How to Write Better Fiction
You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.
Isn’t that the kind of novel you want to write?
Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I just don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the second act, I move on and find something more intriguing.
The Best Fiction Sticks
I’ve been thinking about what makes some books so easy to put down, and what makes some stories impossible to let go of. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, for example, I had the strangest feeling that Holden Caulfield was a real person. I expected him to come walking around some corner and start mumbling about the lousy week he was having. This sensation lingered for a few days, both times I read the book.
But let’s go back further. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was about six years old. Then I read it again. And again, and again. I watched the animated movie over and over. No matter how many times I read the book or watched the film, I always cried at the end. To this day, quotes from the book and scenes from the movie get me choked up. It’s a story that sticks.
The most recent book I couldn’t put down was a trilogy: The Hunger Games. I’m a science fiction girl, so the dystopian world intrigued me, but what really kept me glued to the page was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She wasn’t fearless but she was brave, strong, and honorable. It’s rare to find female characters of this caliber in fiction, and it’s not every day that a novel with such positive messages becomes a worldwide sensation.
Writing Better Fiction
If we want to write better fiction, we have to read the best fiction, and figure out what makes it so excellent. When I’m absorbed in a book, I always try to keep one corner of my find focused on what the writer is doing so brilliantly to keep my full attention on the story. Some things are obvious: believable characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Other elements of the best fiction are a bit more elusive. Here are some observations I’ve made about how to write better-than-average fiction:
Give Them a Reason to Read
If I get to the third chapter of a book and still don’t care about it, I’ll probably put it in the donation pile and pity whoever ends up with it. The characters have to want something badly enough to go out there and try to get it. The must have purpose, an objective if you will.
Don’t Bore Your Readers
Pages of description, minute details that are neither interesting nor relevant to the plot, and dull scenes that have little purpose will bore readers to death. Keep the conflict coming and the action moving and your readers will stay up to read your book rather than reading it to help them fall asleep.
It’s the Little Things
Too much detail and description gets boring, but the right details can make an otherwise average scene extraordinary. One liners that make readers laugh, subtle (or overt) pop culture references, and symbols that have deeper meaning keep readers stimulated.
Stimulate Imagination, Provoke Thought, and Pull Heartstrings
Speaking of stimulation, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy reading so much. Sure, lots of readers are just looking for escape and entertainment, but plenty of us want to engage our imaginations and have our intellects challenged. Get readers emotionally involved, and not only will they enjoy your book; they’ll also become loyal fans of your work.
Do Something Different
Forget about trying to be completely original. I doubt that’s possible anymore. Every story is the result of stories that have come before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique stamp on your story.
Write Smooth Sentences That Make Sense
This one is last on the list for a reason. One of the best novels I read recently did not have the best sentence structures. In fact, some paragraphs were fragmented and disjointed — not so much that I couldn’t understand what was going on, but it was a bit jarring at times. The story was strong enough that I didn’t care all that much, but this type of oversight can mean the difference between a four-star and a five-star review.
How Do You Write Better Fiction?
When you’re reading and writing fiction, do you think about the little things that make the difference between a mediocre story and a mesmerizing story? What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? What was it about that book that made it so potent? How do you apply what you’ve learned as a reader to your own fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!