How to Write Fiction
by Nick Pollotta
Truthfully, nobody can really teach you how to write. These are only guidelines, suggestions and tricks of the trade to help a fledgling author over a few of the humps we have all battled. Godspeed, and good luck.
RULE #1 - WRITE!
All the time, everywhere. Make the time. Cancel dates, forget TV, pass-by books and hot sex with the twins down the hallway. A writer writes. If you're not totally committed to Rule #1, then don't bother reading any further and please pass this on to a friend who really wants to become an author.
RULE #2 - WRITE IN YOUR OWN VOICE
Sounds silly, I know, but writing is one art form where it is generally best to shoot from the heart. Nothing fancy. Don't wax didactic with palliardic xenophobes, if this is not how you normally talk (or even if you do). And don't try to write up to the reader, or down to him either. One will only make you a fool, the other - pompous. Neither will get you sold. It also wastes a lot of energy you'll need for other things.
The idea is really very simple. If you can tell an interesting story, then you can write an interesting story. However, if your friends hate the way you meander through a joke, or the plethora of unnecessary details you added to that fishing trip tale, then these are major danger points to watch out for.
Just be yourself. If you have something to say, eventually it will come out.
RULE #3 - ESTABLISH GOOD WRITING HABITS
Explanation: make a place where all you do is write. Nothing else. No goofing off, no reading books, no TV, don't balance your checking account, fondle your lover, eat lunch, play computer games, NOTHING ELSE! Just writing. Surprisingly, if you follow this rule adamantly, someday when you really don't feel like writing, but have a deadline, then by just returning to the 'writing place', your brain will automatically kick into gear. It's rather like Pavlov's dog with a typewriter. Minus all that icky saliva.
RULE #4 - LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
This is a fabulous trick I was taught long ago. Take your favorite book - not the book you most enjoy to read - but the novel whose literacy merits you most admire. This decision is important. Do not make the choice lightly. Then with magic marker, pen and paper, totally dissect the book line by line. Take voluminous notes. Analyze how this person established tone for that spectacular scene, the little details that helped create the dimensional effect. The wooden chair arm oily smooth with polish, the salty sweat stinging his cracked lips, etc.
Now, this procedure, if done correctly, will greatly assist you in quickly establishing a style of your own. However, it will also totally and forever destroy this book for you. Never again will you be able to enjoy reading this work. It is a simple straightforward sacrifice. You kill a favorite book to glean every kernel of knowledge from the novel.
It's cruel, it's cold, it's hard. But this does work.
RULE #5 - SAY IT CORRECTLY
This is a personal bugaboo of mine. Use the correct word the first time, and you suddenly won't be desperately pawing through the thesaurus. Or infinitely worse - sound like a complete nitwit.
Example: "With little time left, he turned left at the door and left the building."
Technically, this is correct, but artistically it's crap. Try 'remaining' for the first 'left', and 'exited' for the third. Even the second 'left' can be replaced with 'towards the parking lot' to enhance the visuals and re-affirm with the reader exactly where they are located. You get the idea.
A limited vocabulary is a major stumbling block to overcome. I know. It was my biggest problem. The solution? Simple. Read the dictionary. Straight through from A to Z. Then do it again, and again. Yes-yes, it's a boring read (even though you can always sneak a peek at the end of the book and discover that the zymurgy did it) and this grueling task that takes tremendous discipline. However, not only will your vocabulary drastically improve, a fledging author will be astonished at the nigh limitless mine of interesting, useful and utterly strange information collected by Mr. Webster. You'll come out of it wiser, better informed, slightly erudite, and quite possibly with half a dozen good story ideas.
RULE #6 - USE A PRO'S PROSE
Keep 'quotes' to a minimum, only use asides (like this) when absolutely necessary, no italics, avoid foreign language phrases, don't even attempt dialect speech, and never-ever use clichés. Avoid them like the plague. See? You get the idea.
