How To Write Readable Fiction
One of the most common mistakes made by beginning fiction writers is forgetting about the reader. Sure, writing fiction can be therapeutic and fun, but at some point all fiction writers come face to face with the fact that they are not writing for therapy or self-realization, they are writing to be read.
Writing to be read is quite a different task than writing to please oneself. Writing to please oneself and no one else called journaling, and that practice can indeed be useful and healthy. Fiction, however, needs a reader or it just isn’t fiction.
Once a fiction writer starts using his or her prospective reader as a clarifying lens, editing and even writing itself becomes more focused and rewarding.
When readers are happy, writers are happy.
Readers of good fiction universally appreciate the following elements:
- Sympathetic believable characters. Strong characters are more important than almost anything else in a work of a fiction. Some of the best-selling popular novels are written in pedestrian prose, but the main characters are so compelling and real for readers that they are reincarnated again and again in new books. You don’t have to make your protagonist perfect, but you do have to make readers identify with him or her.
- Coherent plot. Lots of writers start out with great characters who sit down somewhere around page 78 of a new novel and refuse to do anything at all. “Now what?” They seem to be saying. That’s why plot outlines can be so helpful. The longer your work of fiction, the greater the need for an outline. Short-short stories (under 1500 words) often evolve spontaneously, but longer works appreciate a road map. Know where you are going with your story and ask for feedback to spot plot gaps before sending it out.
- Simple sentences. If you are writing a graduate philosophy paper on Hegelian hermeneutics you may be forgiven for being obtuse (or even rewarded for it), but if you are writing a short story or novel your readers will get fed up if you are vague, if you ramble, or if your sentences never end. Focus on verbs and direct language. Skip heavy use of adjectives and flowery descriptive passages too, at least when you are first starting out.
- A point. Fiction is not an essay. You don’t have to step up on a soapbox and preach, and in fact, you shouldn’t. But readers will notice and reward you if you go one step beyond formula and use your story to say something memorable and important. Don’t say it outright, but use the tale to get your point across in a memorable way.
- A good story. It’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects of fiction writing and forget that basically you are a storyteller, not a grammarian. Some stories are more interesting than other stories. Make sure yours is a doozey, and your readers will ask for more.
Sometimes the best way for fiction writers to remember their readers is to read. Read popular writers, classic writers, off beat writers, and then go back and read your own writing as if you were picking it up for the first time.
You’ll be amazed at how new it looks. And you’ll know exactly what to do next.
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