So, you want to write a story.
Okay, that’s awesome! You’ll find a lot of support on Steemit for fiction, and a lot of fellow authors. Large communities have formed as writers lend a hand to other writers. And there are some nice upvotes lurking around for a place to land.
There’s also a lot of debate about what makes “good” fiction. My criteria is simple: well-edited, mechanically sound writing that makes me forget I’m just reading words. Producing this kind of quality doesn’t just happen because someone has a plot and several characters burning away in their minds. One has to understand the power of language and its effect on people before imagination comes to life on the page.
What can possibly go wrong?
At The Writers’ Block we see the same rookie mistakes over and over again, ad infinitum. Why? Because it’s human nature to write down words the way we think them, and to explain details of a story like they’re happening on a movie screen inside our heads. There’s also a tendency to emulate the style of writers we like, without taking time to study the craft and understand why they do what they do with phrasing and construct—or how they get away with taking risks that we get called to the mat for in critique.
Here’s the truth, whether we struggle with it or not. “Rules” for writing fiction exist because generations of writers have tried things some other way, and failed miserably. For all the bestselling authors whose names become familiar to everyone, there are literally hundreds of thousands of writers with finished manuscripts who were never able to hold a reader/agent/publisher’s attention past the first few lines. Those who kept trying finally stumbled upon some formulas that work, and over time, those formulas became organized into the odd jargon you hear in advanced writing circles, like “hook,” and “info dump,” and “Deep POV.”
If you want to write a story, the best thing you can do to ensure you’ll have an audience is to plunge your reader right smack into the middle of a scene. If you waste your first 100 words telling us that your character has brown hair and comes from a long lineage of Orcs who fought the Klingons for control of the territory way back in the winter of 2049. . .well, guess what? Your reader may trade in your story for the Encyclopedia Britannica, because factoids about wars nobody cares about fill them cover to cover, so there really isn’t much difference.
The other mistake most rookie writers make is not understanding which character owns the scene, or why it matters. There is a narrative voice called “omniscient” that tells a tale like Grandpa BillyBob sitting out by hog shed cracking chinquapins with his teeth. This “point of view” can tell the reader what each character is thinking, what they did last year and with whom, and exactly what they’re going to do ten years from now. This type of narration can tell you about the cancer eating away Joe’s gall bladder even though neither he nor his doctors know about it, the color of dress Patty Sue will wear to her own funeral even though cotton to make the fabric hasn’t been grown yet, and the price of Bitcoin in every foreign exchange across the globe. Authors skilled in the use of omniscient point of view know exactly which character owns the scene—the narrator. They understand exactly how to guide the reader through each level of detail in just such a way that the reader never knows too much, or two little. And they know how to follow the thread of the story so their reader never gets lost in a maze of convoluted plot.
New writers see all of this happening on the page, so they jump right in with a narrator (usually an arrogant son of a bitch no reader will care about ever,) and shove their audience down a plot path that meets itself going in the opposite direction. They also tend to head-hop from one POV to the next with such lack of purpose that none of the characters in the story ever develop past a single dimension. This is one of the reasons I dislike omniscient point of view. It’s more than just a matter of taste. It has to do with the rarity in which it’s done well, and the predictable set of plotting, pacing, characterization, and execution issues that almost always accompanies it.
Deep point of view, on the other hand, eliminates most of those same issues, grounds your reader in the moment, and forges a connection between your reader and your characters. It’s cleaner and more stylized. My personal favorite method of delivering fiction is a mix of Deep POV and Limited Third-Person POV. However, I enjoy first-person narration as well, especially for more literary types of stories.
Who reads the instructions, anyway?
If these terms and methods are unfamiliar to you, then it might be a good idea to study the craft of fiction a bit before you churn out that story you’re dying to write. There’s no shame in learning how a table saw works before you turn it on, right? Likewise, there’s no shame in acknowledging that building a story has some logic steps and safety measures as well.
A good place to start is our Writers’ Block website. We’ve amassed a collection of articles written by editors and authors that cover many aspects of the writing craft. J.A. Konrath tells us how not to start a story, Kristen Kieffer shares some insight about Deep POV, and K.M. Weiland “shows” us how we shouldn’t “tell.” These articles are just a few of the many great resources we have to offer Steemit writers. Come by the Writers’ Block on Discord and we’ll show you more! Click the gif for a link to find us.