Archive for July, 2017

A Prescription for Creating Great Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better

Monday, July 31st, 2017
William H. Coles

Fiction writers imagine. And it’s in the realm of the imagination that stories and characters are not stifled by the constraints of describing real people and real events. Fiction creates its own “reality” with purpose to create meaningful, engaging, unique stories.


Literature is written work considered to have lasting artistic merit.
Fiction is imagined events and people.


Great literary stories that last for generations have hard-to-achieve imagined and created elements for characterization and plot development that will shape the thoughts, memory, and even actions of readers.


1) Character-based story. In essence, literature stories are about people. Great stories have characters who do more than just react to plot events. Instead, character’s souls and personalities, sometimes innocence or refusal to learn and believe, cause plot reactions. Here’s a simple example—Little Red Riding Hood.

Plot based. Red leaves her home to visit grandma. On the path through the woods a wolf discovers her destination. He runs ahead and when Red arrives, he devours her.

Character-based. Red is determined to go to grandma’s house through the woods. Her mother is apprehensive and tells her not to dally, not to talk to strangers, and to run away from danger. Red puts her sore feet in a stream on the way and stops to pick bluebells. She meets a wolf and tells him of her excitement at visiting grandma. She thinks the wolf is her friend. The wolf leaves to be at grandma’s when she arrives, pretends to be grandma, and devours Red.

In the second scenario, Red’s disobeys her mother, fails to run from danger, and her innocence about danger and her lack of fear for the dangers in the world cause her death. A character-based lot.

Fictional characters who drive plots? Madame Bovary. Captain Ahab. Hester Prynne. Anna Karenina. Flem Snopes.

2) Character enlightenment. Fatalistic plot points and marionette-character development are avoided. Does the character’s understanding about the world or human nature shift, does a character’s perception of the world and other living things change; is there a change in morality, etc.

Coming of age does not guarantee significance if the character stumbles through life’s transitions into adulthood. Something must happen that corresponds to the author’s purpose in writing the literary story. Essentially, the character often leaves a shallow, hollow shell and moves into a thoughtful, rich existence brimming with thought and feeling.  It doesn’t have to be hurricane strength though; in fact subtlety can almost always heighten the effect of the character change on the reader. Great characters may also be presented with the opportunity to change but refuse, either willingly or unwillingly. But the failure to change must be due to the character’s nature and can’t be accidental.

3) Significant change of character. Being alive, time changes us all second by second. But for literature a change in character is best if profound as writer can make it without sentimentality or loss of credibility (that the character could be real). Events in the story are related to some character trait that often precipitates action that would not have occurred without recognition of “who I am and what I’ve done and whom I will become.”

Significance is often morally related, but also can be self-recognition of prejudice, injustice, intolerance, frustration, etc.

Harry Potter has far different effect on readers than Holden Caulfield, and one might surmise that Caulfield is a product of who he is, and Harry Potter is a character reacting to plot circumstances. Some readers enjoy connecting with a character’s heart-felt constitution and a feeling soul acting in an environment that could be real. Something for serious literary-fiction authors to think about in their creations.

Thanks for reading!

The Amish Girl

“The Amish Girl.” A short story William H. Coles. The protagonist changes learning about humanity and love. You can read or download for free the story online here:

Illustration by Dilleen Marsh

To be … and when not to be … in developing literary style. Article About Writing Better

Monday, July 17th, 2017
William H. Coles

The delight of a reader of literary fiction is often affected by a writer’s use of “to be” as an auxiliary verb. Authors need skill in recognizing what is best for their stories and the readers they want to engage. Intuition alone–without desire, hard-work experience, and talent–is rarely effective.

ACTIVE/PASSIVE voices (transitive verbs)
In active voice, action focuses on the doer of the action, while the passive voice focuses on the action itself.

Active voice requires two (or more) participants: the subject of the sentence doing the action, and a recipient of the action. Jake (subject) threw the ball (object of the action).

In passive voice, the object (recipient) of the action becomes the subject of the sentence. From above example: The ball (object of the action) was thrown by Jake (subject).The actor may not be stated but implied. Kennedy was shot (by Oswald). Active voice: Oswald shot Kennedy.

Active. A great flood formed the river. Flood (actor) the doer-subject, the river the recipient of the action.
Passive. The river was formed (by a great flood). River (subject) recipient of action. Flood, the doer.

Active: The committee approved the new policy.
Passive: The policy was approved by the committee.

Progressive tense shows an action still in progress and is formed with “to be” and the present participle. Example: The bus went fast. The bus was going fast [action in progress].

1) From classic literature.

The day was going fast now. Only the tops of the Gabilan mountains flamed with the light of the sun that had gone from the valley. A water snake slipped along on the pool, its head held up like a little periscope. The reeds jerked slightly in the current. Far off toward the highway a man shouted something, and another man shouted back. The sycamore limbs rustled under a little wind that died immediately. [Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men.]

2) Rewritten in passive voice (not by Steinbeck).

The day was going fast now. The tops of the mountains were flaming with sunlight that was leaving the valley. A water snake was slipping along on the pool, its head was up like a little periscope. The reeds were jerking slightly in the current. Far off toward the highway a man was shouting something, another man shouted back. The sycamore limbs were rustled under a little wind that died immediately.

GUIDANCE: The above example passages of active/passive have a different tone and quality of image transfer, brevity, and clarity. When you can say something in the active voice, don’t use passive voice. Active voice is direct, straight and easily understood. There are, however, times when the passive voice, not the active, is used: 1) when the doer of the action is not known (My bracelet was stolen.), 2) when the doer of the action in known by all (Orange juice is sold here.), 3) or where action is more important than the doer (Healthcare is an inherent right for children.), 4) and others.

There is no right or wrong in creating fiction, only success or lack thereof in engaging the desired reader.

The use of forms of “to be” in fiction changes style of presentation: action, emphasis, clarity, writer’s thinking process, pacing, word count, and often significance.

Being aware of your passive/active writing can transform you, the writer, in life from an admiring fan sitting in an audience to a performer pleasing fans with great writing and storytelling.

Speaking Of The Dead by William H. Coles
From the award-winning short story "Speaking of the Dead" by William H. Coles available free with one click here:

Illustration by Betty Harper


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