Awhile back, my friend Larry Brooks suggested to me that he and I and Jim Bell do a joint blog post on fiction writing. Larry is the author of Story Engineering and Story Physics and runs a popular blog at StoryFix.com. Jim is the author Plot & Structure and many others, and does business at JamesScottBell.com. And I am the author of Writing Fiction for Dummies.
Between the three of us, we’ve written several of the most popular books on the craft of fiction writing. So it makes sense to do a joint blog article.
Larry was the organizer for this, so the full blog post is on his site at StoryFix.
I’m posting just the first chunk of the blog post, to give you a flavor for what we came up with. Here’s the first question we tackled:
1. There’s so much “butt-in-chair, nothing else matters” writing advice out there, and it’s creating problems for newer writers in particular. If, in some alternate universe, you were asked to define the Holy Grail of advice-for-fiction-writers, the context-setting, everything-stems-from-this piece of gold… and you only got to chip in one answer, what would it be? My guess is there may be more than one answer competing for this title… so if there’s no breaking the tie, please share those candidates, too.
Jim: Every scene needs an objective housed in the mind of the point-of-view character. Vonnegut said the character must want something, even if it’s just a glass of water. And then you must put obstacles in the way of that objective, or the scene becomes boring. Finally, the outcome of the scene should put the Lead in a worse spot—or maybe give a temporary gain followed by more trouble. Trouble is our business, so we need to make it happen. If the writer uses scene objectives that relate to the overall story question, then the novel has organic unity and feels like there’s forward motion.
RANDY: Success in writing comes from the following three-part formula, which you will repeat until you die:
1) Write fiction on a regular schedule that lets you predict how long it’ll take you to create your next project.
2) Get pieces of it critiqued frequently and apply what you learned to your writing.
3) Read from the recognized experts on the craft and marketing of your work and apply what you learned to your writing.
Why is writing regularly important? I don’t put much stock in native talent. I’m sure it exists, but you learn to write fiction the way you learn to play tennis – by doing it.
Why is getting critiqued important? After all, there are hazards to getting critiqued. We all have thin skins. There are bad critiquers out there. Despite these hazards, every writer desperately needs an outside opinion. You won’t get better unless you know what the problems are in your writing. The only writers I’ve ever seen that I considered hopeless were the ones who couldn’t accept critiques of their work.
Why is studying the experts important? Because your critiquers can tell you what’s wrong with your work, but only a good teacher can tell you how to fix it. There is no point in reinventing the wheel. Learn from the experts. Write better next time.
LARRY: A great story is never just about something… a place, a time, an event, a theme. A great story is about something happening.
Write with courage. Jump in. But don’t jump out of the airplane without a parachute. One with the words Principles of Storytelling Craft printed on it, visible from all points on the ground… where the readers are.
That was the first question. If you want to read the answers to all five questions, hop on over to Larry’s blog at StoryFix.com and have fun!