How Do You Develop the Craft You Need To Get Published?
Today we’ll focus on #2 on the list — Craft.
Why Craft Matters
Craft is the biggie. Plenty of wannabe writers have great Content. But what separates the wannabes from the gonnabes is that pesky problem of Craft.
You have to tell your story in a way that keeps your reader reading! And that’s harder than it sounds. Oh sure, we’ve all read exciting stories by the modern masters — Stephen King or Anne Rice or Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele or John Grisham. And it’s easy to think that “I could write just like that.” Until you try.
Then you suddenly see that all the great writers are MASTERS OF ILLUSION. They’re doing tricks with words. Magic tricks. You can see (and feel) the effect they’re having. But you can’t quite tell how they do it!
Am I right here? I think I’m right, because let’s be brutally honest. If writing great fiction were easy, then EVERYBODY would be writing it. Your accountant would be writing great fiction. So would your mad aunt. Your goofy golf buddies. Your beer-guzzling brother-in-law, for crying out loud.
Great fiction is rare. It’s a valued commodity in our culture. Hey, isn’t that why you want to write it? Because it has value?
The Four Pillars of Fiction
What goes into the Craft of fiction? It’s not hard to make a list of the main components. I like to call them the Four Pillars of Fiction:
That’s all — just 4 of them. In order to write great fiction, you need to master all 4 of these. Let’s talk about each of them in turn, very briefly.
StoryWorld is the setting for your novel. It may be a boat, a building, a baseball league. It may be a village, a city, a country, a world, a galaxy. Whatever your StoryWorld is, you need to know it inside out and you need to be able to show it to your readers without making your novel feel like a travelogue. And that’s tricky, no?
Characters are the players in your novel. Usually, they’re humans, but they can be dogs, or vampires, or robots, or any other sentient life form. The key thing is that the Character must be capable of either rational thought or feelings. Preferably both. Again, you need to know your Characters better than you know your mother or your spouse or your kids or your cat. Then you need to be able to put your reader inside the skin of those Characters. And that’s magic.
Plot is the actual storyline of your novel. It’s what happens when your Characters come into conflict within the confines of your StoryWorld. You may have heard that there is only 1 Plot. Or 3. Or 7. Or 492. I really could not care less how many Plots there are. What’s more important is whether you can put your Characters into a unique and exciting Plot that will keep your reader up till 5 AM because she can’t put your book down!
Theme is the deep meaning of your story. This one is tricky, because all too many novelists want to make sure their readers don’t miss the Theme. So they roll it up into a big, unchewable glob and try to ram it down the reader’s throat. Gack! There is a technique to writing a great Theme with a light touch.
Those are the Four Pillars of Fiction. Truth be told, 99% of the Craft of fiction falls into one of those four categories. And here’s a dirty little secret — nobody ever masters any of them! That’s right, no matter how much you learn about any of them, there’ll always be more to learn. Nobody can teach you all there is to know about them, because nobody knows it all.
And yet you MUST master those Four Pillars of Fiction in order to have great Craft! Seems like a Catch-22, doesn’t it? That’s why writing fiction is hard.
That’s why the smart writer finds a good coach to help learn the basics. And then another coach, and another, and another. Because you’ll always be learning new stuff in the Craft of Fiction.
That’s all for today’s lesson. Are you tingling with excitement to go write your novel and get it published? Are you ready to go learn some Craft, and then some more, and some more? Let’s not forget there is still 1 more thing you’ll be needing to get your novel published. You still gotta have those Connections.
Watch for tomorrow’s lesson, when we’ll talk about the last item on our list: Where Do You Find the Connections To Get Published?
Randy Ingermanson, PhD