Seven elements for writing fiction stories Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

For writers striving to improve the creation of fictional stories in prose, here are seven essential elements in creating stories.

The elements: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. The intense poetic elements of lyric prose can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. For memorable stories, most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice, for narrator and characters.

Characterization (creation of a fictional character) is most effective when developed by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling and when excellence of other elements is achieved: dialogue, narration, internalization, and voice.

Plot is all that happens in a story and is almost always dependent on a beginning, middle, and end and thrives of tried and true characteristics: character-based; momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; and often linear, interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (almost always no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Other stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings for maximum reader pleasure.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to prevent reader disinterest.

Theme/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill and structure.

References:

Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story

Literary Fictional Story

Character in Literary Fictional Story

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The Seven Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

There are many ways to think about the great writing of great fictional stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by learning seven elements and appreciating the interaction of these elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be more easily enjoyed and admired, and for writers, learning to determine their strengths and weakness in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. It’s importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories

Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear, and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point-of-view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose,, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Yet, some stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

Theme/purpose.
Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the readers will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events with description without imagination and discursive rumination of authorial thoughts and opinions. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill,  structure, and revision.

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Creating Scenes in Fiction: An Example Using an Historic Photo Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Lynching

One of the many great paradoxes in writing fiction well is that dramatized in scene fiction can evoke reader involvement and emotions better than narrative telling. The photo of a lynching of two blacks in the south in the 1930's is appalling. For a fiction writer, such an image hides strong human emotions; how does a writer capture feelings and create a significant reader reaction through prose fiction?

A fiction writer has the opportunity in such a scene to create in a reader a multidimensional sense of what might have been the living thoughts and emotions at the moment.   Then, by objective fiction in scene fiction void of abstractions, explain by showing the attitudes and feelings of the moment. It's translating the feelings that we think occurred almost eighty years ago.

An inexperienced writer might start a description of the scene like this: The humid air seemed balmy, and heavy with weight of the moment. The crowd stared as the two corpses swayed slightly, twisting this way and that. Blood came from the mouth of one. The other head had bulging eyes, as if diseased and now bloated. The stench of excrement drifted over the people, a horrible reminder of death's lack of tact.

This is from the narrator's perspective. In the description are a number of opinions and judgments: balmy, stench.  And there is a cliché–weight of the moment–that might be too abstract to be effective. The horror, the injustice, the cruelty is beginning to show through.  But the people in the picture are happy, festive, apathetic. Their inexplicable response to the murders is  what makes this photo so horrific.  And there's a lot going on. The brutal killings have occurred by summary justice, but the atmosphere is festive, there is an almost in-your-face joy at "right" being done, and there is the apathy for lives lost and a blatant lack of respect. The woman looks surprised at the camera flash but there is no fear, no sorrow, no horror.  And she's in a Sunday-go-meeting dress. She's holding her husband's hand but it doesn't seem for moral support, more to keep from getting separated maybe. One wonders if the photographer, with artistic acumen, felt the need to capture these contradictory feelings–the dichotomy of the crowd's emotional response contrasting to what the reality of the scene embodied–outrage at the injustices racial hatred would invoke in another crowd at a different time. Or maybe even more revealing, the photo was accidental, which make the journalistic reporting insensitive.

Here's a try with narrator writing in point of view of the woman character in the dark polka-dot dress on the left holding the hand of the man. The flash of the camera surprised her. The lens was pointed at her and the crowd, not at the Negroes twisting at the end of their ropes and suspended from the limb of Reverend Callahan's giant oak, the playground for children for decades. Dexter's dry scratchy hand held hers loosely, he was curious and smiling at the camera with all of them. A man near them swigged boubon from a silver flask. She refused when offered a sip, upset he didn't respect her as a lady, but Dexter took a big swallow. The negroes weren't local she'd heard, didn't know their ways. Smart talking they were too, rude to Maud Richards, as if she weren't white. She thought the photographer might take another picture and she dropped Dexter's hand to find her lipstick in the pocket of her dress. It was a shade of red she'd just bought from the catalogue because Ethel had started wearing her shade, (and not to Ethel's advantage she might point out). Some Negroes over near the hitching posts a might far from them but still close enough that that Negro-moan-singing came to them: "Just a closer walk with thee." Happy she was to see the sheriff and his deputy shut them up and send them away. Serve 'em right. Yes, sir. The will of God prevails.

