Writing Fiction

Why Now Is The Best Time In History To Be A Fiction Writer

This is the information age, and the writer's stock-in-trade is information. In the history of the world there has never been a better time to be a fiction writer than right now. Another reason this is the best time in history to be a fiction writer is that more creative help is available than ever before. More than 600 colleges and universities in the United States offer creative writing classes. Private writers' self-help groups abound. Bookstores are packed with how-to-write books. Writers' conferences, seminars, and workshops are held in every part of the country. We are living in an age of global economy, and opportunities for foreign sales abound. It's common for an American fiction writer now to make more money selling to, say, Great Britain, Europe, and Japan than in the United States. There has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a fiction writer. But people don't become fiction writers just because the window of opportunity is wide...

Omniscient And Modified Omniscient Viewpoints

Ninety-nine percent of the novelists who used the pure omniscient viewpoint have passed into total obscurity their work is now unreadable. Of the few whose talent was strong enough to permit such indulgences, nearly all have their work edited or abridged in modern editions to eliminate the worst of these stylistic ineptitudes. A modern category fiction writer must never permit himself the pure omniscient viewpoint, must never obstruct the plot with asides to the reader or with small sermons. First of all, such asides often give away events or at least the outline of events to come, thereby destroying the reader's suspension of disbelief. (If he knows the story is carefully planned out, he cannot kid himself that all of this is unfolding before his eyes.) Second, such pauses in the narrative flow tend to tell the reader what he should be shown through dramatic action.

Why This Book May Not Be For

There are a scores of books for the beginning fiction writer on the bookstore shelf, most of them helpful. h few of them, such as Lajos Egri's The Art ofDramatic Writing (1946), Jack M. Bickman's Writing Novels That Sell (1989), Raymond C. Knott's The Craft of Fiction (1977), Jean Z. Owen's Professional Fiction Writing (1974), and William Foster-Harris's mighty little masterpiece, The Basic Formulas of Fiction (1944), are extraordinary. The point is, there are some damn good books that cover the fundamentals of fiction writing and explain things like how to create dynamic characters, the nature and purpose of conflict, how characters develop, finding a premise and how it's used, how conflicts rise to a climax and resolution, point of view, the use of sen This book was written with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basics and hungers to know more. This book covers advanced techniques such as how to make your characters not just dynamic but memorable, how to...

Sorting Out The Babble Of Terms

There's a great deal of confusion among fiction writers as to how a premise differs from a moral, or a theme. Fiction writers are artists, not moralists. A damn good novel does not have a moral in the sense that an army training film, a Bible story, a fable, or a fairy tale does. If you wrote a story, however, where love fails to save an alcoholic, you could say the novel has a moral Never love a drunk. And most detective novels probably have the moral Crime doesn't pay. But that doesn't mean that the author's purpose in writing a detective novel is to preach a sermon about the evils of the act of murder, nor that people read detective novels for moral edification.

The Plan Of This Book

In the next section of the book we will talk about the four main aspects of fiction writing character, background, conflict and plot. Four short stories of mine will serve as models to illustrate the points we discuss. There are myriads of better and more popular stories to use as examples, of course. I use four of my own because I know exactly how and why they came to be written, what problems they presented to the writer, when they were published, where they met my expectations, and where they failed. Next will come a section specifically about writing novels. We will discuss the different demands that novels make on the writer and how successful novelists have met these challenges. We will deal with the things you need to do before you write a novel, and then the actual writing task. The next chapter, on marketing, will discuss how to go about selling your work, both novels and short fiction.

Science fiction stories are those in which some aspect of future science or high technology is so integral to the story

From here on, when I say science fiction, I mean stories that meet the definition given above. Other areas of the field I will call SF. The term sci-fi, which most science fiction writers loathe, I will reserve for those motion pictures that claim to be science fiction but are actually based on comic strips. Or worse.

