How to Write an Interesting and Realistic Piece of Fiction: the Elements
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How to Write an Interesting and Realistic Piece of Fiction: the Elements

Intro to writing fiction

I am taking a little break from my miniseries and getting back to one of my first loves which is writing fiction. I have been writing for over twelve years but I have only really gotten into it in the last year or so. Now I have written several short stories and I am in the process of writing my first (co-authored) novel. This article has been inspired by Lori Landrum and the "little grey cells " (thank you, Agatha Christie, and thank you, Poirot) have been called into action with regard this area and I could not be more pleased ( I am less pleased that Google docs--just lost two hours of work on this subject, altogether now "I am not amused" said in clipped English tones).

Writing is a skill that can be and must be honed and developed. You will find that many well-known authors did not publish their first, second or even third works. This is because they have taken their time to find out their style, their strengths and their weaknesses and many of their previous efforts reflect that. I know that mine do.

So what does it take to write something that will take the readers to the literary heights rather than the depths of fiction hell? Well, there are no hard and fast rules but there are some steps that you can take that lay a strong foundation in fiction. Follow them and you will not go too far wrong. So if you are sitting comfortably, then I will begin.

First and foremost, never underestimate the power of passion when it comes to writing. If you are not passionate about what you are writing, it will show. If you do not care about what you write, then neither will your audience. If you hit the wall that all writers do, then having the drive and determination will see you through this. If you do not have this, then you will give up without so much as a whimper, robbing your readers of what could have potentially been a bestseller.

Practise, practise, practise. Whether you are writing an email or making an entry into your journal, make sure that you take every opportunity to hone your writing skills. This will stand you in good stead when you start your (hopefully) burgeoning literary career. Buy a notebook and write down those things that interest you. It could be anything from a potential book title to a location which you would like to use in the novel.

Aspiring and passionate writers are avid people watchers. I find that when I go out, I am always observing people. I don't have to think about it, I just find myself doing it. The way individuals walk, talk, interact, smile even how they hold their mobile phone can give you the perfect fiction ammunition when it comes to developing your characters. More of that in a little bit.

Remember this, too, and this is a biggie - great writers are great readers. Take every opportunity to read, even those things that you do not like. When reading something that scratches your literary itch, check out to see what works and make a mental note. Even if you consider something to be complete rubbish.

So let's get down to literary brass tacks. In order to create a good, interesting piece, you need to have some key elements in place to begin with - strong characters, interesting plot, good atmosphere and realistic locations. Let us deal with each one of these in turn, and their importance in producing good fiction, whether it be a short story or an epic novel.

Strong characterisation - When writing your novel, you will have key characters that you will need to develop. Start with the basics and then go from there. There are some key questions that you have to ask yourself:

  • What are their motivations and influences?
  • What do they look like?
  • Do they remind you of anyone? If you are basing the character on someone, this will add to the realism of the character(s)
  • Will people be able to relate to the character(s)
  • What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?
  • What is their life history? Even if you do not include it in the story, you can allude to it and it will draw the reader in

The list goes on, but this gives an idea of where to start. Make sure that they have strong personalities or else they (and the story) will fall flat.

Interesting plot - this is another key factor if you want to write a good, interesting piece. Make it believable; make it understandable.  Start with an event that draws the reader in. Any background on the characters or the story can be interwoven into the story. String the reader along and make them want to read on. This will require some thought before you put pen to paper. How does crime writer James Patterson keep his readers turning the page? How does Freya North keep me coming back for more? Because they have thought about the key events in the plot and have linked them into the story in a way which keeps the reader hooked. This may involve a little research on your part which may consist of trying out a few things. The first few may not work but soon you will find something that does work. The plot will come out of the key characters because it is all interlinked.

Great locations and good atmosphere - is the action taking place in one location or in several? How does it all link in? Wherever the action is taking place, make sure it is interesting. By doing so, you will create an atmospheric story. This again involves some degree of research. Getting it wrong in the simplest things in this area will confuse your reader. For example, if your story is based in France and you keep alluding to landmarks and buildings in Melbourne, the story will lack realism and any atmosphere will be lost.

Symbolism - if you can add this to your story, then this will appeal. What are you trying to say about what? Is there a moral to the story? Any symbolism can be implied in the story. This gives it added depth. There is nothing people like better than a subtext. I mean, look at Shakespeare's plays. I will use one of the most famous ones - Romeo and Juliet:   star-crossed lovers; warring families; death; secrets; lies. So the story is not about loving against the odds. It is about not realising what you have till it's gone. It is about that age is no barrier for experiencing something meaningful. It is about not letting petty feuds last too long. The list continues, but you get the idea. 

Your style - Some authors have a certain style which they are known for. James Patterson keeps things moving along by having short chapters (2 pages at best). Chick literature tends to use lots of punctuation marks!!!!! and slang language. Some use long sentences, some use short sentences, some use weird semantics and syntax. So find yours and include it. As long as it does not stop your reader from understanding the story, you could go wild with this!

So there you have it, some pointers for you budding writers and authors out there. I have a little assignment for you to get you going . . . find a story (it can be a chapter, it can be a short story, it can be a novella) and see what makes it work (or not); any symbolism; how the writing style helps the story; and who the key characters are and how the plot keeps you coming back. I don't necessarily want you to tell me what you learnt (but if you want to, please feel free, it would be awesome and we could all learn something--either do it via the comments page or by the forum/question pages).

Keep writing and keep dreaming big.

© Angelique Fyre - September 2009

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Comments (7)

"Remember this, too, and this is a biggie - great writers are great readers. Take every opportunity to read, even those things that you do not like" Excellent article and thanks for the shout out!

Angelique. Nice article. I carry a notebook with me daily and whenever I run into an interesting person, place or thing I make a mental note and then jot it down later. Just yesterday I was at an Italian Irish festival in North Myrtle Beach South Carolina. As I watched the people and their different clashing cultures blend (Iriish, Italian and southern) and I took in the unique conversation between young and old, and soaked up the smells of great cooking I was salivating and eating up every bit of the liturgic opportunities available to me. As I looked about and conversed and shared lunch and a beer at a picnic table with an old couple and a young mother wearing a Rothlisburger Shirt and sporting one of the most stunning diamonds I had ever seen, my wife looked to me and said "You're writing aren't you?" I said "You betcha." What I'm getting at is that you can't make up stuff like I saw there. It's real life and believable. I also concur with the reading tip in fact I have a reccomendation. Try to read one article from a different author on factoidz every day and if you like it vote them up. I have just started doing this and the different writing styles and new things you can learn are endless and will help in your own writing.

Thank you so much Lori and you are welcome. I hope we can work together on some more writing projects soon. I loved writing this very much. I find that I am learning as I write, its awesome! Paul - I totally agree. Observing people is one of the most interesting, absorbing things you can do and is invaluable when researching and developing characters that have depth and personality. But more than that, it teaches you things about human nature you cannot learn in a book...that is what I love most about it.

another excellent piece

Thank you Carol, I appreciate your feedback very much.

This is a great article. I sleep with a notebook by my bed so I can write down those weird ideas I come up with in the middle of the night.

Thanks for the helpful advice.