The idea in this segment is try to paint the horror of the crowd festive attitude, and apathy to the dead as well as the indifference of the law, as opposed to simply describing the look of the corpses and the expected outrage the narrator feels at a double murder for incomprehensible, illegitimate reasons. The key, I think, is to find then imagine the bizarre emotions and gaiety of the crowd in the presence of two lynched humans. The reaction seems, after all, an insult to the crime itself–perfect for the fiction writer to create meaningful literature.  It helps when creating a scene to look for dichotomy, a conflict, an incongruity, to bring the reader into the scene with not only more intensity, but augmented emotional involvement.

If you're writer, you can learn to make choices that will make your stories engaging and meaningful to readers. Fiction is a rewarding accomplishment for a writer, well worth the study and practice. A start might be this new manual: Creating Literary Stories: A Guide for Fiction Writers. An inexpensive gift available in digital and print formats for yourself, a loved one, a writer yearning to write fiction, or any one you care about.

Creating Literary Stories

 

 

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Why is narration perspective important? Isn't understanding point of view sufficient? Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Great memorable fiction stories that pass to future generations for learning and enjoyment are quite rare, and the authors who create such stories have unique and varied attributes as writers. What separates the great fiction writer/storytellers? One trait seems to drive great writers to create great stories of significance and sustainability. Look to Austen, Homer, Forster, Conrad, Flaubert, Chekhov, De Maupassant, Babel, Melville, Hawthorne, Munro. The great storytellers, with few exceptions, wrote selflessly to engage and entertain a reader and the quality of the story produced significant enlightenment about living and being human.

Lesser writers seem intent on fame and fortune and the seriously mistaken belief that to be great, instinctively writing solely for the catharsis, aggrandizement, and ego of the author is sufficient. These writers create literature-of-self that often ignores the in-depth understanding of humanity; broad objective incorporation of the world outside an author’s worldview; a respect for a reader’s gracious exertion in reading by striving to entertain the reader; and striving to provide new thoughts about human existence in the world we live in.

Memoir, autobiography, authorial dominated “fiction,” and creative non-fiction all have contributions to literature, but the imaginative created literary fictional story reaches unique excellence in significant storytelling. Understanding the complexities of narration and developing narrative skills by learning and practice are an important start on the path to great fictional storytelling.

Readers benefit from knowing what is true, credible, and reliable in the story world. Narrative perspective guides the reader’s understanding and emotional acceptance, and involvement in the literary story, and allows eventual comparison and application to the reader’s real word existence.

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Imagination and Creativity in Literary Stories: A Guide for Writers Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Imagination used in creative storytelling is the essence of literary fiction. Memoir is remembering and describing factual events. Traditional imagined literary fiction is ignored today–mostly for financial reasons–by publishing, publicity, literary-agents, literary-prize choices, and inadequate teachers of creative writing resulting in blurred barriers between memoir and literary fiction. As a result, the quality of both memoir and literary fiction has deteriorated in artistic achievement, impact, and memorability. Great literature is a cornerstone of cultural advancement and contemporary authors have responsibility to society to learn and create literary fiction and memoir to the best of their ability.

It must be noted great memoir does employ creativity in the describing, in the presentation, and the prose manipulation. Literary fiction, however, uses imagination in creatively building characters uniquely related to the story being told and creatively integrating characters and plot with a structured story created with a purpose to engage, entertain, and enlighten a reader through imaginative artistic creation. Learning the skill of effective characterization is essential to lasting success for an author of literary fiction.