Making Background Work

Do not try to explain how the machinery works just show what it does. Fifty years ago, science fiction writers went into painstaking detail to show the reader that gyroscopes really could be used to maneuver a spacecraft on its way to the moon. Today such explanations are laughable, even though they're technically quite correct, because spacecraft do not use gyroscopes for altitude control gas jets are lighter, smaller and more reliable. 5. (This pointer is actually a corollary to the fourth.) It is important to learn the basics of science. The task is not difficult in fact, it can be very exciting. Most science fiction writers are interested in science to some degree, although a good many of them are turned off by school classes in physics, chemistry or math. Even though science fiction writers can bend the rules if they want to, it is best to think long and hard about it beforehand. The background of a science fiction story is so important that it often shapes the path that the...

Life Changes Writing Writing Changes Life

Writing fiction is a fire that burns inside of you, and burns you from the inside out. It sears away the lies you tell yourself, it sears away the masks you hide behind, and in the end it refines you the way fire refines gold. What you put into your writing you get back a hundred-fold. Your characters teach you how to live, how to love, sometimes how to say goodbye.

Scientific Problem Story

Unfortunately, the problem story leaves room for little more than adequate characterization, and the plot is severely constricted by the necessity to solve the main, center-stage problem which usually concerns, not people, but a scientific phenomenon. Many well-known science fiction writers began with problem stories, but Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity, Star Light) is the only writer to have made a solid career from them.

Chapter Ten Practicalities Questions and Answers

I want to be recognized as an artist, not just as a storyteller. When the category fiction writer must adhere to plot formulas, how can he create real art Plot is not the only element which makes fiction great. Characterization, motivational developments, theme, mood, background, and style are equally important in the creation of prose art. Fortunately, the basic genre plot skeleton is flexible enough to allow you artistic breathing room, while at the same time relieving you of doubts about the strength of your storyline if you know it follows an accepted formula, you can cease worrying about it and spend more time on your other story elements. Actually, you have a greater opportunity to create genuine art than the mainstream writer. 4. Should I begin writing short stories or novels A short story requires less commitment in terms of a writer's time and energy than does a novel and is the best literary form in which to practice writing fiction. However, there are two good reasons why a...

To Dream Is Not To Sleep

If you run a janitorial business, say, you've got to know that people like shiny floors and sparkling porcelain. If you're a divorce lawyer, you've got to know your client not only wants a big settlement and alimony, but also wants his or her ex to suffer. Fiction writing is a service business. Before you sit down to write a damn good novel, you ought to know what your readers want. A fiction writer isn't arguing anything, and what the fiction writer is relating is hardly fact. There's little knowledge, in the ordinary sense, to be gained. It's all made-up stuff, totally fraudulent, Bernard DeVoto in The World of Fiction (1956) says people read for pleasure professional and semi-professional people aside, no one ever reads fiction for aught else. And it's true, people do read for pleasure, but there's far more to it than that. As a fiction writer, you're expected to transport a reader. Readers are said to be transported when, while they are reading, they feel that they are actually...

Rose By Any Other Name Is Not A Banana

Premise is the fiction writer's chisel. It's the simple tool that helps shape your fictional material and create a colossal monu-ment a damn good novel. There is no more powerful concept in fiction writing than that of premise. If you structure your stories with a strong premise in mind, your novel will be well focused and dramatically powerful, and it will hold your readers from beginning to end. Once a fiction writer is able to articulate the premise, he or she can use it as a test for each complication, asking, Is this really necessary to proving the premise When the story is finished, the writer can then ask, Is the premise proved by the actions of the story

Creating A Masterpiece

What kind of a vision could a fiction writer have Any fiction writer might have a vision of himself or herself as a moral philosopher or a social critic. Or a Utopian. Or a satirist. Or a prophet. A science fiction writer might envision himself or herself as a herald of the future, a seer showing the reader the implications of When you're writing fiction, you have the possibility of doing good in the world, of making a difference, of changing people's lives. To do so, you must reach deep inside yourself and tap the root of your passions that is where you'll find your power. Once you find it, you've opened the gateway to the possibility of writing a damn good novel, perhaps even a masterpiece, a novel that will profoundly affect readers well into the next century and even beyond.

