The Art of Writing Fiction
Updated: Jan 12
Photo by Javardh at Unsplash
Lately, I've been caught up in the rules of writing fiction.
"Rules?" You may say, "There are no rules for fiction. How dare you suggest there are!"
But there are rules. Don't begin chapter one with a backstory dump. Toss out those pesky adverbs because they're not doing you any good. And while you're at it, get rid of those -ing words, too. And remember, you've got to keep the action moving or you'll lose your reader.
Sometimes all the expectations make me want to shut my laptop and scream.
These guidelines, however, aren't enough to make me quit. When I get lost in the dreamy moments of creating something special, I'm able to remember the rules are there to help me write the best story possible. Besides, when I get lost in writing a good story, I can see there's wiggle room.
When I move beyond the rules for a while, I'm reminded there's an art to craft stories.
As a reader of fiction, I appreciate the art of stories. I'm constantly on the hunt to find shining moments in stories. I hunt for paragraphs, sentences, or words that are so well placed they take my breath away.
Read the following sentences and see if they don't put you into a state of awe.
Breathtaking Quotes from Literature
"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once." ―John Green, The Fault in our Stars
"Henry loves my hair almost as though it is a creature unto itself, as though it has a soul to call its own, as though it could love him back.” ―Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
"Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love." ―Nicola Yoon, Everything Everything
“Oh, I wouldn't mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.” ―John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
“There is a sense in which we are all each other's consequences.”
― Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things
These sentences do several things. They...
1. Deal with humanity.
2. Give the reader a sense of something big.
3. Sound pretty.
4. Are simple.
5. Are the culmination of something in the story.
In working so hard to master the big parts of a story, sometimes I forget to dabble in writing mesmerizing sentences.
You wouldn't want every sentence in your book to be spectacular. Books require plenty of functional sentences. When used sparingly, however, well-designed sentences can make your writing more enjoyable to read.
Let's take time to dissect what makes these sentences great so we can scoop up the sparkle and incorporate it into our writing, too.
1. Great sentences in fiction deal with humanity.
Did you notice how the above examples dealt with human issues? Love, souls, consequences, growing up. These are all human issues.
As humans, we are delicate beings with a fierce need to survive. We also desire balance and to know we are part of something bigger than ourselves. So people read. To connect. To know there's someone out there who understands. To find hope, or get the sense they'll be okay.
Consider the theme in your story. What human issue do you want your readers to think about as they read your book?
2. Great sentences in fiction give the reader a sense of something big.
When writing fiction, it's important to include moments when characters think the universe notices their actions. Writers ought to tell stories that grapple with big issues and where the decisions characters make can impact lives.
No matter what our age, we all long to be noticed and remembered. People say things like...
"Don't forget me."
"I want to leave a legacy."
"Will you miss me when I'm gone?"
One way to craft your story to move readers is to make sure your stories deal with big issues.
3. Great sentences in fiction sound pretty.
When you write, do you reread your writing to hear how it sounds? Do you rearrange words to see how they look on the page? It's important we do this. Artists test out new colors. Crafters test out new kinds of glitter. Writers could benefit from rearranging and testing out words.
I'm not suggesting you whip out a thesaurus and replace words. I'm suggesting you take the time to make sure your writing sounds the best it can.
Try these tips to make your writing sound better.
1. Let your writing sit for a while. If you give yourself time, you might catch a mistake, or realize your writing doesn't convey what you meant to write.
2. Cut out words. Now does it sound better?
3. Read your writing out loud.
4. Have someone else read your writing to you.
4. Great sentences in fiction are simple.
Simplicity can be beautiful.
5. Great sentences in fiction are the culmination of something in the story.
To write great sentences, we need to know critical turning points in the characters' journeys. We need to know when characters would notice certain things, or how they'd describe their experiences. This requires getting into the head of the character you're writing. It means being aware of how characters need to change, or what they treasure in the deepest parts of their souls.
To write breathtaking sentences, an author must write about humanity, give the readers a sense of something big, make it sound pretty without being overdone, and be the culmination of what's happening in a character's journey.
This is no small task. However, we must try. Writing is an art form. You should expect to have failed attempts before you write a sentence that makes you dance around the room.
What will you do to improve the art of your writing? Here are a few additional tips to try.
Tasks to enhance the art in your writing:
1. Observe people. What do they care about? How do they spend their time? Why do you think they do that? What's their deeper desire?
2. Choose a topic that's important to you. Write something honest about that topic. Say what you mean. Now try again. Be even more honest. What human issue is revealed in your writing?
3. Write a sentence. Now write it ten other ways. Which way do you like best?
4. Write what you consider a fancy sentence. Now rewrite it using simpler words. Which version do you prefer?
5. Think of an important lesson you learned in life. Write a sentence about what you learned. Does this sentence echo a greater truth? Do you think other people might learn from it? Could it serve as a theme in a story?
Thank you for taking the time to reflect on the art of fiction writing. I pray the stories you write will reflect a greater truth to be shared with the world.
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