To create great characters that vitalize motives and desires in purposeful plotting, authors must create by:
1) structuring stories, whenever indicated, with beginning, middle, and end.
2) creating mystery and suspense to sustain reader engagement and enjoyment as essential to allow reader to see the world in new ways from reading the story.
3) engaging the reader with credible and acceptable character thoughts and reactions that relate to being human in addition to reflexively reacting to situations.
4) creating scenes through conflict, action and resolution (dramatic) that show characters’ essential qualities and relate to overall story-plot purpose.
5) instilling believable and consistently changing motivations.
6) identifying core desire(s) that drive a character’s action in the story.
7) using effective narration to show story to the reader through images, effective metaphor, tightly constructed plot progression, and character and story related action.
8) writing in-scene “showing” (concrete) in proper balance with narrator telling of story (often abstract). In-scene showing adds an aura of truth that story could happen in the world established by the author and allows a reader to become involved to discover meaning unique to them.
9) allowing only judicious use of fatalism in plot construction; instead, depending on revelations of human strengths and weaknesses in shaping lives to provide energy for story progression and resolution.

To create successful characters, authors must think before they write. Scenes within a story–and the story itself–are units composed of interrelated parts. It is not sufficient to start a story and see what happens word by word, scene by scene, without a thorough knowledge of the whole story. Many authors pride themselves in discovering story as they go along as allowing the creative process to flourish, but imagination deserves better application to literary storytelling. Authors must not default to writing that is quality-deficient by defaulting to unfocused hyperactivity in their writing and proudly rejecting the need for experience and training in writing and storytelling, an error that bathes an author in hubris about their own authorial value as a human being and their creative abilities. All that happens in a great literary story comes from an imagined structure and formulation of related ideas before writing. Of course, every writer’s efforts relate to who they are and what they know. But that knowledge is used to stimulate imaginative use for story purpose. And imaginative changes in great fictional stories occur with both writing and revision, and changes are perceived before change as affecting and improving the whole, not camouflaging an errant part of the writing or just filling story space with extraneous ideas and images thought to be clever intellectual output of the author but unrelated to story.

Study of artistic creation can clarify an author’s approach to creating quality fiction. Look to the visual arts. To create a great oil painting, an artist does not blindly retrieve colors from a palette obscured from vision then apply random brush strokes to any surface that is handy. An artist has to have purpose that translates to some idea of the final product and how to achieve the form and appearance of that structure.

Literary stories are like sculptures too. Consider how a Rodin-like sculpture might be made. To start, the sculptor has an idea of what is to be created—a nude male athlete, a woman holding her dying son, a lion. Sketches help adjust the overall early conceptualization of the final artistic product. A model is often constructed over a wire structural support and clay is added for form and detail and before drying, the model is molded, added to, or parts removed. Casts are made of the model. Bronze heated to liquid is poured into the casted mold, cooled to harden, and the mold removed to reveal the final sculpture that is refined with subtle smoothing and polishing. Not infrequently the result may not be right and the artist must start over again to avoid tinkering to make better a poorly conceived and executed project too impaired in the creation to reach required perfection.

This way of thinking is ubiquitous in artistic creation. Think of Michelangelo as an artist purchasing a block of Carrara marble. He did not awake one day, grab a hammer and chisel, sit down at the kitchen table while the kids were watching TV in the living room, and begin to chip away at the block to see what might emerge. He knew what he wanted . . . he had a plan. It’s sad that many writers force writing on schedules to fulfill their need to be a writer without a concept of a whole story, what the story is about, or why it is being written. These writers claim creativity is stifled by structure and imagined concepts but it is almost always a rationalization for their lack of ability.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality needs the author to be aware of the creative process of accepted creators of art forms. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization, identify conflicts, mysteries, suspense; establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.

In life, great architectural structures of beauty and usefulness are not accomplished by picking up random material and any tool available by the builders on their way to work that day. Why do most contemporary authors write driven by the will to succeed as a writer rather than creating works of literary art that will pleasurably affect other human beings with enjoyment and enlightenment? In reality, a rote process of ritual writing without purpose or destination, or without imagination or creativity, results in inferior artistic attempts. Art, including literary fiction, is not work for the artist but a proud accomplishment of imaginative achievement, and definitely not a random collection of disparate ideas and memories.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality requires awareness of the process of imagination and structure. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization; identify conflicts, mysteries, and suspense; and establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.

