Genre Disses Contemporary Literary Fiction

At a recent writers’ workshop-conference for thriller and mystery writers taught by two bestselling authors in their genres, the state of contemporary literary fiction was dissed as being self-serving and small. Who wants to hear about another dysfunctional family or an abusive childhood, or my extraordinary recovery from drug addiction? Why is there no resolution in literary fiction? (There is often no conflict.) Why is contemporary literary fiction always, in some way, about me, the author, without objective storytelling and characterization? Most literary-fiction writers in the audience silently agreed–a majority of academically-trained literary writers fail to create adequate stories . … Read More…

To revise a fiction story, apply fixes judiciously and consider significant change.

The flood threatens! Noah needs an arc. He hires a carpenter who constructs a roughly-shaped wooden cube 120 feet high, wide, and deep. To know the front of the arc, Noah has a figure of a maiden sculpted in flowing robes that is attached to a corner of the cube’s top and tilted forward, hair flowing, as if in a strong wind. Great. The bow! Now Noah needs an aft. He fastens a discarded wagon wheel  to the side of the arc opposite the maiden. Jumping Jehovah! The stern! And for passenger access, he cuts a large-diameter circle on the … Read More…

Rate and Logic in Revealing Story information in Literary Fiction

All writing conveys information and, in fiction stories, how and when information is revealed impacts the understanding of the story as well as shapes points of expectation and installs suspense and credibility. Little Red Riding Hood is essentially a story about predators of children, about how children must: obey their parents, know the dangers of world, and never speak to strangers. The story has many forms, all have persisted for more than a century because crucial dramatic information is revealed that delivers meaning with impact, an essential element in this story’s longevity. Compare these two examples. (1) Little red Riding … Read More…

A Prescription for Creating Great Literary Fiction

Fiction writers imagine. And it’s in the realm of the imagination that stories and characters are not stifled by the constraints of describing real people and real events. Fiction creates its own “reality” with purpose to create meaningful, engaging, unique stories. BASICS Literature is written work considered to have lasting artistic merit. Fiction is imagined events and people. IDEA Great literary stories that last for generations have hard-to-achieve imagined and created elements for characterization and plot development that will shape the thoughts, memory, and even actions of readers. ELEMENTS 1) Character-based story. In essence, literature stories are about people. Great … Read More…

To be … and when not to be … in developing literary style.

The delight of a reader of literary fiction is often affected by a writer’s use of “to be” as an auxiliary verb.  Authors need skill in recognizing what is best for their stories and the readers they want to engage.  Intuition alone–without desire, hard-work experience, and talent–is rarely effective. ACTIVE/PASSIVE voices (transitive verbs) In active voice, action focuses on the doer of the action, while the passive voice focuses on the action itself. Active voice requires two (or more) participants: the subject of the sentence doing the action, and a recipient of the action. Jake (subject) threw the ball (object … Read More…

Errant simile and erosion of literary style

Writing literary-fiction stories is two opposite yet creative desires competing with each other: (1) to develop strong stories with unique characters racing through a dramatic plot to provide engagement, entertainment and enlightenment, (2) to showcase the power of the written word in the glory of language and its imaginative use for reflection, enjoyment, and enlightenment. Here’s the problem: the use of metaphoric simile is like hiring a bikini-clad beauty-queen to play point-guard for the NBA’s Boston Celtics; it would draw attention of most fans but almost surely wouldn’t be effective for team-winning. In essence, the trick of simile-use in fiction … Read More…

Want to write a literary story that lasts?

Consider this. Characterization vs. character development. Stories about humans require characterization–gender, appearance, background, abilities. But in literary fictional stories, the characters also develop–they change their emotional and intellectual souls, as well as their desires and motivations, which are instrumental in plot progression (character-based plot). Dramatization. Drama is conflict that results in action and resolution and is essential for plot but also advances character. Opportunities for conflict prevail at many levels of telling a story—plot, scene, dialog, prose, imagery, etc. and character development is most effective in dramatized story action rather than passive narrator-telling. Note how clear plot conflicts contribute to … Read More…

Character-Based Plot: Not Easy But So Effective

ADVANTAGE OF ACTION Showing story and character in action-scenes with concrete imagery, supportive narration, and dynamic prose enriches display of character emotion, morality, desire, history, and worldview… all with pleasurable, enlightening, and lasting effects on readers. Of course, narrative telling is important–it can be more figurative, abstract, and metaphorical–but for intensity and impact, in-scene action is often the better choice to develop character with story. The first example tells of a happening. There is no action or significant characterization: Harry flew a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite got away, and Harry seethed with … Read More…

How Writers “Murder Their Darlings” (and stay out of prison)

Creative-writing students are sometimes advised to “murder your darlings,” usually in a glib, demeaning way by a teacher or critic. The concept has major importance for a successful writer and it’s sad that the phrase has a cutesy-clever quality that causes it’s value often to be discounted and ignored. Here are a few thoughts. “Darlings” are felt by the proud writer to be clever, erudite, intellectually unique pieces of writing that to most readers may be excessive, illogical, overwritten, distracting, and often irritating. In essence, a “darling” is assumed to be acceptable, even great, by the author but not by … Read More…

When is a fiction story a literary art form?

Literature is written stories considered superior and of lasting merit–an art form. Fiction portrays imagined events and people. If you’re a writer, you can’t know what stories from today will be the literature of tomorrow, but you can write the best story possible using the techniques of past writers who’ve reached literary status: Austen, Flaubert, Chekhov, Homer, Tolstoy, Melville, Hawthorne, Woolf, Henry James, Babel, Twain, and the like. In the main, these authors have common, basic elements of story construction that may, for the contemporary writer, mature into meritorious longevity. Who cares? “Fiction writers continue to evolve and their works … Read More…