At a recent writers’ group meeting, we discussed how to write fiction that readers love and remember.
The discussion started when one author said: “Last week I caught up on my reading. I read four (genre) novels. After I finished them, I struggled to remember the characters. And the plots.”
(I won’t mention which genre she read, because in this instance it doesn’t matter. We’ve all read novels in many different genres we’ve enjoyed, but forgot quickly.)
Write fiction your readers love
When we write fiction, we’re writing entertainment. It’s escapism, to take readers into an imaginary world for a few hours. Isn’t that enough?
Yes, it is. BUT… Don’t we also want to write truly satisfying fiction? When we read fiction, we live a character’s life vicariously, until we realize: it’s just a book.
So, how do we draw readers deeply into the story, so that our novel seems believable and real? It helps to look at emotions and conveying them to our readers.
Here are three useful tips from our groups’ discussion.
1. Avoid labelling an emotion: show, rather than tell
Authors are advised to show as much as they can for good reason. Telling isn’t effective in conveying emotion. When we write fiction with labels for emotional states, readers can’t engage with our characters.
What does: “he was angry” mean?
It could mean anything. The character might be sulking. He could be in an icy rage, or berserk: a red veil’s descended behind his eyelids—he’s no longer in control.
When you’re writing the first draft of a novel, highlight where you’ve used labels for emotional states. In revision, delete the label, and show.
You might show the angry character driving to his ex-wife’s house, then using a sledgehammer to destroy her car. Or you might show your angry character crushing a soda can in her fist. If she’s female, she might throw a dinner plate against the wall.
Look on every instance of labelling as an opportunity to SHOW.
2. Clichés are death to believability: eliminate them (clichés are labelling in disguise)
Ah, clichés. If you write fiction, take moment to review your Work In Progress (WIP.) Count the clichés in each chapter.
No clichés? You’re amazing: you know that clichés are death to believability. The character’s own clichés, that is: if a character uses clichés in dialogue, that’s fine.
In your first draft, avoid stopping to revise each and every cliché. Your goal is to write. (Mark each cliché with a highlight, or underline it. Then deal with it in revision.)
Consider this cliché: she was green with envy.
In revision, you might expand on that. An example.
How about that? A new car in Lucy and Jay’s driveway. Lucy’s, she learned. A Beamer. How could Lucy afford a Beamer on her salary?
Next day, Eva stopped in at the local Lexus dealership after work.
3. Feel the emotions: write fiction you can feel
You write thrillers. Even though you’ve never committed murder, you can write a believable serial killer. Readers love your work and buy your novels.
How do you do write about situations you’ve never experienced?
Authors don’t need to experience every situation about which they write. If you’re childless, you can put yourself into the emotional state of a wife who has six children under ten. We’re human. We have human emotions.
That said, it takes thought to put yourself into the shoes (aha, cliché) of someone who’s completely unlike you.
Think about a character’s emotions in a scene, then extrapolate from your own (different) experiences: when did you feel his emotion? Feel it now.)
We’ve all felt happiness, sadness, humiliation, pride… So, when you write a scene, think about what a character is thinking and feeling in the scene.
Let’s say a character feels humiliated when he’s publicly fired at work.
Although you’ve never been publicly fired, you’ve felt humiliated. Think about your emotions; give them to your character. Then overshadow your character’s sense impressions and thoughts with your/ his feelings.
In summary, to write fiction readers love, mine your emotions
Readers won’t feel an emotion the author doesn’t feel while writing.
Use your emotions when you’re writing fiction. Readers will enjoy your novels when you write fiction with true emotions.
Fiction is challenging. Are you missing a vital element?
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