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A Wannabe's Guide to Literary Fiction Success Editorial Opinion

William H. Coles

How can a wannabe become a literary fiction writer? Traditional commercial print publishing is becoming less reliable source to find readers of literature and online publishing has yet to establish what the future will provide for authors. Still, the future is clearly becoming the present when the internet can provide a writer’s works’ content free or at low cost to millions of international readers instantly, an opportunity never before imagined. Will those authors similar to Chekov and Flaubert and Melville, who have given us lasting literary fiction, emerge today through traditional, costly, inefficient print publishing or through the new internet channels–without middlemen and profiteers– that may have greater potential for recognition and even profit in the future?

If you look to the internet as the prime way to establish yourself as a literary fiction writer, consider these guidelines:

*Learn to write prose well.

*Learn essentials of good storytelling.

*Write with a purpose to your writing that does not include adoration and acceptance. Write for your readers’ pleasure and enjoyment; adoration and acceptance will come through your honest, selfless approach to your writing.

*Publish online—(opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of readers instantly).

*Make fame and profit secondary to engaging, entertaining, and pleasing readers you target and respect.

*Build confidence in quality of your work by submitting to contests and journals, but don’t take rejection as proof you don’t have readers waiting.

*Teach others selflessly. It establishes you as a writer.

*Use, but don’t rely on, traditional publishing when opportunity presents. Don’t succumb to giving away your talent, especially exclusively, for others to profit if you can establish large readership volume that can potentially make you money without working from inside the prison of corporate and private publishers for free or royalties at an unfair percentage of gross income from sales.

*Accept that working as an author to be read and appreciated through the internet will soon make the scorn of not being accepted in the world of traditional publishing with inflated and inaccurate sales records as the measure of your fame and success obsolete.

Although a majority would probably disagree that literature survival will never depend on traditional commercial publishing, the world is changing. Stories in prose will be less expensive, and readers will have unlimited access to writers’ works. And to struggle to scale the barrier wall of publishing houses (and academia) will soon be a humorously decadent way to fail in a writing career.

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Creating Excellence in Fiction: a comment to a student Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Thanks for your comment.  It seems you have all the experience and material to do great work, and you have an authorial attitude for how to approach and present your material that will serve you well as you continue.

As you write, it can be helpful to seek a clear purpose for what you write, not just the novel (or short story) but for every chapter, paragraph, sentence, even word choice.  Looking at broad purpose, you’ll come up with a theme and meaning for your writing. Try to make it as clear as possible: dependency destroy lives, incest is immoral, seeking truth is important to human existence; etc.    More than one is often involved, but only one should dominate for excellence in most works.  Then, as you seek purpose in shorter context, you can carry broader purpose and theme, but you’ll be looking for specific story-related purposes: does this sentence advance plot, build character, create images, clarify timeline, assure consistency in voice, etc?  All this may seem superfluous, but the habit of thinking like this helps strengthen the writing and the storytelling for the reader.  Purpose relates to (as you noted in your comment) creativity and imaginative thinking to write great prose stories. Nonfiction is different.  In nonfiction authors make their points through relating to and describing real events and real people and depending on accuracy of occurrences to evoke reader reaction, events and people that have caused an emotional response or some enlightenment that has changed (the author’s) life.  So in nonfiction creative imagination is curtailed to the presentation of story material rather than creating story material for specific story purpose–a purpose that will produce an emotional reaction or intellectual enlightenment in the reader through objective story action and conflict/action/resolution.  The nonfiction writer is evoking emotional reactions and intellectual enlightenment through abstractions (I hate rather than in scene action that shows the hate emotion, for example) and is prone to try to move a reader through narrative discursive rumination.  This is often perceived as an author writing from the soul but it is frequently not as engaging, readable, nor does it have the impact of objective in scene revelation through creative imagination for most stories.  There are exceptions for certain stories to be told, but failure to recognize the principle frequently results in inferior writing and storytelling for most stories.

