Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
Now there’s an interesting combination of topics for the letter R in my In Fiction series.
R is for Reading
The single most important thing any writer to do is to read. Then read again. Then read some more. Repeat.
Read in and out of your genre.
Read non-fiction as well as fiction.
Why? Because we are all inspired by what we read. Ideas for our stories can be triggered by what we read. So the wider you read, the bigger the “pool” you have to fish from for ideas. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants here. Nobody is going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to storytelling.
Oh formats might change. The way people read has changed (people are far more comfortable reading from a screen now). But we all still need a proper beginning, middle, and end to our tales, regardless of word count. We need to care about the characters and want to find out what happens to them.
Also by reading widely yourself you are (a) supporting the industry you want to be part of (which makes so much sense, doesn’t it?) and (b) you are unconsciously taking in how stories work and what they’re supposed to look like on a printed page. That helps you tailor your story to fit the publisher’s requirements.
You unconsciously learn from stories you dislike. Working out what doesn’t appeal and why can help you avoid the same thing happening to your stories. If you are switched off by lots of descriptive passages and precious little “action”, you’re not going to write a story like that yourself, are you?
One side benefit I’ve found from making lots of lovely writing friends is this has done my reading “diet” the world of good in ensuring I read a reasonable amount of contemporary fiction! You need to read contemporary as well as classic.
I’ve mentioned before styles change and we no longer need to write the long descriptive passages Dickens wrote. We are in the TV and film age. We can visualise London fog etc. Dickens’ readers could not. Yet you can still learn how to put a cracking story together by reading him, as well as reading contemporary works. Why? Well, you can work out what it is you like about his work and the contemporary books and see what has changed in between times.
One thing that has definitely changed in fiction is the rhythm of it thanks to the changes in technology alone.
There will be no going back to the long descriptive passages of the past. Writers have to find a different way of getting information across and usually a few telling details are enough for a reader to pick up on setting. Social changes such as more of us travelling more (and widely) than anyone would have done in Dickens’ time have an effect here too (and that’s still true despite the pandemic).
R is for Rhythms
Different kinds of story have different rhythms. I would expect a crime story to be tightly plotted and to have a fast pace. I would expect a saga to have ups and downs and a varied rhythm. With flash fiction, the pace is intense regardless of whether I’m writing a crime piece, a humorous one, or anything else simply because the word count limit dictates any impact my stories have on a reader must happen quickly. You can’t avoid the intensity due to that but it is expected from flash stories.
I can’t imagine a flash story “dragging”. I can’t imagine a crime story going on and on without the crime being solved or further clues being uncovered. Something has to happen. The pace at which that happens can depend on genre. What any writer needs to do is to ensure they understand what is expected from their genre and deliver on it.
No pressure then! Having said that, the best way of ensuring a writer does do this is to read widely inside their chosen genre because a reader does take in subconsciously the way the stories are presented, the things you would expect to find in a story of this type etc. We get to recognise what works and what doesn’t.
Most stories follow the three act structure. Problem in the first act, struggle to overcome the problem in the second, and resolution in the third is a good summary I think! But this dictates there has to be an internal rhythm to ensure the story works “properly”.
If any of these elements are missing the story won’t “feel” right. (I don’t think it would work either. You can’t, to my mind, go from the problem to the resolution immediately. The character has to do something to make things happen. Often they won’t succeed at the first attempt. A reader keeps reading to find out if they will succeed at the second or third attempt etc.).
R is for Resolutions
Any resolution to a story has to be reasonable for the kind of tale it is and for the characters. If the setting is a fantastical one and magic is a possibility, that must be made clear early on.
If a writer has a character use magic to resolve the problem, it needs to be shown early on this is a possibility, else the reader will feel cheated. Ideally, a writer would also show why the character didn’t go straight for that option. Is there a downside to using magic? Could it affect physical health if used wrongly and the character is wary of using it due to that?
Resolutions must be appropriate. They don’t necessarily need to be happy. Some of the fairytales don’t have happy endings – see The Little Match Girl and The Little Mermaid. Disney could never have filmed the latter as Hans Christen Andersen wrote it!
The character mustn’t get lucky either. They have to contribute in some way towards their resolution. (And other characters such as friends can do much to assist. It is often the basis of fantasy – The Lord of the Rings leads the field here. Frodo Baggins would have failed had it not been for his faithful gardener, Sam Gamgee).
The writer wants to leave the reader feeling satisfied with the story and how they wrap it up contributes a great deal here but it can’t just be any old ending that would “do”. It has to be the right ending for the right character.
Reading and writing regularly are the two biggest things a writer can do to help with their storytelling. It does pay to look at why stories work for you and what you like especially as you can use that information to help you improve your work. I dislike characters who do little but rely on others’ bad actions (yes, I am referring to you, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park fame). I know I don’t want to write characters like that. But I had to work out what it was I disliked.
By contrast I love Elizabeth Bennet who does help herself, is not some helpless heroine (and I’ve never liked that kind of character) and I know it is because, while not perfect (who is?), Elizabeth does bring about her own deserved happy ending. (That cannot be a spoiler after all this time either!).
So reading, rhythms, and resolutions are all important aspects to writing our own stories. One of the things I love about creative writing is I effectively have two creative outlets. I have to read well. That in turn helps with the writing.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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