How to Write Fiction

When I was little, I used to thrive off the idea that one day I’d be the best fiction author. I didn’t want to be the president, didn’t want to save lives as a doctor or fly into outer space for NASA. There might have been a veterinarian phase, but for the most part, it was always being an author. I was going to write the best fiction anyone had ever read.

But as I got older, it moved from fiction to non-fiction, and then poetry. After a while, it became nothing.

(Not actually nothing, just nothing to do with writing.)

So when I got to college and joined the newspaper, it was almost like a step backwards for me. I somehow rediscovered the little girl who enjoyed writing, and now basically does it for a living (never mind that it’s articles and PR briefs.) For my origin piece, I wanted to use an article I’d written that I thought would benefit from experimentation — how far could I go with word choice, how can I change the story, how could I broaden my horizons?

Because of this, I think it would be kind of cool to go full circle and revisit fiction again.

I want to combine my origin piece (an article) with what initially dominated my reading as a child. I feel like they’re basically complete opposites, so this assignment — AKA “How to Write Fiction” — seems perfect.

Where articles seem very structured and straightforward with hard facts and data, fiction is really whatever you want it to be, with you being the reader or writer. There’s so much wiggle room in fiction because your options are endless — which, sometimes, might even seem like a drawback considering how expansive your opportunities are.

Because of this, it’s probably important to get a solid layout down for how to actually write good fiction. For me, having too much freedom with writing is sometimes more detrimental and overwhelming than helpful. To figure this out, I read an article from the Slate called “What are the Qualities of Good Fiction Writing?” The great thing about this article that a lot of “how-to” articles don’t do is that it teaches the good qualities of fiction by telling you what not do through beginner mistakes. And this girl is the QUEEN of beginner mistakes.

A lot of the tips are general writing tips, similar to this article by the New Yorker describing eight rules you should follow for good fiction writing. However, as you get to the more advanced mistakes, you see more comprehensive issues to stay away from — lurching tones, nonstop action, bland characters with no pitfalls, etc.

Although it seems obvious, this is really great advice for fiction writing, because it’s so broad and open and free that you feel like you can do anything — including creating perfect characters and nonstop action. But as a reader, that kind of material is sometimes hard to digest, and focusing on little things like making your protagonist afraid of mosquitos can actually be really helpful.

In another article by the HuffPost, a “Top 10” piece (classic!), I looked for employment of these tactics in fiction but was met with a stunner of a first line that I think says more about good fiction than a lot of other lists:

“One thing that’s great about short stories is how quickly they can ruin your life.”

Okay, pretty accurate. If I’m writing a story so impactful it can ruin someone’s life (in the best way a story can ruin it), I feel like I’d be pretty happy. But as great as it’d be to ruin someone’s life (in a good way), the basis of the article pretty much said that everyone has different tastes; something that can destroy one person’s life may not even make a dent in another.

I feel like this is a pretty good basis for fiction writing because it basically tells you everything is a go and sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t. As long as the reader can latch on to your mosquito-fearing protagonist, or literally anything, chances are good you can make a connection with your audience.

In an article through the Writer’s Digest, one important idea also stood out to me for writing good fiction — try starting your story with tension. Often times (in my young writing days when I thought 16-year olds exemplified the ideal generation) I’d have a hard time starting stories. There’s so much detail you have to include, so much buildup for your characters.

And here’s this article that’s just kind of like screw it. Start in the middle of your battle with some random dude garnering an eyepatch trying to steal a precious gem ( @ Jumanji ) or in the middle of your fictional Greek mythology exam that you’re about to fail.

That’s kind of the beautiful thing about fiction — as long as you make it somewhat attachable for the reader, chances are, you could make just about anything a good story.

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