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F is for Fiction

tomatoStorytellers of the world bring us the greatest and worst fiction we have ever read. Part of the difference is how one decides what is fiction and what is not. In this case, we will agree with the tomatoes. Fiction is a story about imaginary people, places or events. It is complete license to lie, within reason.

What reason?

Just as we discovered yesterday with the editor, fiction needs to be a plausible lie. The agreement of the characters to their setting strikes a balance, or the story topples. Likewise, when using elements of the real world (places, especially), the fiction needs to adhere to some common sense rules.

Perspective

How you tell your story bears directly on how much leash you have in terms of sticking to just the facts. For instance, if you are writing a third-person-omniscient set in the simple past, discussing the ancient ruins of Tour Eiffel will make readers wonder what is in your coffee.

Letter FIf your novel is set in the far distant future, references to 1980s pop culture are going to cause your reader’s eye to twitch. If your first-person historical fiction pits Sitting Bull against Tenskwatawa in a philosophic debate over the best materials for tomahawks, readers will want to scalp you. (Bonus if you can name at least three things wrong with that sentence… without Googling.)

Is your protagonist-narrator an average zombie-chasing teenager? Having her monologue to her party about the physics of shotguns versus crossbows in tornado conditions is more of a stretch than teenagers hunting zombies in the first place.

The elements you use to ground your reader and make your story realistic need to be realistic.

Research Make Believe?

Absolutely. Research the settings or people in your story so as not to offend your reader. Never had a teenage girl? Read about them. Didn’t live in the 18th century? Crack a book. Missed the European train tour? Google (responsibly).

When you are marketing your book, you will use those elements to entice readers you have the epitome of literary genius on their pet subject. Disappointing them with your blatant making it up as you go along will result in bad reviews.

From Scratch

If your world building is from the ground up fiction, you are not off the hook for being plausible. You are welcome to name inventions, mystery elements, countries and corporations. You are free to portray science we believe to be possible and some we wish was possible. What your reader does not want to have is a book which is so alien they need more than a glossary to understand it.

A Clockwork Orange

Original Dust Jacket – image via WikiCommons

Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a good example of a piece of fiction which made the reader work for the story. With a language between characters outside the reader’s native (or subsequent) tongue, allusions to devices not readily available (then or now) and a scathing social commentary, it stands as the accepted border for making it all up from scratch.

Traditionally, science fiction gets the most leeway with fiction, as its primary setting is the future where we all desire to be free of the limitations we now have. Its challenge is to present obstacles to overcome in a world presumably better than the one we inhabit.

Concentration

Debate continues over whether good fiction is the product of calculated plotting or free-flowing stream of consciousness writing. In fact, based on the author, both produce equally good fiction. How can that be?

Getting the ideas out of the author’s head and into a form where others can consume it works with both methods. Only in the final steps of birthing a book do all the lines connect.

The plotting writer more often comes out of beta with notes to make the characters more (personable, identifiable, imperfect). The free-flowing writer gets handfuls of notes about juxtaposition, time line and pesky factual details. Either way, both end up with a book which can be outlined.

Know enough about your setting, characters and plot to make your fiction believable and desirable.


Which type of writer are you – plotted or free-flowing? Which book made you scratch your head and wonder what was in the author’s coffee?

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21 Comments

  1. Hi Red 🙂 I am a plotted writer. I structure the plot, then structure each chapter and write into the confines of the scene. Since I only have a little experience with fiction, that being flash fiction, I don’t have a book or short stories behind me. But my guess is with the way I approach the flash fiction that I am a very plotted writer. The book that I thought was unbelievable and over-the-top absurd to me was Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. From the POV of a cockroach? Uh….no.
    Gail Thornton recently posted..ElatedMy Profile

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    • Kafka has gotten a load of WTF? eyebrow-raising from that… among others.

