Fiction is storytelling about people, places, and events that are mostly or totally invented by the writer. All this invention requires a writer to make choices constantly, so be aware that you are making choices as you write, and think about what their effects might be on the reader (or viewer, or listener, or…).
One choice you’ll be making constantly is the way you reveal information to the reader. Characterization—the effect of a character’s thoughts and actions on what the reader thinks of that character—is built up over the course of the story by the way the writer reveals information. When Roberto saves a tourist family from drowning in Medical Lake, the reader’s reaction will change depending on whether you’ve revealed that he’s afraid of the water, resentful of tourists, or lifelogging with a waterproof webcam to become famous.
“Write what you know” is common writing advice, but remember that you can always add to what you know. Do some research online and out in the real world to learn how paleoanthropology or the right way to change a tire might fit into your story. However, what you know does not have to limit what you write, because you give yourself permission to write about anything and everything by simply doing it.
A scene is a description of a continuous sequence of events as they happen or happened, such as a conversation between two characters:
“Have you ever visited the Writers’ Center?” Rita asked. She held Yoko’s Pulitzer Prize up to the light to get a better look.
“Yes,” Yokio said. “I go there regularly.”
A summary is a condensed description of events that may have happened over a long period of time:
Rita and Yoko talked at length about Yoko’s Pulitzer Prize. Later, Rita began to visit the Writers’ Center on a weekly basis.
A story without scenes can have trouble with characterization, because the consequences of juicy characterizing events are merely told, not shown. A story without summary can have trouble revealing information without using unnatural dialogue like:
“As you know, Kenyon, you and I built this helipad with our bare hands,” said Clarissa.
Another common piece of writing advice is to “show, don’t tell.” Showing scenes and telling summaries can be a fine strategy, as long as you realize the effects each one is capable of producing. While telling speeds things up, showing gives the reader more room to figure things out for herself. In fact, figuring things out—to a reasonable degree—is the reader’s job. Clichés, which are overused phrases and metaphors, don’t ask the reader to think very much, so they keep her/him from doing her/his job.
Point of view, or POV, is the relationship your narrator has to the story you want to tell. The most obvious difference between POV choices are the pronouns, possessive pronouns, and adjectives the narrator uses to describe the viewpoint character or characters:
1st person POV: I, me, mine, my, we, us, ours, our
2nd person POV: you, yours, your
3rd person POV: all other pronouns and possessives (she, hers, her, they, theirs, their, etc.)
All three types of POV can use 3rd person pronouns and possessives to describe non-viewpoint characters.
A 1st person narrator is the viewpoint character (or characters, who form a collective 1st).
A 2nd person narrator might seem to address the reader as the viewpoint character, but often the 2nd person POV is simply a way for the narrator to talk ironically about himself (“You fear the vulnerability of 1st person POVs and the responsibility of 3rd person POVs. You are ashamed.”).
A 3rd person narrator can jump from viewpoint character to viewpoint character, or follow one (or a collective one) throughout a story.
Revision is the review and refinement of your major writing choices: character, setting, plot.
Editing is the review and refinement of the language you use to create your effects: style, tone, mood.
Proofreading is the search for basic grammar, spelling, and typographical errors.
Be prepared to write many drafts of your story. Try not to revise, edit, and proofread your first draft too heavily, or you may stop your progress in its tracks. As you start your second draft, focus on revision—there’s little point in editing and proofreading writing that you might revise radically. A final draft is only final when you decide not to work on it anymore.
Click HERE for some tips for revising, editing, and proofreading your writing.
The writing practice is both the actual writing you do (as opposed to the idea of writing) and the repetition that allows you to improve. Write as much as you can, but also practice reading as much as you can. Reading what others have written is invaluable.
The are many rules of fiction writing, and all of them are really just conventions accumulated over many lifetimes of writing and reading. The better-known rules create reader expectations—such as the reader of a murder mystery who expects the murderer to be revealed near the end of the story. When you hear a rule for the first time, try to break it. Even if breaking the rule breaks your story, you may learn how the rule works.