What are the keys to being a good fiction writer?
It’s a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times over the decades. I’ve seen hundreds of speakers and attended dozens of classes. If there’s anything I’ve learned in these thousands of hours, it’s this:
CREATIVE WRITING CANNOT BE TAUGHT.
The CRAFT of fiction writing can be taught.
The TECHNIQUES of fiction writing can be taught.
Ultimately, the message is about ability, talent, and passion. That can only come from the writer.
If you have those qualities, read on. Whether in a critique class, an MFA class, or taking an on-line course, there are certain key elements of craft that you need to be aware of. Future posts will provide more about each of them, and dispel myths often associated with some of the ‘rules’ about creative writing. For now, here are the seven key elements of good fiction writing.
I see this as a baseline of a great song or a heartbeat. It’s the author’s way of having the story be told – whether first person, second person, etc. Just be consistent with your voice; if you aren’t, you are in trouble.
Where does the story take place? The setting, if done correctly, can be a character and is key to good fiction writing. Vivid imagery helps make readers feel comfortable in a location they may have never visited.
The characters are the key to the story. Who are they? Why should they matter? You must make them three-dimensional – they have feelings, likes and dislikes (more on this later). Introspection creates interest.
Characters have a voice. Characters speak in a setting. Those variables can and should impact the dialogue that takes place. If you think about memorable conversations in your life, there’s emotion behind that dialogue.
Context is everything. Why is someone doing something? The story behind the story helps create perspective and connection for the fiction reader.
I’ve read several different definitions of plot. All make some mention of a main or primary event. The plot should keep a writer on target and is key to a great work of fiction.
Point of View:
In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch reminds us “To climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.” Thinking about characters, how they think, and why they adapt to various settings helps create context that is at the heart of good fiction writing.
At this point, you might think of some of your favorite novels and how these seven key elements of fiction writing blend together. It’s easy to spot the trends.
As for creating them? There’s a reason Ernest Hemingway reportedly said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Writing, especially fiction, is not for the faint of heart. It takes tremendous self-discipline—not just to write, but to CUT what you’ve written—and there’ll be more about that in future posts!
For today, a recommendation for every would-be or current novelist is to read two books that clearly, concisely, and effectively provide outstanding rules and advice: