Posts Tagged ‘writing for readers’

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

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
William H. Coles


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



The Three Pillars of Literary Fiction: Engagement, Entertainment, Enlightenment Editorial Opinion

Monday, March 12th, 2012
William H. Coles

The reasons contemporary writers often default to writing nonfiction as fiction include: not taught to write effective stories; encouragement to write about self; failure to perceive effective narration required in fiction; unwillingness to commit time to learning the art form of fiction; and overemphasis on writing to be a writer, rather than writing to create a lasting work of art that enlightens and delights readers in new and unexplored ways. Great literature moves people, engages readers’ memories, enlightens people to new thoughts, and stimulates new perceptions about the people and how humans live, survive, and flourish in a increasing crowded and convoluted world . . . or fail, and why.

Writers who cache the world around them in order to describe their lives and life experiences, rarely, if ever, come close to creating the effects on serious readers that well crafted fiction written by a talented, dedicated, world-wise, objective writer can achieve. Writers who use themselves as the source for "imaginative" narrative descriptions of people and the world succumb to a process of writing that often depends on hyperbolic prose and resorts to clichéd ideation. There is a sense that in the modern flurry of writing activity by increasingly more people, creation of great fiction is becoming rare, and published literature faces decreasing popularity due to continued flaunting of inferior writing and storytelling as fiction, and to the overinflated promotion of memoir and nonfiction.

How can the writer make the art form of literary fiction special? Of course solid control of craft and storytelling. But perfection needs accomplished skills of engagement, entertainment, and enlightenment as pillars of the achievement that is the great literary story.

Engagement in literary fiction is more than curiosity, or solving an unknown, or trying to predict how the plot will turn out. In great literary fiction, the reader is enmeshed in story and character. The process has never been described well, probably because it is too multifaceted. The process is highly individual for the reader, and for the work that engages the reader. For some, engagement occurs in the prose fictional story like the visual transfer into three dimensions in a carefully crafted diagrammatic picture that when viewed with both eyes focused beyond the picture surface, a fused 3D image emerges. It doesn’t come easily (1) and people with vision in only one eye can never experience the phenomenon, which is cortical and dependent on two visual inputs.

Effective reader engagement has been also has been described as a "fictional dream." Not entirely useful, since a dream implies loose ideation, failure of logic, and has overtones of fantasy. But this dream idea can be best applied when thinking of awaking from a dream, a sort of emersion from one consciousness to another. In reading, this emersion from engagement is disruptive to story progression and meaning, and usually not desired. To try to identify the "dream-breaking" phenomenon, compare a situation where a writer is intent and totally absorbed in writing a difficult passage, and an external noise, a voice . . . or a bang, or a bright flash, breaks the absolute attention required, and disrupts the productive and creativity of the writing. For the reader, loss of engagement is more than external disruption of reading, and is caused by grammar and spelling errors, credibility issues, narration miscues, pretension, plot irregularities, clichés, lack of logic, erroneous facts, character inconsistencies, authorial intrusion with extraneous ideas, and inability to suspend disbelief. All snafus, a few of many, that are instinctively avoided by educated writers with talent and dedicated to the learning of storytelling and craft skills. So, for a writer's success, there must be submersion of the reader in the story and solid connection to characters that is maintained with minimal interruption in reader attention from any cause–especially poor writing or poor storytelling.

Many teachers of creative writing deny, or ignore, the possibility of literature incorporating entertainment as part of its achievement.(2)   For some teachers, especially academics, it is as if entertainment would divert admiration for the author's intellectual accomplishments. Ignoring the many forms of entertainment (that provide amusement or pleasure) often results in obscure, strained, over bloated, pompous, pedantic writing challenging the writer to read on as if swimming through a tar pit or trying to lose weight on vacation in culinary France. For most writing, responsibility to entertain a reader is crucial so that a work will be read to the end, studied, read again, remembered, and thought of as significant. It should be accepted as true for literary fiction too. And, as a considered opinion, most contemporary "literature" has descended into boring, author self-centered, often pretentious, overwrought prose with weak ideation unrelated to story because the reader's response, and enjoyment, is rarely, if ever, considered by the "literary" author.

Many would argue: Literature is not vaudeville! But entertainment with character, plot, meaning and theme, eases the work of reading for many, providing amusement or pleasure from the reading experience. And the art form writing great literary fictional stories must be conquered. The writer must provide the reader with an effortless process so ideas and images can amuse and enlighten unhindered by writer ineptitude at writing and sloppy thinking. Prose must be understandable, and effortlessly, logical, and pleasing rhythmic. Reading should be seamless, without breaks. Ideas most flow and are delivered at maximally appropriate times for story tension and resolution. Images must be clear, and embody uniqueness in story and real world (no cliché). It is also story structure that entertains–a story with a beginning, middle, and end that has dramatic conflict and resolution. Entertainment is not achieved without engagement that brings enlightenment. So theme and meaning are essential for entertainment . . . for intellectual amusement and pleasure.

Enlightenment relates to changes in characters that stimulate new thinking in the reader; the reader will never be able to think exactly the same about the world or the human condition again in the same way as before reading. To achieve this, writers must develop clear theme and meaning without preaching. And in the end, great stories deal in some way with a metaphysical–unanswerable but important to think about–question. Who are we? Why are we here? What is justice? Is there a God? What is beauty?

The herds of writers producing what has become accepted as literary fiction produce more and more new writing. Unfortunately, the writing is story deficient and soulless, ignoring a readers’ hunger for meaningful fiction with engagement and enlightenment. Let’s hope, with a little good fortune, more teachers capable of articulating the complex needs to create fiction as an art form will emerge, and publishers will once again accept and promote great fiction, not allowing memoir and nonfiction to become the standard of literature for our generations.

(1) 3D image

(2) Robert Olen Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winner and professor,stated: “You know, I’m not sure that many people, in the pure sense, are entertained by many of the great works of literature. The entertainment value of literature is an aftereffect. To create a work of literature, if you have an entertainment intention, it will destroy the work of art.” Rebecca McClannahan, a talented and much admired teacher of creative writing, expressed surprise that literature might have an entertainment value. “You know, I’ve never thought of literature as entertainment. Maybe it is. Well of course it is, but I’ve never thought about that.”


Visit main site
  Story in
Literary Fiction
Learn the art of writing great literary fiction:
Newsletter published every other week
New: Graphic Novels

Graphic novels: Homunculus and Reddog
New Novel
McDowell by William H. Coles Read a free sample!
Available in print and
eBook at:
Barnes & Noble
and select bookstores!
Story in Literary Fiction Art Gallery