Approaching Your EditorToBe

Romances, or non-fiction, she means what she says. No matter how brilliant your book might be, if you send it to an editor who doesn't work with, want, or even like that sort of book, you might as well brand I AM AN IDIOT on your forehead. In this instance, I will use an experience of my own as an example. When I was teaching for Writer's Digest, my students were carefully matched to my interests and areas of expertise. But one student, who in his bio described himself as a future science fiction writer, decided, once we were ready to get to work on his book, that he wanted to write a literary novel of life in academia, and sent along the first chapter, and told me he figured this would be a good learning experience for both of us. Wrong. I have read such books. I uniformly loathe them. I would sooner go back to the day job than be forced to wade my way through endless hundred-word passive-voice sentences and passive scenes of flat characters indulging in self-pity and...


Sympathy is often given little more than a passing nod by the authors of how-to-write-fiction books. Gaining the reader's sympathy for your characters is crucial to inducing the fictive dream, and if you don't effectively induce the fictive dream, you haven't written a damn good novel.


This author held to the author is sovereign view of fiction writing. She was an ego-writer, of the reader-be-damned school of fiction. In the fifteen years since this incident occurred I've encountered hundreds of adherents to the reader-be-damned school. Well, yeah, of course they are. But the ones who succeed are writing for readers. Let's call them reader-writers, to distinguish them from ego-writers. To be a fiction writer, you have to, as Trol-lope said, lay your own identity aside.

Three Reasons

In today's commercial fiction market, SF is one of the few areas open to new writers, whether they are writing short stories or novels. Mysteries, gothics, romances, and other categories of commercial fiction are much more limited and specialized, especially for the short-story writer, but SF is as wide open as the infinite heavens. SF magazines actively seek new writers, and SF books consistently account for roughly 10 percent of the fiction books published each year in the United States. The SF community is quick to recognize new talent. Very often it is the idea content of good science fiction that attracts new writers to this exciting yet demanding field. (And please note that new writers are not necessarily youngsters many men and women turn to writing fiction after establishing successful careers in other fields.) Science fiction's sense of wonder attracts new writers. And why not Look at the playground they have for themselves There's the entire universe of stars and galaxies,...

Bring home flowers

Personally, (and I know this sounds about as sexy as unwrapping a mummy), non-fiction books about archeology, anthropology, and ancient cultures and civilizations really float my boat. I get goosebumps just looking at them in bookstores - tomes with titles like Renaissance Diplomacy, Ancient Inventions, The Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins, Life in a Medieval Village I renew my romance with the writer in me by reading them, and throwing myself into those long-lost times and places, touching those foreign soils, hearing those forgotten tongues. And when I can feel them in my marrow and in my breath, I find that I'm usually full of excitement about writing again.

Altered Past Story

The new science fiction writer should be warned that the research required to write such a period science fiction novel is intense indeed. Before you can project how things would have developed since the historical event was rewritten, you must know how things really were back then, what forces would have filled the vacuum, what philosophy would have replaced the dead ones, what persons would have replaced the assassinated greats.

Dont Warm Up Your Engines

But, amazingly, fiction writers still do the same kind of unnecessary and wasteful thing in starting their stories. Does this mean you are doomed to spend your writing career looking for new and dire physical threats I don't think so, although some fine writers have thrived by writing fiction dealing with literal, physical threat and danger. But you don't have to write about physical catastrophe to have fascinating threat in your stories. 12 mm. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

Dont Forget Whose Story It Is

I'm sure you realize why fiction is told from a viewpoint, a character inside the story. It's because each of us lives our real life from a single viewpoint - our own - and none other, ever. The fiction writer wants her story to be as convincing and lifelike as possible. So she sets things up so that readers will experience the story just like they experience real life from one viewpoint inside the action.

Dont Use Real People in Your Story

I can almost hear your silent protest But I want to write realistic fiction. Good. So do I. Yet, to convey an illusion of realism, you as a good fiction writer can never transcribe real people you must build your characters, taking aspects of real people and exaggerating some angles while suppressing others, adding a bit of Charlie's choleric nature to Archibald's pathos, tossing in some of Andrew's brittle way of talking, salting with your own list of tags that you made up from your imagination, sticking on the motives, plans, hopes and fears that you made up as the author for this character because they're what you as the author need to have in this particular story.

