For those of you whose schedules did not permit attending the live chat with me at RedmundPro today, you missed out on an interesting discussion. Feel free to leave more questions, as I will be returning to the threads to answer them. They led to today’s title.
In my travels amongst some powerhouse authors, I have come to realize the majority of authors have a preference, either they look for the relative ease of compiling facts into logical and useful formats or they revel in the creativity which spawns fiction. The minority are the authors who jump genre.
No, we are not talking about the sci-fi writer who decides to write a fantasy novel or the romance novelist who moves over to historical fiction. I mean the authors who jump between fiction and non-fiction. The two are very different animals.
Over the course of this series, we are going to compare and contrast non-fiction writing and fiction writing in birthing a book.
To Plan Or Not…
One of the burning questions is whether authors plan fiction stories. Where non-fiction needs a plan so you do not waffle on for an extra 30,000 words about sock lint futures, fiction is not so clear cut. Speaking for myself, sort of. No, I do not need someone to take my temperature. The answer may not be my normal absolute; still, bear with me.
Fiction stories are like children. Where one will learn and progress at a pace on par with its peers, another will linger at one stage longer than expected and travel in an opposite direction from the plan. Anyone ever raise a teen? No? So, did you ever do exactly what your parents planned for you on schedule? See, well, there you have it.
Another question which can plague a fiction writer is When is the story useless? Non-fiction is easy. There are normally a finite number of facts or limited presentation space. Fiction has all the “facts” you and your characters can conjure or accomplish (within reason).
This is another one with choices for answers.
First and most obvious: When you can no longer (remember, conceive) where the story is going.
If you have no idea where your story is going, stop writing it. Whether you keep it is a topic for another post. This brand of writer’s block is dispelled like any other. Seek inspiration: Read, draw, watch movies, play video games, knit. Clear your mind and wait for the muse. (Chanting Mantra’s name is often helpful.)
Next: When it is epic and futile.
Someone started an awful rumor. It is not a book until it is 100,000 words. Can you imagine a NaNoWriMo at 100,000 words? Most authors cannot.
If your characters are finished at 47,281 words, one syllable more than that is plot stuffing. I do not buy books based on the number of pages (In an ebook it is irrelevant anyway.); I buy based on the author’s ability to get to the point and keep me engaged. When the author wanders away from the plot on some snipe hunt, I am headed to the kitchen for a snack and to check the SIB. It is always entertaining.
Last: There is mold growing in the fridge.
It is a green-grey mass of fur-like cells attached to every surface of your story. Why? Instead of being filled with action or events or surprises or pertinent information, you are describing the wood grain in the crown molding or the traffic while you attempt to figure out what happens next.
Unless your protagonist is a historical building restorer turned on by crown molding or going to be hit by an oncoming car, you are telling your reader you really do not have anything else for your characters to do. Here, watch the drinking bird until I figure something entertaining to tell you. —>
What do you mean?
Going into a massive amount of detail which will not impact the outcome of your story is boring. Let me say that again. B.O.R.I.N.G. If the layout of the room is not going to play a part in your story (e.g. Samson tripped over the coffee table on his way through the living room.), it is not necessary to tell your readers about it in six consecutive pages. Slip it in with details as the story progresses. Otherwise, you are flagging your readers to skip pages looking for the actual story.
Build your world and scenes with enough detail the reader can picture themselves in the story. Do not take a time out to describe the blueprints to the building before you burn it down. While it is cool you decided to furnish the room with Ming vases, unless someone is going to smash or steal one, your reader will never know they are actually knock offs from Neiman Marcus.
Tangential asides can destroy a good story. If you have a character hanging from a cliff while a rescue squad lowers an orangutan to rescue her from the 1,281 foot drop to the rocks below, this is not a good place for her to recall the first time she saw an orang on a contest-won vacation to New York where she went to the Bronx zoo with her father who died on a Wednesday in a mine shaft in a Kentucky coal mine after eating a bratwurst and pimento cheese sandwich with a Moon Pie and an RC Cola.
During your three page foray into a childhood memory, the orangutan swallowed a fly and choked to death at the end of the rope. Rescue foiled. Story spoiled. Rescue her, and let her tell the story back at the ranger station (if you absolutely need to tell it).
When your editor comes along and asks, Why did you put this (in, here)?, you are being given warning:
1. This detracts from your reader’s attention and your story.
2. This disrupts the continuity of the story.
3. This does not impact the story in any way and is irrelevant plot stuffing.
If you are really attached to what hits the editing room floor, take the piece and write a story to support it. You have seen how far authors can go with flash fiction and one word. How far can you go with an established character and a scene?