Do you enjoy writing fiction? If you find fiction a challenge, you may be using the wrong part of your brain. As we discussed in our article on telling better lies, you write fiction with your imagination, not with your logical brain.
When you’re writing fiction, you’re using your imagination
Yes, you need logic after you’ve written, but not before. Logic tells you that if your novel takes place in 1800, your main character can’t be in London on Monday, and in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Tuesday.
Imagination always comes first, and using your imagination is just daydreaming, and that’s fun.
Now let’s look at my top five easy tips for making writing fiction easier.
1. Skip the scene sequels to increase pace and suspense
A couple of decades ago the scene/ sequel formula worked a treat. A scene is a unit of action, so you wrote your scene, then segued right into the sequel, where the Point of View (POV) character in the scene thought about the scene, and made plans.
That’s changed. These days, to increase pacing and suspense, authors are skipping the sequel. They slide right into the next scene, or into a bit of narration. Any sequel (the thinking/ planning bit) happens in the next scene with that POV character, if it happens at all.
What to do: skip the sequels
Today, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to entertainment, particularly visual entertainment. We binge-watch hours of an entire season of a TV show, because we want to know what happens next.
When you ask your beta readers to read an early draft of your novel, your primary instruction needs to be: “tell me where you get bored.” Usually the boredom happens in a sequel. The POV character is thinking, thinking — and no one cares.
Skip the sequels. Your readers will thank you.
2. No, you don’t need to describe everything: trust readers to use their imagination
Do you love writing description? Similarly to writing scene sequels, skip the lavish description, unless you have a very good reason for including it.
Read Stephen King and Elmore Leonard; they’re masters of the telling detail:
Telling detail… is a fundamental unit of fiction that captures the individuality and uniqueness—the very essence—of what is being described. It doesn’t simply inspire an image in the imagination, it also suggest an abstraction, such as meaning or emotion. And it does all of this with brevity.
What to do: get your head around telling details
In your first draft, use as much description as you please. In revision, slash your descriptions down to telling details. This is fun. 🙂 Ask yourself: what do I want to say?
When you use telling details, your writing will improve, and again, readers will thank you, because they want to skip the boring bits.
3. When you hate your novel, keep going — it’s probably not crap
Every author hates his novel at some stage in the writing process. Always. If you’re not expecting this, you’ll be upset.
Don’t be upset — it’s a normal reaction, truly. That sudden sensation of visceral hatred for your novel happens to everyone. And oddly enough, it happens with novels which turn out to be your best work — go figure.
What to do: focus on the story question
The “story question” is your novel’s spine.
With a love story, the question is simple — will your lovers overcome the challenges in their way, and have their Happily Ever After (HEA)? A HEA is essential if you’re writing a romance.
Thinking about your genre helps you to decide on a story question. In mysteries, the question is, will the sleuth unmask the killer?
Over the years, I’ve found with my students that the easiest way to get them out of the “I hate my book” doldrums is to encourage them to rethink the story question.
4. Never delete a scene: your subconscious mind knows your story better than you do
You’re writing along quite happily, and suddenly your main character takes a detour, and does something completely unexpected. Or you spend too many scenes writing about a character who’s not the main character, but who’s interesting and fun.
Don’t be too quick to yell “Oy — get back on track!” to your creative self. Nine times out of ten it’s better to let your inspiration have its head, and go in the direction the story wants to go. Chances are that within a chapter or two, it will all make sense, and the story will be better for the detour your inspiration took.
What to do: go with it, keep writing
It’s useful if you have a beta reader to whom you can send your scenes and chapters if your story changes direction. Ask your beta reader whether the material held their attention. If it did, keep writing.
Rethink your plot later, either while you’re writing the draft, or in revision.
5. Stuck? Interview a character
I’m not a fan of those 20-page “101 things to know about your character” exercises because those lists fail to fire your imagination.
I am a fan of dialoguing with your character. In How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”, I wrote:
Grab a pen and a sheet of paper, or open a new computer file, and talk to the character you’ve just created. Keep asking him: WHY — you can add “who?” and “how?” too, if you like.
Write it down, don’t try to do this in your head.
Whenever you’re stuck, take five minutes to ask your character why. You want to know his motivation, and how he feels. You can come up with some extremely interesting insights when you do this.
What to do: whenever you’re bored, or stuck, or anxious, “talk” to your characters
Remember we said that fiction is using your imagination.
Whatever challenges you face in writing fiction, your imagination will solve them for you. So use your imagination, and talk to your characters. Remember to write down what they say, because you won’t remember it otherwise.
When you’re writing fiction, your fiction must entertain you first
Before your fiction entertains your readers, it entertains you.
So have fun with your fiction. Free your imagination. Laugh and cry with your characters.
You’ll write better fiction when you do.
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