Fiction Writing 101
By Stu Leventhal
So, what is fiction writing? Dictionaries, schools and literary institutions say fiction is the classification of all writing that is not true or never really happened. Its opposite is labeled nonfiction meaning the writings that are not faked, embellished or made up. Fiction stories are tales weaved using one’s imagination. Nonfiction writings are all true and it all happened just the way it was chronicled to have happened by the author, at least to the best of the author’s knowledge at the time of the writing. This means that the author of a nonfictional work, at the time of writing his or her nonfiction piece thought he was telling the truth and followed all the known facts correctly. This distinction protects works of Nonfiction writing from having to be declassified every time a new author writes a new book on the subject claiming new information has been found out or proposing a new theory.
Once classified as Nonfiction a book stays nonfiction whether new info is discovered which goes against the authors claims or not. Unless it is proven that the author intentionally deceived the public and lied to his readers knowingly writing a false account the nonfiction works stays in the nonfiction category. Yes, even though science may have advanced since the original writing to the point of proving that the work is not true anymore it is still a nonfiction work. That being said, any embellishing, guessing or fabrication by the author and the tale is disqualified as nonfiction and must be categorized as fiction, false and or phony. Fairy tales, sci-fi and fables are good, easy, examples of fiction but most literary genres for example; mysteries and romance stories contain works of both fiction and nonfiction depending on whether the author wished to re-tell a true story or weave an imaginary, feigned tale. Ultimately fiction writing can be called an author’s vision or dream.
Readers love fiction writing because it takes us outside of the world we know and past the reality we live with every day. Anything is possible in fiction! A creative fiction writer can take a tale about the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinaire! The fiction story is only limited by the author’s limits of imagination and creativity. So, my advice to new creative fiction writers is to have fun with your fiction writing, free your mind to wander and dream then write about it! Being a creative fiction writer gives you the creative license to weave fantastic and even impossible tales about whatever you dare to think up. Want to write a story about a six foot tall, talking rabbit that stands upright and walks on his hind feet like people and who has a best friend who is a flying frog plus a neighbor who is a wise Freudian like Owl? Just start typing!
You can base your tale on real events too, if you wish and you do not have to check the facts, dates and names to make sure you’ve got all the details correct because; the details of a fiction story are your details, all imagined or made-up by you! What could be more fun? Just remember, a fictional story still needs to have all the elements of a real story; a structured plot, themes, characters and be told through a specific literary point of view so it makes sense to the reader and the reader can follow along. The author also has to follow the rules of grammar and composition. But, there is no requirement that any of the incidences ever have to have actually happened or that the characters ever existed anywhere in real life.
So, obviously the new writing student would naturally think writing a fake story would be easier to accomplish than writing a real story but that is not always the case. Often, when it comes to the arts and especially the literary arts, what appears to be easy to create turns out to be quite difficult to achieve. After all making art look easy and effortless is what all great artists strive to do. Fiction can be and often is tougher than Nonfiction because the writer must create everything from scratch and you need to be able to convince your reader that it is all plausible!
Of course you do not have to follow an established timeline with you’re a fictional tale since you are creating it as you go along so you seemingly have no one to answer to. On the other hand, when writing nonfiction like a true history story or a biographical essay about a past president or King for example, you need to make sure your facts, dates, names, sequence of events, outcomes of events and quotes are all correct and depicted as they truly, really happened. You cannot edit the dialog of a nonfiction event to make a scene more emotionally charged because the characters must say what the real people actually said! With nonfiction accounts of real events, if the wind gusts were recorded at 100 miles an hour you cannot say the wind was blowing at 350 miles an hour to make it sound more dramatic.