I applaud you; it’s a hurdle you are already addressing.  You have the skills and the heart to use your valuable (and exciting and significant) material to maximum advantage; I wanted to emphasize that to achieve the significant responses with your writing, don’t resort too often to telling what it meant to you and how you perceived your world experiences caused you reactions.  Instead, explore all the elements that make you feel the way you did and do.  Almost always it is best to seek to fully understand your reactions, analyze the causes for those reactions, and then seek the knowledge (as you already are!) as to how the great writers learn to make readers feel the way they, the authors, want them to feel. Of course you will use life experiences as all writers do, just don’t be a slave to those experiences so opportunities to create significant stories through imaginative characterization and storytelling are ignored.   Storytelling and impeccable craft are the tools for significant story success–authorial human understanding of generation of story material; effective narration; consistent and unique voice(s); purposeful dialogue; uninterrupted engagement; objective decisions about desires, motivations, and emotional responses; and readable prose. These are important ways to produce reactions that are different than memoir and nonfiction, and usually, although harder to achieve, give better results for what you–and all authors, I think, want to achieve.  From your comment, I know you understand this and are on the way to achieve it.  I wanted to support you and wish you the very best as you proceed.  WHC

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Eight Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Eight fundamentals for writing fiction stories.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose
Drama

There are many ways to think about the writing of great fiction stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by thinking of eight fundamentals and appreciating the interaction of the elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be enhanced and admired, and for writers, learning to determine strengths and weaknesses in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

1. Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element, but clarity, accuracy, and concrete over abstract provide most effective prose for significant storytelling. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

2. Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. Its importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories integrate characterization and plot progression to create character-based fiction.  And each, at least, primary character has a recognizable core desire that contributes to solid logic of character motivations and reactions.

3. Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear; and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

4. Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable credibility, reliability, and requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent, complete, and meticulous.

5. Setting orients the reader to time, place, physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Best stories provide most settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description.

6. Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

7. Meaning/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way as before the story was read. Great fiction stories are not character sketches, memoirs, biographies, or journalism with untruths, and every great story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial events and characters with description and discursive rumination.  And for significance, authors create a moral framework for the story world that helps define character actions and thinking, suggest meaning, and enhance logic of the drama.

8. Drama keeps a reader's interest, moves the plot, and builds character.  Drama is conflict the precipitates action and requires a writer's ability to insert action in scene, in dialogue, and in narrative description.  Drama also can move the reader to feel the story and the characters.

Summary.  Writing fiction that is character-based with dramatic plots and meaning is an art form requiring both talent and diligent hard work and self evaluation.  Studying and learning the skills to use fundamentals effectively is essential in becoming a successful storyteller, but also useful in revision of early drafts to seek balance in the presentation and consistency in the writing.

 

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Effect of Discursive Narration on Literary Story Editorial Opinion

William H. Coles

Narration of literary fictional stories today allows wide latitude for authors on technique and style. Traditional, successful, memorable, literary stories depend on strong imaginative characterization, dramatic plots with conflict and resolution, and identifiable purpose for the story being told so some enlightenment occurs about the human condition gleaned from the story presentation. In the past, stories were structured for momentum and engagement, and there was careful attention to story logic and credibility for the story world created. Authors wanted to please readers. Prose was dedicated to accurate use of the language, attention to the advantages of correct grammar within story context, and readability with acceptable punctuation and rhythmic flow. But this storytelling has faded.

Contemporary writers have little or no conscience to follow traditions in literary storytelling. Stories with beginnings, middles, and ends are becoming less common and fiction has shifted to memoir about authorial self with a few falsehoods to be called fiction, simple character sketches, or description of events-happened with journalistic rigor void of imaginative influence. Authors reject dramatic conflict at all levels of story delivery for character development and story pleasing plotting. And even in fiction, the author often dominates the storytelling with subjective intrusion rather than using an objective narrator or character delivering balanced credible story and character detail in dramatic scenes. Descriptions of people or events that happened does not produce the same effects on readers as creative imaginative storytelling that engages, stimulates, enlightens, moves, and entertains.

Contemporary writers commonly default to discursive rumination for the major portion of “story” delivery, a technique that may divert attention, meaning, momentum, or understanding of authorial purpose for the story. And when using discursive rumination, authors will often abandon story to soliloquize, seek authorial catharsis, or proselytize.

Modern writers often restrict storytelling to first person point of view and narration. This places limits on internalization, credibility, veracity, size and quality of world view available to the narrator, and expansive imaginative writing. Not all stories are suited to first person narration, and the quality of fiction published and available to read has dwindled.

