Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
Cheating a bit here, are we, Allison? Maybe!
I knew X would be a tricky letter for an alphabetical series on fiction! Options were X-Ray Vision and Other Specialist Skills in Fiction. Or X-Rated in Fiction. The latter was out. Not to my taste. Not my field. Not for a family friendly online magazine! I think X-Ray vision is cheating as it limits the genres I can talk about! Just how often will X-ray vision crop up in our stories?
So (e)xcellence in fiction it is and I hope you send comments in about what you think counts as this in your book (pun intended!). Is it the plots. the characters, or the author’s style?
What is (E)xcellent Fiction?
For me this has is a well told story where I’m convinced by the characters, no matter how strange they are, and the plot, no matter how strange the setting. I had no problem with the concept of hobbits with hairy feet in The Lord of the Rings. (I liked the idea of a hobbit’s second breakfast too!). I was gripped by the good -v- evil plot and willing those hobbits upwards and onwards to Mount Doom. I was hoping Pippin and Merry would contribute something useful rather than just be comic relief.
I’m not worried about genre. I’ve read excellent YA fiction, humorous works, non-fiction, historical, crime, and gripping flash fiction to epic trilogies and most word counts in between. For all, I had to keep reading to discover what happened. That could define excellence in fiction. Does the story have that “must read on” factor? Certainly it is a challenge to me to make my fiction writing reproduce that factor.
Every writer is their own first reader. If you’re not gripped by what you’ve written, why should anyone else be? I focus on what I think would make an Ideal Reader, someone who would appreciate my style, read on and I write with them in mind. It helps ensure I don’t waffle. (Ideal Reader would skip that bit so why write it? The flash word count restriction helps stop the waffle too).
I want my stories to engage with others so I think about what I want my stories to do – make people laugh, cry or what have you – and then write with that aim in mind too. Doing all of that makes it more likely my fiction will appeal to others.
What a Writer Can Do
In a sense, it is not for any writer to judge whether their work is excellent or not. That privilege belongs to the reader. We all have different tastes. Something one person finds brilliant someone else will think is rubbish. That is how it should be too. I accept not everyone will like what I do.
What every writer can do is ensure their work is as good as possible before submitting it. It means giving yourself plenty of editing time. It means not worrying about going over the manuscript yet again to ensure you have plugged those plot holes, the characters come across well and so on. It means being prepared to be edited by someone else and expect said editor to come back with comments.
The best thing a writer can do is to be open to editorial suggestions. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them all. I didn’t take on all of the suggestions my editor made for Tripping the Flash Fantastic. There were good reasons for this including wanting the language I’d used to “flow” instead of writing crisply as it was more apt for my character for it to flow. But I’d say well over 90% of editorial suggestions I do act on. I always know why I’m acting or not on an editorial suggestion. The reasons are always good.
Bringing a book out into the big bad world is a collective effort. It has to be. It helps to remember the editor is on your side as the writer. You both want the best possible book by you out there.
Having trusted beta readers to go through your work can work well (especially for novels) but the people you ask to do this need to be free to give you criticism. That criticism in turn can help you sharpen your work which will help when you send it to an agent and/or publisher.
Write your story out of love – love for the characters, the setting, the outcome. Even when you’ve had multiple books, stories etc out there, you will still be selling that first attempt so be sure to love it so you can talk about it with enthusiasm. Find interesting angles to your characters you can talk about with readers later. Knowing your fictional world and characters inside out, even though most of that won’t make it into your story, is a great idea and can be bonus material for your website.
There’s no getting away from this. Every writer has to market, no matter who they’re published by. So decide which social media platforms you are happy to be on. Think about why too. Look at who the audiences are. Could your book appeal to them?
Maybe the story of how you came to write your book will be the thing to draw people in to finding out more about your writing. If you can intrigue potential readers with your premise, articles about how you came to write your book and so on, then you have more chance of drawing them in to find out whether your work would count as excellent for them. Hopefully it would!
Focus on the strengths of your characters and story. Think about what would appeal about these things to readers. They want an excellent read. What is it about your book to convince them your latest could be what they want next on their reading list?
Tastes Change – Some Things Stay Constant
Does that sound like a contradiction? The two do add up. What every reader will always want is the unforgettable book. So there are things which stay constant. At the same time, trends come and go in reading. You have to write what you yourself would love to read. By the time you’ve written something to meet a current trend, the market has moved on.
(E)xcellence in fiction is in the eye of the reader then but whenever I submit work, I want to be reasonably certain I’d still be happy to read that story in five years time. I want to know I’ve put in everything I can into that tale and edited it thoroughly. (E)xcellence in fiction starts then with the writer doing all they can to put the best possible work out there.
Writing is hard work. You need stamina and to be ready for the rejections and disappointments. But there are joys too when someone else likes your work enough to publish it. Putting the time and work in to get your story as excellent as you can does pay off.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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