Fiction stories of course, can be full of the fantastic and even the impossible and usually are. You can base your tall tale on three or four different actual events if you’d like, combining the best parts of each and most interesting characters so you have a lot of interesting material to work with. Boredom can be replaced by thrilling scenes. Silliness can be replaced by seriousness and vice versa depending on what the tale needs to keep your reader interested. The best feature of writing in the creative fiction genres is everything in a creative writing project can be bent or modified to meet the author’s needs. The whole direction of the story can be changed at will to support the author’s point. This means the author can tackle and explore themes almost at will that would be harder to bring up for discussion during a true tale since with the true story the author is stuck using only the real facts, events and situations as they actually happened to the real characters who were actually there.
The suave fiction writer can invent a totally new character if he needs to express an idea or reaffirm a previous message or theme or wants to apply a twist to the plot. The only dangers or boundaries a fiction writer must adhere by is to not take things too far out of bounds that they become ridiculous! Readers can accept a super hero who has special powers for example; flying, super strength or the power to become invisible and visible at will or heightened hearing abilities or even the power to read minds. But, you have to play fair with your reader and let the reader know about these super powers near the beginning of the tale. You cannot just announce at your leisure that someone has the ability to heal bullet wounds with their mind. Or, at the very end of your story when you have seemingly written yourself into a corner just state the main character is immortal and cannot be killed when you never hinted that the character had this power during the first 300 pages of your book! Your readers will feel cheated!
Yes a fiction writer has free reign to take us places where we can never go in real life. The creative fiction writer can let his imagination run quite wild! But despite the fact that readers know before they open a fiction book that all fiction tales are imaginary they still want the story to make sense, be organized and follow the laws of nature, mathematics and science as we know them or the author must explain why!
The challenge for a fiction writer is to keep coming up with fresh ideas. Readers expect to be taken somewhere special with a fiction story. There must be a reason for an author to go to all the trouble of building a whole new environment and creating characters from scratch and weaving complicated plots. For the reader to buy in, a good fiction writer must hint that there is something worthwhile coming. The fiction writer also has the tough chore of getting a reader to actually care about what happens to a made-up character. It is easy to be amused or entertained by made up silly characters and the zany predicaments they get themselves into. But for a writer to cause a reader to shed real tears when a fake character’s feelings are hurt is a talent!
Remember, when you write fiction you are competing with nonfiction writers for your readers’ attention. Why should a reader waste their time reading about your made up people with their imaginary problems when they can read about real people with real problems? The answer lies in the fact that people like to fantasize. As a Creative Fictional Writer your job is to feed those fantasies. Real living can be dull, stressful and irritating. We pick up a fiction book because we want to escape reality to go somewhere that is exciting, beautiful, meaningful and different.
There is nothing more beneficial to mind and spirit than participating in living out a fulfilling moment! But most of our lives are dictated by obligations and regulated by commitments. Few get to live the romanticized life they wish they could. This is where fiction comes in. Fiction allows us to live vicariously through our favorite fictional characters and their latest exploits! Sitting safely in our most comfortable living room armchair with a new book by our favorite fiction author in our hands and a cup of tea and some cookies set on the nearby coffee table, we can chase criminals, punch out bullies, fall in love, win the big game and discover fortune, fame and honor!
Through fiction we get to explore ourselves deeply. We view our reactions to situations we do not actually have to encounter in real life and we learn more about what we are truly made of. As we read we try to enter the mind of the fiction writer who weaved this tale to figure out where he is trying to take us. We bond with the author and his characters. The journey we go on is made together with our author, his characters and also with all the other readers who read the tale before us and who will pick up the book and read the tale and enjoy it after we are done. The creative fiction author’s imagination spurs our imaginations as readers into action. We are coaxed and encouraged to imagine ourselves in new worlds, facing new kinds of dangers and experiencing new types of joys.
It may seem like a contradiction but through creative fiction an author is often better able to teach us things about the real world by highlighting the significance of important things in a fantasy world. The author’s passion for a subject is passed on to the reader through the passion and energy he uses to write about that subject. Reading well written fiction can truly be a rewarding, enlightening, healthy, worthwhile experience!
Only by daring to fantasize can we find new possibilities, discover new solutions and experiment with new ideas…