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Literary Stories Must Be Significant Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Great literary stories have a purpose for being written. They say something and they say it well. Fiction is the best way to achieve this. It allows story development unhindered by descriptions of a set reality and provides unlimited choices in character motivations and actions that support the purpose and momentum of the story. Significance is not achieved when the fiction is loosely conceived.

The author’s conscious will has to be in control of the story creation, and not simply left to ideas that might bubble up from the unconscious or are discovered in the description of a life experience where the significance is tagged on late in the writing, like a stamp on a letter. Significance comes from planned story happening, character change to a new way of thinking and understanding (enlightenment about the human condition), and reader enlightenment, which when different from the character’s enlightenment is the source for important ironies.

Significance is often directly related to an emotional experience for a reader. Reader emotions vary from story to story in intensity and type (joy, fear, sympathy, love, anger, et cetera). Emotions are best evoked by total engagement in the fictional dream that requires inclusion of the reader in the story rather than simply treating the reader as a listener. This means showing why and how in scene or dramatic narrative and not simple describing real or imagined events or thoughts.

In essence, a story will never be significant when a reader finishes and has no understanding why the story was written and can’t remember characters and or what the story was about. A writer must master not only craft of interesting dramatic prose but the entangled process of purposeful storytelling.


From the essay "How Literary Stories Go Wrong" by William H. Coles

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4 Responses to “Literary Stories Must Be Significant”

  1. Dave Says:

    Another insightful piece. Thank you! I love the material on this site. 🙂

    An idea. Would you ever consider posting some of your stories with annotated comments that revealed your creative thought process as you progressed through a story? In other words, open up the hood and show us exactly what you were trying to accomplish with the various story elements, theme, and so forth that shows how mere craft becomes a work of art.

    Even with the vast amount of material available concerning the mechanics of fiction, the thought process of an accomplished writer is still a mystery at times.


  2. William Coles Says:

    Many thanks. It means a lot that you took the time to comment. I like your idea, and after we get the backlog pared down a little I want to give it serious thought on how it might be done well to be maximally useful. Until then, there are a couple things on site that might help that you might not have seen. First, on the blog there is a post on "Getting Started" that goes through some of the process for one story idea with multiple starts and comments https://fictioneditorsopinions.com/2009/10/great-fiction-is-creative-not-intuitive-getting-started/ Second, there is a text I wrote for the site, Literary Story as an Art Form, where the second part is the development of a 2000+ word story. You can find it at this link: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com//books-for-purchase/
    Best for all success in your writing. WHC

  3. Hannah K. Kamauoha Says:

    I would like to send a story of my father's life and his struggles. Where would I send it to?

  4. William Coles Says:

    Thanks for your comment. We do not accept unsolicited stories, of course, and the market for publication nationally is a true nightmare. You might look to resources near you. Some newspapers accept an occasional story, church and community bulletins may be a possibility. Writers you know may also be able to point you in the most useful direction. Best wishes for every success. WHC

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