Dont Mangle Characters Speech

There was a time, not so long ago, when fiction writers strove for authenticity in some of their stories by attempting to imitate regional and ethnic dialects and pronunciations by purposely misspelling words in their dialogue. Today such practices have fallen into disfavor. For one thing, it takes a very high degree of skill to depart from standard English in dialogue without unnecessarily distracting the reader. For another, styles simply change, and stories using such devices today often seem quaint and old-fashioned. In addition the sensibilities of minorities are keener today, and they tend to view such mangling of characters' speech as offensive.

Opening Dramatic And Summary Methods

I had never heard about these methods until I read Leon Surmelian's book, Techniques of Fiction Writing. I am forever in his debt and you, too, will soon be. Surmelian wrote about these methods as applied to fiction, but I've since found that they may be the missing link that binds fiction to nonfiction, the link that makes some nonfiction more creative than some other nonfiction and thus increases the potential of journalistic nonfiction to aspire to art. One writer might tell a story largely by scenes, while another might approach the same event using the summary method. The latter might have an occasional scene, but summary predominates. The former almost certainly has some summary material between scenes, but the method remains predominately dramatic. Most creative nonfiction writers today blend the two methods, but with more scenes than the traditional journalist. As we'll see in a later chapter, this business of writing scene by scene is one of the many techniques borrowed by...

Dont Ignore Professional Advice

First, a great number of fine fiction writers have no idea - or say they have no idea-of how they get the job done. Personally I believe that some may actually work by unconscious imitation, trial and error, and a genius-imagination, and truly not have any clear idea of how they are writing good stories. Unfortunately-again personal opinion -I think a far greater number of professional writers who profess to be mystified by the creative process are putting on an act for the public. It makes me look more mysterious and wonderful if I act like it's all inspiration , they seem to be thinking. Or, If people realized that I'm practicing a craft, they would think less of me. 92 mmm The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

Ethical Considerations

Traditional journalists have fewer difficulties with ethics because they adhere as closely as possible to the facts. The creative nonfiction writer, however, may run into problems because the craft uses techniques borrowed from the fiction writer, making it almost inherently suspect. Skeptics abound in this world, and especially in the world of journalism. This skepticism puts an additional burden on the writer of creative nonfiction, or, as Norman Mailer has called it, the writer of applied creative writing.

The Unconscious Writer

Owen tells about her days as an instinctual writer in Professional Fiction Writing (1974). She says that when she was an aspiring writer, she would, like most aspiring writers, listen respectfully whenever anyone discussed characterization or dialogue or viewpoint, and was likely to genuflect mentally at the mere mention of plotting, but when it came to premise (which she calls theme ), she brushed aside the subject as being inconsequential.

Dont Write About Wimps

Fiction writers too often forget that interesting characters are almost always characters who are active-risk-takers - highly motivated toward a goal. Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writer chose to write about the wrong kind of person -a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp.

The Fine Art Of Flashbacking

The flashback is the most misused and overworked device in fiction writing. In Professional Fiction Writing, Jean Z. Owen claims that some editors state outright that they will buy only those stories told in chronological order, with no regression into the past, while others, she says, do not list the flashback as an actual taboo . . . most of them agree this literary device should be used only when absolutely necessary.

Writing from Borrowed Experience

You have probably heard the advice that you should write what you know and as I've suggested, you certainly should write from your own experience. The things you have seen, tasted, heard, touched, and smelled with your own senses are most often more easily conveyed than sensual experiences strange to you. For example, you may describe the sensation of kayaking level 3 rapids on the Green River while you would be at a loss to write about being a bicycle courier in New York City. But we are possessed of imagination as well as sensual perception. The beauty of writing fiction, as well as creative nonfiction, is that we can imagine ourselves into lives we've never known by understanding our own experience. A good fiction writer creates convincingly by writing with integrity. When you channel your understanding of kayaking rapids to imagine biking in New York traffic, you are writing with integrity about something you don't know. You convince the reader of the fiction's integrity because...

