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Becoming a Fiction Aficionado
by Shaunna Privratsky

Return to Fiction Tips & Techniques · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

An apt description of fiction is "interesting people in difficult situations." A person who loves the written word, who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it, is a fiction aficionado. Selling fiction can be an uphill battle, but if you arm yourself with these fiction facts you'll win the war with publication and profits.

Fiction writing is all about story. Readers and editors won't care about your brilliant syntax or convoluted flashback sequence. They want entertainment. So write the story first and worry about the elements of fiction later.

The foremost part of a short story or novel is situation. Ask yourself "what if..." and the answer will be your story's situation. The plot or events in a story happen when the hero or heroine tries to resolve the situation. Develop a clear and compelling plot by choosing an intriguing situation.

Characters are essential. You must create charismatic, believable people that readers will care about and relate to. Generally, the shorter the story, the fewer characters you need. Endow your characters with agreeable as well as unpleasant attributes to humanize and bring them to life.

Complications drive the story forward. Your heroine escapes the marauding raiders, only to find herself trapped in a dungeon with thousands of venomous snakes. Throw a few hurdles into your protagonist's path for plot twists and action. The complications can be caused by a villain, opposing force, natural causes or poor choices.

The climax is the grand finale. The bigger the stakes, the more impact the climax will have. Will your hero die in the battle to save his son? It doesn't have to be a life or death situation, but the impact on your protagonist should be life altering.

The resolution stage follows the climax and ties up the loose ends of the situation. This is where lessons are learned, final motivations are revealed and the aftermath of the climax is sorted out. Oh, the hero didn't die-he just fainted from blood loss. He is reunited with his son and they live reasonably happy until the next situation arises.

Equally important to fiction writing are the supporting details of your story: description, dialogue, back-story, setting and emotion. Don't forget sensory input. Like a dash of paprika or cilantro, a little bit of each adds texture and depth to your story.

Description should be as brief but as telling as possible. A half-page of wardrobe inventory stops the narrative dead-and you may lose the interest of your reader. Don't just say she was beautiful; mention the effect she has on a male observer. "Her face had a subtle mystery, one I couldn't wait to solve." You can find out later the color of her hair or the shape of her mouth.

Dialogue moves the story along, imparts back-story and reveals a character's personality. Taglines should be simple "he said, she said." Do not use adverbs in taglines. Why not? You are telling the reader how to interpret the dialogue. He or she is not involved, so they feel left out and lose interest. The emotion should be evident in the words themselves and supporting details of the scene.

Back-story should be just that: in the background. You know that the heiress used to be a stripper in her past life - how are you going to let the reader know her dirty little secret? Maybe she could bump into an old "client" or colleague. Back-story adds depth to the main plot and can add fascinating subplots.

Setting should be subtle but there. Give the reader a mental picture by mentioning the fog rolling in over a mountain lake or the sun's heat pounding a city sidewalk. Remember all the senses for varied and memorable description. A few details are all you need, for the reader will "fill in the blanks" with imagination and his or her past experiences.

A great tool to enrich your writing is right under your nose - literally. Any type of writing, but especially fiction, should appeal to all of the reader's senses: smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight. The senses bring the world around us into focus. Too often, writers concentrate exclusively on how things look and neglect a whole spectrum of sounds and tastes that will resonate with your audience.

Strive to be specific when using the senses in your writing. Name specific things; count exact numbers, measure and record car makes, architectural styles, and kinds of birds or animals to make your world come alive.

Write: "The three cars in the driveway looked fresh off the assembly line. The mica paint chips sparkled on every flank, the tires plumped in their pristine blackness and the bumpers dazzled in their brilliance.

"The nearest hood was hot to the touch and the ticking of a cooling engine spoke of a recent trip. A faint smell of rich leather and richer perfume seeped from the smudge-less windows. New they might not be, but Mrs. Carmichael sure knew how to take care of her dead husband's automobiles. Why, the cherry-red Corvette made my mouth water."

Notice the specific details and the various senses being appealed to. As well as setting the scene, some of Mrs. Carmichael's character and back-story is discovered - she is a widow, she keeps things neat and her husband owned fine automobiles. A feel for the unnamed protagonist is revealed through his observations.

Whenever you need to describe a scene, setting or character, close your eyes. Try to uncover a unique reflection using some of the other senses. Sight is relied upon so heavily that observation can become worn-out cliches.

Attention to details takes merely mediocre sensory input and transforms it into spectacular description. Did her dress whisper as she walked, or jangle from the beaded hem? Was her hair redolent of apple blossoms from the orchard, or smoky from a crowded tavern? Was his shirt rough tweed or soft cotton? Did the peach melt into succulent juice or produce a bitter grimace?

How many senses can you include in a passage? As many as it takes to paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind. You want the place or scene to come alive, to make the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings real. If you provide enough sensory input, the reader projects himself or herself into the scene and becomes involved in your story.

Mix up the senses you include in your description. Just like sight, you can rely too heavily on other senses. You can best catch this in the revision process, by either adding additional details or eliminating too trite observations like "her lips tasted salty from crying" or "the brook babbled."

Use your mind's eye as well as your ears, nose, tongue and hands to bring your prose to life. Add specific details and pay attention to different types, styles and classes of things for verisimilitude. Put sparkle into your story by celebrating the sensational senses.

Finally, emotion should be evident in dialogue and action. If your characters don't care, why should the reader? Allow the hero to cry at his wife's funeral or the heroine to get mad at the boorish innkeeper. Plot drives a story, but emotions connect the characters and reader and linger long after the last page has been turned.

Don't be overwhelmed by all the aspects of fiction writing. Just write a super story, then go back and check each element. With enough practice you will become a successful fiction aficionado and sell your fine fiction.

Copyright © 2008 Shaunna Privratsky
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Shaunna Privratsky is a fulltime author who juggles her time between writing, reading, caring for her family, and shoveling snow. Please visit The Writer Within at http://shaunna67.tripod.com and sign up for the free newsletters.


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