Writing Fiction By Example

Learn to write fiction by reading and analyzing excerpts from published novels.

Would completing an entire novel of 300 pages answer all writing questions?

All You Need To Do Is Write, Right?

Many writers say that to learn to write, all you need to do is write.  

Let's imagine that for a moment.  Julie drafts her 300 page novel and starts submitting it to agents and editors.  It is rejected by all fifteen publishing houses and agents she submits it to.  What then?

Unfortunately most editors and agents do not provide much feedback that will help.  How can Julie determine what is wrong with her novel?

Some writers might answer that no one can tell Julie what is wrong with it.  However, it seems odd if numerous people seem to indicate that it is not good that there are no criteria to base the criticism upon.

A Basic List of Things To Check

What things might Julie look at more closely to determine what is wrong with her novel?  

  1. Is the writing clear?
    1. Can the reader tell what is actually happening in the story?
    2. Can the reader easily tell who the main character is?
    3. Do sentences transition from one thought to the next clearly?
  2. Does the writing show the actions playing out before the reader's eyes?
    1. Yes, this is the show-don't-tell cliche, but it is true.  How do you solve this?  The author must see the scene playing out in her mind's eye before she ever attempts to transcribe it onto paper (screen).  Watch the scene play out and then write down what you see, just as a journalist who is reporting the real-life events.
  3. Is the protagonist likable?  Has the author chosen to follow a character who continually does things that the reader doesn't like? 
    1. Even books that follow a despicable main character provide something that the reader likes.   
    2. Take a fresh look at what the main character does and says and ask some friends if they think s/he is annoying
  4. Does anything happen in the story?  Do your characters just seem to sit around and think?  Is it difficult for a FTR (First-Timer Reader) to determine what the plot is?
    1. In a movie if the audience doesn't know who the main character is and what she wants in the first five minutes they become lost and restless and may leave.  As writers we probably get about 1 or 2 pages.  Be blunt.  Make sure the reader knows what your story is about.
    2. What is your story about?  It is about a character who must have something and the conflict that creates in his life and in the story.  Yes, every story is about that. 
  5. Voice - Are the sentences you're writing structured poorly.  Do you leave odd sounds in the reader's mind from your phrasing?  Is your writing just plain difficult to work through?  Do you vary sentence length or does your writing sound monotone?  
    1. Read your story out loud to yourself in a place where no one else can hear you.  You will instantly understand if there is a problem with your writer's voice.  Did you find some sentences which were difficult to enunciate? Change them.

Learn To Evaluate Your Own Writing

Completing your novel is of utmost importance because you cannot learn to write without getting a body of material behind you.  However, once you write you are going to have to learn how to evaluate your own writing so you can tell when and where it isn't as good as it shouldn't be and the places where it is really good.