Dia Logs Mono Logs and Other Logs Dialogs CapturEd CoNvErsatioNs

Teachers of fiction writing usually tell new students that they can characterize best by showing a character in different situations and letting us note how he or she behaves and what he or she says. One fundamental reason for this is that readers begin to suspect a writer who keeps tugging at our elbow and telling us, in effect, how to think about a character. This is bad enough in fiction writing it's even more questionable in nonfiction. Fiction writers have a certain responsibility to tell readers how they should think about a character so they can draw some moral point nonfiction writers are not in business to instruct readers in moral behavior. Nonfiction writers have a responsibility to limit themselves to showing readers how things look to them in the world, leaving the reader to interpret what it all means. Therefore, for the nonfiction writer, reporting as accurately as possible what people say is one of the best ways to establish character we tend to...

Dont Worry What Mother Will Think

In the last chapter we pointed out how unhealthy frightened self-criticism can be for the fiction writer. Closely related to this kind of worried hang-up is concern about what other people might think of the writer once her story is published. Of course you want to be bound by the dictates of good sense and good taste. But these are a far cry from groundless worries about a stern and unforgiving moral arbiter. One of the great joys of writing fiction is that you are free. You must believe this and act like it. You must never, ever allow yourself to get hung up on fears of what some family member or friend might think on a personal level.

Dont Show Off When You Write

Good fiction writers never show off dump in abstruse knowledge for its own sake, or purposely use big words when simpler ones would do. They constantly seek ways to work in necessary background information in as unobtrusive a way as possible, and they remember that readers get irritated quickly if a writer's style sends them to the dictionary once or twice every paragraph.

Dont Lecture Your Reader

It's probably pretty obvious to you that this kind of lecture doesn't fit very well into contemporary fiction. There was a time, in the earliest days of the novel, and before the modern short story had begun to assume its present form, when a fiction writer could address You, dear reader , and speak author-to-reader like a stage lecturer might speak to an audience. But fiction has become much more sophisticated since those long gone days, and readers now won't stand for lectures by the author.

Dont Hide From Your Feelings

It may be that you are one of the lucky ones, in touch with your feelings in all their ranges, and capable of expressing such emotions in a healthy way at least part of the time. Even if you are one of these, however, I suspect that when it comes to your fiction writing, you may have an impulse to cool it somewhat in dread of looking odd to your reader, or dumb , or too sentimental.

Dont Fail to Make the Viewpoint Clear

Learning to handle viewpoint well is a crucial step for any fiction writer. It can be troublesome at first, but later it becomes second nature. That's good, because learning it is a necessity. For without good handling of viewpoint, your readers may forget whose story it is - and you might, too

Dont Describe Sunsets

Only in such a special situation can you devote great space to description, no matter how poetic it may seem to you. One of the standing jokes among writers and publishers is about the amateur writer who devotes precious space to describing a sunrise or sunset. All you have to do, in some publishing circles, is mention something like the rosy fingers of dawn and you get smiles all around. Such descriptions usually are a hallmark of poor fiction writing. In this way, you can become more conscious of your tendencies as a fiction writer, and begin to see which tendencies help you, and which tend to hold you back from selling. You can learn better to call your shots in terms of pacing your yarn, selecting the delivery system that's needed for the desired effect, and keeping the yarn moving.

Dont Criticize Yourself to Death

Such fears are as much a part of writing fiction as headaches, wads of crumpled paper on the floor, and rejection slips. When you write fiction, whether you realize it or not (and at some level you probably do), you are risking revelation of your dreams and deepest emotions. It's frightening to reveal yourself this way, even indirectly. Further, the act of writing is tied very close to a person's ego structure I have seen students shaky with worry when I was about to read one of their routine classroom essays, or even a brief paragraph of factual material. Criticize my work, criticize my personal essence the feeling seems to be. The most humdrum piece of writing somehow represents the writer's worth as a person sometimes. Small wonder, then, that the writer of a story or even (horrors ) a novel often gets worried sick-literally-about whether the reader may think it's dumb. Because if it's dumb, the writer is dumb. And if the writer is dumb, he is also, ipso facto, worthless, an object...

