Continuing Education 1: Basic Fiction Techniques: The Creative and The Practical
Cindy Woodsmall and Kathy Ide made a great tag team presenting practical and creative elements of fiction writing in their ACFW conference class Basic Fiction Techniques: The Creative and The Practical.
Starting strong is most important. A writer must know the backstory but share only what is needed to make readers bond with the characters. Begin with immediate conflict to hook readers and draw them into the story. Some openings to avoid:
- a dream
- description of a scene or character
- the character alone with her thoughts
- a situation where all is well and everyone is happy and at peace
The character arc continues in the story’s middle with characters changing as a result of what’s happening. This change and the story elements should follow a logical progression and escalate naturally. Writers build conflict in the story’s middle by:
- adding to the existing situation (a sub plot)
- adding something that affects the character—make them pay
- adding unexpected consequences, raising the stakes
Endings should be powerful, not anticlimactic, but believable. Strong writers avoid endings in which:
- everyone, or no one, is happy
- nothing, or no one, changes
- the bad guy wins and evil triumphs
- surprise endings readers couldn’t have predicted (weave in clues throughout your story)
- anything that goes against a Christian worldview
- a coincidence or miracle that solves everything—“Fiction should make sense.”
Dialogue moves the story forward. Every line of dialogue should do at least one of the following:
- establish tone or mood
- • reveal something about your character
- • disclose motivation
- • advance the plot
The more tasks your dialogue accomplishes the more powerful it is. With strong dialogue, a writer can make characters vulnerable and flawed, which makes them likeable. Even the villain should have a tiny spark of good that leads readers to feel conflicted about him. Dialogue should show the character wanting something readers can identify with because they want the same things.
To strengthen dialogue, make every word count. Eliminate small talk. Complete thoughts, minimize interruptions, and address questions. Avoid using dialogue for information dumps; instead, fill in only needed information in small increments, adding tidbits as they become integral to the story.
Dialogue should be interspersed with narrative that may include:
- POV character’s thoughts
- the POV’s observations of his surroundings and other people
- other characters speaking
Tips for checking dialogue:
- read it out loud
- have someone else read it to you to see how they interprete your words
- choose one character and read all his lines at one time to see if the voice stays consistent
- picture an actor playing your character—does the dialogue fit?
- use names sparingly
Every scene should advance the plot and have a goal, motivation, and conflict. Writer’s can accomplish this by:
- adding unwanted confrontation
- introduce new solution that reader questions. Is it attainable?
- give character some fun but foreshadow an upcoming obstacle
- have an old fear about to become a present reality
- add a life crisis
Characters and POV
Each scene should be told from one POV. Head-hopping is moving from one POV to another without a scene break, confusing readers, and slowing down the story. Use POV to create tension and conflict by having your character say one thing and feel or think another. To change POV, create a scene break and introduce a new POV by mentioning your character’s name first, then stay there until the end of that scene. To decide which POV to use, choose the character who has the most to lose in the scene. Cindy and Kathy agree the best writing is a combination of planning and pantsing. Write from your heart, polish with professionals, and remember for Whom you write.
Couple in conflict image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Finish line image courtesy of Toa55/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net