The message is not trivial. Many contemporary readers enjoy modern “literary” writing dependent on discursive rumination, but the true value of literary story development with imaginative structure and characterization is often lost. The writers careful to avoid obvious authorial dominance and intrusion in the storytelling add imaginative and meaningful enhancement to their work that authorial dominance and intrusion does not allow. Of course, authors are always present in some way in a literary work of fiction, but the most effective authorial presence is transparent, like a hint of mint in a pitcher of tea, the touch of orange/red diffusing through the blue sky above the horizon just before sunrise, the sound of an individual cello in full orchestra . . . sensations present and enjoyed and always gently and uniquely pervasive . . . but never rife.

Readers preferring traditional storytelling seem to reread the classics today. Traditional literary fiction is being written, but it is rarely accepted by agents, editors, and publishers; as a result, great stories in the traditional sense are not available and as a culture, we are losing an art form, a loss that diminishes the creative heritage of our generation.

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Letter to a Student: Career Advice Editorial Opinion

William H. Coles

Dear Patricia,

I've made no comments on The Tangerine Affair, a delightful story that you've presented very well. To critique it would imply something is wrong with the novel or the writing. Consider your novel finished. Put it away or send it out. Don't tinker with it anymore and give full attention to your next work. As your career progresses, you'll change and you'll look back at this as an early piece and you might find things you would have done differently. But that's okay. That's what making your career as a writer is all about—continuous improvement. Don't get trapped into endless mostly useless adjustments of completed work when your talent should be focused on new, exciting projects.

As you move on into the next stage of your career, remember these principles in writing fiction we've discussed. Does something happen? Too many stories get stuck on musings, internalization, or lengthy descriptions or subjective opinions. The result is static prose fiction.

One technique overused is authorial treading water. Things like. "He wouldn't have done this on any other day. He wasn't that sort of person. And he wouldn't have looked at Leonora the way he was now. That would be out of character." OR "No snowflake is the same. That's what he'd been told. Trillions of snowflakes and not one like the other. Well, those little unique devils were falling at this very moment, and he stuck out his tongue to catch a few and let them melt. They all tasted the same! (Nothing happens here. And the sentences don't build character sufficiently or advance plot at all.) Treading water is a common way for bad writers to fill up a page when the words and thoughts have no clear relation to story.

Is the timeline clear? Look for stories fitting into a recognizable timeline that progresses logically and fits to story length, style, and content. In general, you can't tell a saga in two paragraphs with success. And it's difficult (even though tried fairly often) to put a few minutes of story time into a full-length novel. There are subtleties, learned by practice, in thinking about a timeline that fits a story that the writer should be aware of for his or her specific story.

Are emotions primarily shown rather than told? Find places where the impact of a character's emotion on the reader can be enhanced by concrete action. For example. "She cried." (A nonspecific general statement, rather abstract, and could be boring in many contexts.) What if something like this were done? "With her head down, her eyes hidden behind her hands, she choked back a sob to hide her pain." [Not great. But note the specifics. A try for imagery too. It does improve the reader's experience by showing . . . providing more for the reader than telling in generalities such as "she cried." Showing takes more story time and is not always the best choice when uptempo story pacing is needed; still, when appropriate, action to express emotions should be considered.]

Is the pacing right? Pacing is a rhythmic sense to the writing that makes reading and understanding of story and prose easier. Ask: is the writing well paced? Are the events well paced? Are even the emotions changing in the story well paced? In determining pacing, it's helpful to think about importance to story and characterization and amount of time spent on a segment. (I think you'll always do this naturally.) Is a point where action or emotional shifts are too slow or too fast? Are there illogical plot deviations? Is there a clear progression of happenings in the plot and subplots and does every action have a purpose in the story. Don't succumb to deviations from story no matter how well written you think a deviation is.

CAREER ADVICE

Patricia, you've progressed very well in the tutorial, and I hope you'll continue to focus energy and passion on developing the career you want. Everyone is different in what they desire, what they can achieve, and the ways they'll use to be successful. But here are some thoughts I hope will be useful, thoughts to help you make your decisions about what to do and how to do it your way.