What To Do When The Job Is Done

Brief synopsis of the book, a sample chapter, and a cover letter telling them about yourself, your educational background, any previous publications (including nonfiction), and the training you've had in writing fiction including workshops you've attended and classes you've taken. Send all that along with an SASE, a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

The Qualities Of Voice

Every writer has an individual voice, a natural and personal mode of expressing ideas. When you first take on the challenge of writing fiction, you may sound tentative, unsure, and ordinary. As you keep writing and your skills and confidence grow, your narrative voice will develop too, becoming stronger, fresher, and more original.

Moving along the track thinking in scenes

A plot summary tells what happened in a story. You are not writing a plot summary. You're writing fiction, and fiction occurs in scenes. For that reason, it's helpful to think about structuring the middle of your book in terms of scenes, not events. An event may take more than one scene, may take one scene exactly, half a scene, or no scenes at all. These are decisions you can make before you begin the middle of your story. Start by listing the events.

Science Fiction Speculative Fiction

In 1947 the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein published an essay in which he coined the term speculative fiction. The term has recently begun to replace science fiction, and to more broadly include horror and fantasy narratives. Some might argue, however, that science fiction remains a different creature than its sister genres.

Ethical Implications Of Internal MonologS

A fiction writer very often creates a character by combining facial features from someone the writer knows, a limp from another, and a deep-cracked voice, totally out of his or her own imagination. Creating composite characters is not only acceptable and ethical behavior for the fiction writer, it's expected. However, when the journalist or creative nonfiction writer creates a composite character and puts that character forth as real, the writer violates the rules of ethical conduct for nonfiction writers. When a writer creates a composite scene made up of bits and pieces of actual scenes or settings, he or she also violates the ethics of the profession. Again, the fiction writer does this all the time to create a more interesting, more dramatic scene or setting and it's expected. Creative nonfiction writers sometimes do it with the same motivation but in their case, it's unethical. You have an unspoken, unwritten, implicit contract with your reader, a contract to tell the truth...

Dialogs MonologS And Other LogS

Whether you're writing fiction or creative nonfiction, the most effective technique for involving readers making them feel as though they are right there is well-written dialog. I've decided not to use the word dialog for this book because I don't want to mislead and have the reader think that I'm talking about created dialog when I discuss creative nonfiction. Captured conversation conversation overheard (or taken from a formal interview) while conducting research for an article or book is the term I use for creative nonfiction dialog.

Character Development

Traditional nonfiction, particularly journalistic nonfiction, never concerned itself with developing characters. Fiction writers worked at characterization nonfiction writers concentrated on events. Creative nonfiction writers say that because so many events occur as the result of human interactions, the event cannot be fully understood without also understanding something of the people (characters) surrounding it. The word character has been so long associated with fictional characters that I hesitated to use it in this nonfiction context, but I could find no suitable substitute. Please bear in mind that the characters talked about here are real people, and most of the time I'll be referring to their character that is, what makes them tick. When I write about character development, I'm talking about how the writer goes about revealing a person's character how the writer develops the revelation, not how the real person develops character over a lifetime. The creative nonfiction writer...

Dont Ever Stop Observing and Making Notes

Or suppose you meet a new person today, or happen to pass a stranger on the street. Instantly you form some impression of that person. Immediately you begin to draw conclusions about what kind of person he or she is. In real life, casually, you make perhaps dozens of observations in an instant then you draw conclusions from them. For a nonwriter, such a process is automatic and unexamined. But for you the fiction writer the process must be made conscious, then examined and related to your work. Many fiction writers put much of this kind of work in their journals. A journal can include many kinds of writing and information. But often this sort of thing dominates such a volume.

Dont Take It to the Club Meeting

Why should that be so Because problems in writing fiction-tactics, planning, plotting, characterization, structure and the like - all tie together in the finished product. For example, a harrowing scene simply cannot be written about a dull and unrealized character. Sparkling dialogue may be written, but it means nothing if it does not somehow advance the plot. Plot cannot be discussed without some discussion of building backstory, and probably hidden story as well. Everything relates to everything else. Style is a subject requiring a course by itself for its proper examination.

