We’re getting close to the end of our A-Z Challenge! Unless we want to discuss xylophones or x-rays or x-rated books, we needed to cheat a bit on the letter and make an eXception. Our guest today is one of our blog favorites, editor eXtraordinaire, Beth Hill, to talk about the “Xs” of writing fiction. ~Kat
Fiction writers face many rules, some detailing what to do, others detailing prohibitions, maybe even exclusions.
Some rules come from the wider world of writing, proven rules that make all communication easier. Some rules come specifically from the world of fiction. And many rules come from the experience gained by the long chain of writers who wrote before us, shared so we can call on the know-how of those who’ve already made the mistakes and learned how to correct them.
I don’t want to lay out rigid rules today, certainly not all the do’s and don’ts of fiction. Let’s instead look at options to strengthen both story and story-writing skills. Consider these the Xs of fiction.
Gain experienceWrite often. Write more than you’ve written in the past. Read in the genre you want to write. Read in genres you have no familiarity with. Study successful fiction.
Become an expertMaster an area or a topic that you like and then master an area or topic that gives you fits. And then master a topic you know nothing about. These areas can be writing related—dialogue, pacing, subtext—or simply topics that appeal—landscaping, the Boer Wars, space travel. Expand your knowledge.
Follow links from one topic you study to the next. Don’t always be content with surface knowledge, though that may be all you need for a writing project. Give yourself the opportunity to delve deep into topics and follow even the most tenuous of links between topics.
Don’t explainWhen you write, don’t insist that characters explain why they do a particular action. Simply show them in action and allow the reader to draw her own conclusions. Keep readers actively involved by giving them just enough so they don’t get lost and enough that they’re tempted to figure out what’s going on before revelations are uncovered.
Go easy on the expletivesNo, not the cussing kind, the grammatical kind. There or it followed by forms of the verb to be can leach power from a sentence, especially when used again and again or to open new scenes or chapters. They can also add unnecessary words. Example: There was a boy racing down the lane vs. A boy raced down the lane.
Expose character weaknessesShow characters’ limitations in action. Make fictional people real by giving them weaknesses that work for the story, that add to the story.
Express emotionShow characters as emotional people touched by what happens around them. Show that actions have impact, that they change characters. Show that actions and the words of others touch characters’ hearts and drive them to respond and maybe even retaliate.
Extend invitations to the readerHook the reader on page one, giving her a reason to read the opening pages, and then keep her hooked. Make your story opening an invitation to your fictional world. Entice and intrigue.
Create extraordinary charactersMake your main characters memorable. They don’t have to be a Superman, but they should have quirks or behaviors or emotions or desires that make them stand out from every other fictional character.
Write extraordinarily wellLearn the basics, learn more than the basics, and don’t be satisfied with being mediocre at any of the writing elements. Expand your skills.
Take some scenes to the extremePush events, reactions, and emotions. Surprise characters as well as readers. Be bold and not timid.
ExaggerateExaggerate character problems and solutions, but without falling into obvious caricature.
ExceptionsKeep in mind that there are always exceptions to every rule. Figure out how and when to break rules in ways that create memorable fiction.
Kat's "X" Book List
Strapless by Deborah Davis: Biography. The story behind the famous Madame X painting by John Singer Sargent, a tale of art and celebrity, obsession and betrayal.
Three Weeks with Lady X: Eloisa James. A duke, a lady, a romance
Author X: The Inner Secret. Click the "author X" link to learn more about the mystery of who this author was.
Abstract Colour Pencil Image courtesy of tigger11th / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Man Writing With His Pencil Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young / FreeDigitalPhotos.net