Who you are as an author? I see writers with two different motivations. First, writers want to be published, famous, make a living doing what they like to do. Second, they want to become the best writers and storytellers they can become. This striving for excellence is a lifelong endeavor for those with talent. But writing solely for fame and wealth can work against writing to write great stories to please readers. The need to be famous, or even present oneself at a cocktail party as a "published author," can consume one to a point where the desire to be a great writer writing excellent fiction is buried. In reality, few of us will be famous or rich from our writing, so it is important to not let the desire for recognition keep us from always improving, force to market, and impel us to embellish our worth and success in embarrassingly inappropriate displays. Not to be too discouraging, the quest for being really good but never letting recognition dominate our career can be the most rewarding goal if we can keep ourselves in balance. We have to erase any trace of narcissism, and look to selfless dedication to the creation of writing fiction as an art. Surprisingly, for many, striving for excellence can bring the fame and fortune we all want and have every reason to persist in obtaining as long as it doesn't injure our quest for excellence.

Be confident. Believe in yourself. But always strive to keep getting better. Don't rest on admiring what you've done, and don't let obstinate arrogance erase any chance of your being recognized as a good writer.

Rejection. About your fear of rejections. I hate rejections and negative comments about my work. We all do. I have had hundreds of rejections for short stories, and been turned away by more agents and publishers than I care to remember, but I've learned never to believe a rejection is proof that I'm no good. All writing affects people in different ways. Every writer has a readership. The trick is finding those readers. And while you're trying to find your readers, don't let a rejection make you feel bad. Rejection probably means your searching for publication success in the wrong places with the wrong people. I've approached agents and paid for individual conferences with editors and agents at a writer's conference, for example, to be rejected and discover the agents had a "complete" list and were not seriously looking for new clients. Even more perturbing, many of these agents attend the meeting for money and free travel. And there are thousands of other reasons for rejection. It doesn't fit the goals of the editors, subject matter isn't liked, too tragic, I-like-happy-endings, etc. All things that have nothing to do with you the writer. So never take rejections from from the majority of agents, editors, and publishers to heart. Send work out expecting rejection, and accept that most rejections fail to address what you're trying to accomplish for your specific reader. In the main, submit, expect rejection, throw rejection out of your mind, form a new plan, and move on.

Publishing: a rapidly changing industry in decline. Commercial publishing is in a mess. Books are too expensive. Fewer people seek entertainment and information in print. And publishers have a poor reputation about their selection and treatment of authors whom they often abuse. It's hard for an author to get recognized, picked up, and promoted. Many literary fiction works are published through who-you-know, word-of-mouth, cronyism, favoritism, etc. with little or no regard for writing or storytelling quality. An agent at a writer's conference on a panel to discuss publishing said: "You'll never get published if you don't have a platform [usually meaning fame, even notoriety, in a career different than fiction writing]." She continued, "I've just taken on an author who wrote a biography about his investigations that won him a Nobel prize. The topic was hot and time sensitive. But he would only accept me as an agent if I would publish his novel. A dreadful novel, but I wanted his sellable biography. And I sold his novel to obtain the biography." It was a discouraging revelation (outrageous really) about the state of commercial publishing (and integrity of agents) for the writing and reading of quality fiction. For fiction writers, finding a commercial publisher is harder than for other forms of writing.

But if traditional publishing is the way you crave to succeed, you'll do best by getting to know people who will refer you and introduce you. Of course write query letters, but consider composing and sending out queries is time consuming, and very inefficient. And today, the prominence of the internet is opening amazing possibilities for getting your work read and finding your readers, even while looking for a traditional publisher. The internet has not gelled into a predictable medium for writer's yet, but it's getting there, and I'd look at that possibility if you have time. For many, use of the web to distribute work is still not considered "legitimate" and may not deliver the personal satisfaction of having a traditional publisher (for some, even small ineffective houses suffice), but the internet can be unbelievably successful for having your work enjoyed and recommended. It takes time to find the possibilities that are best for you, but you may want to explore as many as possible.

All the best in your career. You're doing great and I know you'll achieve what you desire! And thanks for participating in the tutorial. It's been a pleasure to work with you.

All the best,
Bill Coles

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