The Anecdote

In nonfiction pieces they should be true. But, as in much humor, anecdotes have a unique permission to be fictional. Even though her three children are now all adults, in print Erma Bombeck's beat is still the problems of child raising and that thankless turf between the kitchen sink and the washing machine. Housework, if you do it right, can kill you, she once wrote, but her children now call her a fiction writer.

Research Methods

Although I've set aside this section to discuss research in the creative nonfiction writing process, it's not too different from research done for any good nonfiction writing. Readers today expect creative non-fiction writers, journalists especially, to provide not only a complete and objective treatment they also expect some subjective treatment, which usually means treating the emotional content of the story. They want the complete picture, a picture that includes fully developed scenes, captured conversations, and even internal monologs (although they don't all agree on this technique). Through these, and other techniques discussed in earlier chapters, the creative non-fiction writer deliberately excites the reader emotionally as well as intellectually our minds use emotions to add meaning and clarity to straight, factual information. This, of course, sets the creative nonfiction writer aside from the journalist who believes, or is instructed, that emotions should not play a role...


While I've been suggesting that sci fi and fantasy characters work because they embody human struggles, science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer posits that sci fi characters, at least, are actually robots. Real people, says Sawyer, are quite accidental, the result of a random jumbling of genes and a chaotic life. But story people are made to order to do a specific job. In other words, robots Sawyer suggests that science fiction characters must be constructed according to their premises. While this suggestion may seem contradictory to earlier discussions in this guide, Sawyer highlights the particular importance of premise in science fiction.


As well as a new attention to self and surroundings, modern fiction writers aimed to position their story-worlds close to the common experience of living readers. This stylistic development is usually defined by the term realism. King also insists on 'sensory reality'. However strange, the world of the story must be made habitable, believable. If it were not, his peculiar horrors wouldn't be able to threaten or attack. In terms of technique, King, too, is a realist. Indeed it might be that all modern fiction requires a credible state of sensory reality, and that this is its difference from the world of religious allegory and seasonal myth whose authorship is often anonymous and whose main purpose doesn't require a world of credible illusions. This was a quality that myths and fables didn't even need to consider. Fiction in the modern world has to earn its right to credibility, and does so in a style that uses reality effects and constant researched reference to the actual. It has to...

Suspension of Belief

Science fiction's dystopias often operate as commentary on actual world situations. Heinlein once stated that speculative fiction writers take a current cultural or societal trend and follow it to its logical, if extreme, conclusion. Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale is a powerful dystopic novel that imagines a world where women have no autonomy over their own bodies. Octavia Butler's books, The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talen ts, imagine a world where many current social ills have taken on dramatic proportions. Thirty years in the future, inner cities have fallen into complete violence and chaos. Rape, murder, and other acts are common outside the walls of Lauren Oya

Other LogS

Since the Greek root word logos means such varied things ( word, saying, speech, discourse, thought ), I feel safe referring to the following as other kinds of logs journals, diaries, memoirs, court records, personal letters, official letters, telegrams, memoranda, messages, headlines, and news reports. These written records of people communicating with each other are useful in nonfiction articles and books. A fiction writer may invent such communications to lend verisimilitude, to make his or her story sound real. In nonfiction, the writer uses these sources to help communicate the fact that what he or she is writing is the truth, not fiction. These sources also add variety and can help the creative nonfiction writer reinforce a point he or she is making in the more straightforward summary parts. Because the writer frequently sets these special forms of communication in their original format, sometimes including photographic reproductions of handwritten diary entries, for example,...

Making A Scene

If you've been to a writer's conference or a creative writing class, or if you've read any books on fiction writing, you've already heard the major principle that older writers are always telling younger writers SHOW, DON'T TELL. As I hope I've shown (and maybe told, a little but this isn't fiction), it's an important Showing, in fiction, means creating scenes. You have to be able to cast your ideas in terms of something happening, people talking and doing, an event going on while the reader reads. If you're not writing scenes, you may be writing fine essays, or speeches, or sermons but you're not writing fiction.