one of her patients is abusing her child.
Robert is a politician who’s being blackmailed.
Resist the temptation to add more to this one-sentence description. You’re keeping it short so that you can remember it. Your itty bitty description helps you to keep your story on track. It prevents you from adding boring, irrelevant crap.
4. Know the ending of your novel at the beginning: use an image
New authors want to explain everything. This infuriates readers. New authors also want to spend pages and pages on thoughts and conversations. At this point, readers stop reading because readers just want you to get on with it.
At the start of your story, they want to know who your main character is and what he wants. Then they want to see him go all-out to get what he wants. This is why you write your itty bitty character descriptions — viz: Tim is a cop who’s looking for his mother’s murderer.
I’m a big fan of Blake Snyder, especially of his opening image:
Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Here’s why I love opening images. The opening image helps you to begin and end your story. If you’re tempted to spend three months on your novel’s first page, the opening image fixes that: all you need is ONE image.
For example, if you’re writing the novel: Tim is a cop who’s looking for his mother’s murderer, your opening image could be Tim’s meeting with an old friend of his mother’s, who hands Tim a photograph.
Your story ends with Tim looking at the same photograph:
Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
The point of the image? You’re making your story real to your readers
I’m fond of telling my writing students: “make sure that your characters can kick it — make it physical”. In other words, stay out of your characters’ head. Your characters ACT — they do stuff. Physical stuff. They don’t just sit and think.
Your opening and closing images are something that’s real, so your readers are satisfied.
Use these tips. When you do, you’ll write interesting stories, and you’ll get loyal readers. And please, I beg you, ignore silly word lists, like alternatives for “said”… These kinds of lists damage your ability to just get on with it and tell stories. Have fun with your fiction… tell great stories.
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