There are as many recipes for great fiction out there as there are recipes for pancakes. You can rummage through hundreds of blogs and writers’ websites, read tons of books on writing and follow random advice, but since you’re not a mindless copycat, what works for others might not work for you. The best way is to go about it experimentally, figure out what works for your creative bone.
Beyond the various building blocks that are required to create a work of fiction (like characters, plot and setting), there’s also a handful of principles which you should always keep in mind. I love to call them the three pillars of fiction, a term I’ve dug out of William H. Coles’ wonderful website on literary fiction.
These pillars of fiction are (1) engagement, (2) entertainment and (3) enlightenment. Let’s see what they’re about.
Good fiction has the readers immersed into the storyworld up to their necks, it has them engaged in the action with every fiber of their being. Without the readers’ engagement, even the most artistic masterwork of pure skill will fall flat on its ass. Good fiction must get the readers invested in the characters, rooting for them, adoring them, or loving to hate them. The more commitment you can create, the more fascinated the readers will be and the more they’ll love your story. Involvement into the matters you explore must be the first prerogative of good fiction writing, because without intense preoccupation with your story’s core, no amount of sugarcoating and pretty pink pony kisses will work.
But first and foremost, it’s you who must be totally engrossed with your story and living it with every cell of your being. It’s the only way to make sure there’s passion in every page. If you love it and infuse it with spice and everything nice, you’re on the best way to get your readers engaged too. Passion and commitment on your side won’t guarantee, but will certainly get you closer to passion and commitment on the readers’ side. And will get you many juicy pony smooches. Pink ones. For real.
Good stories must entertain, but not akin to a circus throwing burning clowns at you that juggle tigers in tutus in mid air. You’re not writing for a bunch of retarded monkeys who are blind on one eye and deaf on the other. Unless, of course, you are writing for such a readership, in which case you’re better off selling back scratchers engraved with funny limmericks.
Your story must entertain the reader by means of wit and diversity, by delighting their senses and offering amusement with a pinch of existential truth. Throwing in some random action, gratuitous sex and canned laughter won’t win the readers over. Don’t go for cheap instant gratification. When readers buy your book, they aren’t looking for the same shit they find online for free. They deserve to have their minds tickled and their faculties employed in an interesting new way that only you can bring.
Books that teach us something about the world, life and everything—or even better, about outselves—are the ones that stick to us for a lifetime. Remember why you love the books you love, why you’d recommend them to others, and try to achieve the same effects in your writing. If your story creates awareness about an issue that’s close to your heart, if your characters demonstrate an understanding that you feel passionate about, your readers will feel that, and your story will stick. Aim to offer your readers even a little insight and enlightenment, and they will be very grateful.
I believe these three principles are necessary in any memorable piece of fiction, and even though one or the other advice-slinger out there might disagree about their hue or flavor, none would doubt their importance. What do you think? Would you add anything to them?
This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012