Literary gimmicks will not sell your work. Only good, solid, well-crafted writing.
RULE #7 - CHARACTERIZATION
This is all important. Human dynamics make a story. An interesting character can be doing nothing of real importance and still entertain, while a really fascinating story with no characters becomes a lecture.
A simple trick to enhance a world is for the people in the story to mention non-relevant story events. A concert they plan on attending, spilling coffee on a book borrowed from a brother-in-law, d**n that neighbor's dog, etc. A casual mention of secondary events can put flesh on an imaginary world and bring it to life. Beware of GOP, goal oriented people, characters whose every thought is solely directed to bringing the story to an end. *Yawn* This is the mark of a true amateur.
If a character seems a bit vague, or uninteresting, and you just can not seem to get him in line, try filling out an application-for-employment form. Interesting background material will surface, and personalities crystallize.
NAME - Sherlock Holmes AGE - 32 SEX - Really now!
ADDRESS - 221-B Baker St, London, England.
PHONE - not invented yet.
EDUCATION - Oxford University
MILITARY SERVICE - royal spy
AREAS OF SPECIALIZED INTEREST OR HOBBIES - criminology, music, codes and ciphers, amateur theatre, boxing, beekeeping.
WORK EXPERIENCE - freelance criminal investigator.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ARRESTED? Not seriously.
HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN NARCOTICS? Regularly. Care for some?
REFERENCES - Queen Victoria, Buckingham Palace, London, England, King of Bohemia, Chief Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard
IN CASE OF MEDICAL EMERGENCY NOTIFY - Dr. John Watson
ADDRESS - same as above.
Even from this small sample, you can see that this Holmes fellow is quite fascinating. Even if a trifle weird.
HELPFUL HINT - Don't read only genre novels. It will stratify your brain and limit your abilities. Try westerns, romances, horror, fantasy, military, biographies, travel, spy thrillers, historicals, technical manuals, humor, mysteries, porn and the classics. Read everything. Anything! Knowledge is grist for the mill of an intelligent author's mind.
BASIC REFERENCE WORKS
A) - any good dictionary (for spelling)
B) - a thesaurus (for vocabulary)
C) - Strunk & White: ELEMENTS OF STYLE (grammar and punctuation)
D) - any good encyclopedia (to keep your facts straight)
There's more. A lot more. But the rest you will have to learn the hard way - by doing it. So what are you waiting for? Oil that typewriter, boot the computer, sharpen those pencils and get to work!
Copyright 2002 Nick Pollotta
POINTS TO CONSIDER
VOLTAIRE - "Art must entertain and enlighten. To do only one, is a waste of time and effort."
HARLAN ELLISON - "Put everything down on paper, you can edit the crap out later."
FRANK SINATRA - "Work as if immediately after finishing the project you are going to drop dead, and it is by this one thing, and this one thing only, that you will be remembered...or forgotten."
HOWARD HAWKS - "There are five simple rules for telling a good story: you must have a scene where everybody cheers the hero, and a scene where they all boo the villain, a scene where they gasp in horror, a scene where they burst into laughter, and DON'T &*$#% UP THE REST!"
ERNEST HEMINGWAY - "From page one, light a fire under the reader that is only extinguished with the words 'The End'."
ROBERT A. HEINLEIN - "The first line of a novel denotes the basic thrust of the entire work."
FAULKNER - "There is truly only one plot in all of fiction - the human heart in conflict with itself."
Nick Pollotta is a professional novelist specializing in science fiction and military thrillers, with over 60 books published worldwide. A student of the martial arts and an avid gamer, he currently lives in northern Illinois with his beautiful wife Melissa, 14,000 books, three computers and two cats who plan to conquer the world. His novel Stony Man: Sky Killers (written as Don Pendleton) was published in February 2002. Visit him on the web at www.NickPollotta.com
I found this write up on http://www.scifidimensions.com/
There are a lot of good reviews there, as well as some interesting short fiction pieces.