You’re writing fiction. You’ve had some success, or none at all — both established authors and newbies make these horrid mistakes.
Please don’t despair. You can make lots of mistakes when writing fiction, and still get readers. Try not to make too many however, and watch out for Mistake 3, below. Readers tend NOT to forgive that one. 🙂
Writing fiction: entertain yourself; entertain readers
Vital: when you’re writing fiction, you’re writing entertainment. You’re telling lies to amuse people. So above all things, you MUST be entertaining. When readers get bored, they stop reading.
Avoiding readers’ boredom is easily done. You’ll usually recognize boring scenes and chapters. If you feel bored, fix it immediately: make something happen, on the page.
Your beta readers will catch other instances of boring fiction — maybe you larded in too much of your research materials, or kept repeating facts, or used the “As you know, Jim…” strategy to shove info-dumps into dialogue.
Here’s an example of “As you know, Jim…”:
As you know Jim, Emily is my sister. Her husband’s Max. His business went bankrupt three months ago, and… yada, yada…
Speaking of boring…
1. Nothing to see here…
That’s the Number One mistake authors make. They write, and write, and keep writing, but NOTHING HAPPENS. Actually, this mistake isn’t so much as mistake, as a sin. Recall that readers read to be entertained.
Signs of “nothing to see here” are obvious from the first page, so your novel’s sales will be small, or non-existent. The novel will start when the main character wakes up. He shaves, makes toast, drinks coffee, and drives to work. Then, at work, something may happen — he gets a call from a client, who’s coming in to see him.
Readers of “nothing to see here” never get beyond the first page. Beta readers often lie that the novel’s fine, just fine. (They didn’t read beyond page one either.)
2. Your characters are stick figures…
Your characters must seem real. They have an external life, and an inner life, as we all do. You need verisimilitude. You add verisimilitude via the senses. Your characters see, hear, touch, taste etc.
Aim for what’s called the “telling detail.”
Garry Disher writes telling details brilliantly. From The Wyatt Butterfly: Two Barrels of Classic Wyatt:
At five o’clock Liz drove to a flat, depressed corner of Coburg, where small weatherboard and brick-veneer houses breathed into one another’s mouths and old women and men broke their hips on the root-buckled footpaths.
A tip about a fictional character’s inner life: thinking isn’t doing. Make things happen — see our first tip, “nothing to see here.”
3. Your characters are TSTL: readers want to kill them (and you)
Readers will forgive a lot, but they won’t forgive an author kicking them out of their fictive dream when a character does something so stupid that they realize that they’re reading.
They want story people who seem real. This means that your characters, no matter how unreal — they’re hobbits, or demons, or vampires — must behave logically. If your characters are TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) readers will want them dead. And you dead too, because you’ve wasted their time.
Authors who are plotters may write TSTL characters because they’re too wedded to their plot. The plot requires that the female lead go into the attic of the haunted house where the killer’s waiting… The detective blunders through the story, missing clue after clue… The romance heroine misunderstands events merely to prolong conflict, when she could have asked a simple question…
Yes, sometimes a character acts illogically, for the needs of the plot, or for drama. When that happens you need to go back and create a reason for the character to behave in this way. She goes into the attic because she’s lost her diamond engagement ring up there, for example.
Writing fiction is fun: enjoy yourself
I know I’m always encouraging you to have fun. Fun’s vital when you’re writing fiction.
Entertain yourself — think up ways you can manipulate readers. Make things happen. Create real story people who have good reasons for acting as they do, and you’ll write fiction readers will love.
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