      Reply
  2. Reason number 6 why I’ll never write a novel.
    Alexandra Heep recently posted..F is for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables from Caputo’sMy Profile

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  3. I don’t think how you write has any bearing on its quality, as long as it works for you. I can use both methods at different times, or even simultaneously. Plot the structure, but the scenes within can be written free flowing.
    Binky recently posted..Honest FashionMy Profile

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    • Yep. And if the scenes tangle up the predesigned plot, so what? What comes out of the scenes will untangle it and send it off in a new and better direction. At least I think that’s what mine always did. Readers haven’t told me otherwise … yet.

      Reply
    • I do them both as well. The how to is a lot like the difference between GPS and a map. Either way, you are going to get there eventually.

      Reply
  4. I am a … free flowing shoot from the hip make it up as I go based on what I know… I have not a clue really. I never thought about it that much. I’ll get back to you. 😉 There have been a few – Infinite Jest – while I enjoyed it was a little bit head scratching what was he putting in his coffee kind of book.. in fact, a lot of the same author’s stuff leaves that sort of feeling.
    ♥ Lizzie
    Lizzie Cracked recently posted..A-Z Challenge; F is for Feminist Movement Mental MomentMy Profile

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    • It seems IJ was indicative of some of the turmoil in his emotional life and was a bit of a catharsis letting some of his demons out onto the pages. As Hemingway said, he opened a vein and bled onto the page. xxx

      Reply
  5. I totally disliked The Final Act of Mr. Shakespeare by Robert Winder before I cracked it open. He was upfront explaining how he changed dates and places of real people in his book. I read it because I was curious but his messing around with historical facts spoiled it for me.
    Why do it?
    Tess Kann recently posted..Where Was I?My Profile

    Reply
    • I have never understood it. It is like listening to some public figure prattle on about something you know happened very differently and claim you should see things differently based on the altered assessment. Rather insulting to my mind. Glad you could stop by, Tess. xxx

      Reply
  6. benzeknees

     /  April 7, 2013

    I am really enjoying your informative posts in this A to Z Challenge!

    Reply
    • Glad you are liking this one. Cannot wait to see what you have cooked up for the rest of the series.

      Reply
  7. As for type of writer, as you can likely tell I am ‘free flowing’!!! Love to see the words flow and then look back at the poetic lines xx
    Christy Birmingham recently posted..Poem: Words I SavorMy Profile

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    • Most of the writers and authors I know are free flowing, or in the very least a hybrid. I know very few who are strict plotters. Glad to see you today, Christy. xxx

      Reply
  8. Red, I’m more of a free flowing writer, I’d say. I have the basic ideas of where I’d like the story to go, but then find that my characters seem to get lives of their own. Before long, I find myself in a bit of a pickle story-wise. Maybe having a few more plots before I start may help, just in case…
    Tom recently posted..Urban CreationMy Profile

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    • I think we all have characters with minds of their own. If we did not, the story might suffer. I find the only brine in my tub is when I am dead set on my characters ending where I want them. Some days, if I let them have their way, we go someplace even more entertaining. Glad to see you today, Tom.

      Reply
  9. I have great admiration for fiction writers/authors.
    I loved reading fiction as a boy but as I grew older, I found my preference for fiction was transformed from books to movies and Blogs.
    However, I do have an idea for a fiction book but considering the fact that I haven’t even completed my first non-fiction project, I’m jumping the gun a bit.

    In answer to your questions, if I were to attempt a fictitious piece I would be a combination of both plot and free flowing.
    I’ve watched many movies, some based on adaptations of books, which have made me wonder whether or not the writer was under the influence of drugs.
    Phil recently posted..Matrimonial TestimonialsMy Profile

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    • I think there are a number of us who look at some of the more imaginative writers and wonder why in the world they ever thought the things which they bring to the table. To some degree, we are all guilty of it because we can never truly know the depth of someone’s imagination, even when we have the ability to recognize it is greater than our own.

      Reply
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