How to Write Fiction and Narrative (Writing Courses from Story Software)

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Articles

  1. So you want to be a writer …
  2. How to Write a GOOD Story
  3. Creative Writing/Fiction technique - Wikibooks, open books for an open world
  4. Everything I Know About How to Write a Story

If you don't think something is well written, convince me. If you do think so, convince me. Learn from everything you read and understand how to learn from everything you read. And above all read!

My classes use texts I am pretty sure they won't know because I want them to see how wide is the world of books and thought and imagination. You can write about anything you like but there must be a connection between you and the material. Ezra Pound was right.

So you want to be a writer …

Many creative writing students start with the belief that writing is entirely the operation of point of view; in other words, that the world only exists in so far as it is perceived by a human personality. Most of what I teach involves encouraging students to exteriorise their subjective world by fixing it to objects, instead of routing everything through the persona of Jane or John. For the reader, being trapped in the head of Jane or John, and dependent on them for every scrap of information, is the precise opposite of their own experience of existence. A story that starts with "Jane looked out of the kitchen window and thought about her life" — despite the fact that it may be perfectly true — will always be struggling to free itself from a basic unreality.

Many students find this idea counterintuitive, but the easier and more effortless something looks, the more thoroughly it is underpinned by technique.

How to Write a GOOD Story

The desire to write comes easily; writing itself is technical and hard. I give my students exercises in which a certain object has to feature. I choose the object myself: The object represents the impingement of reality, and it nearly always has the effect of turning their writing inside out. Over time I've learned which objects work the best: Others — a lawnmower, a new pair of shoes — unfailingly make the writing more objective. The narrative has to find a way around it, like water has to flow around an obstacle, and the result is that the whole enterprise is given form.

I teach a class on the craft of fiction-writing at Yale, which is a hybrid of a literature course and a writing workshop. If a more traditional literature course has to do with why we're interested in writers like Henry James and James Joyce, my class focuses on how they did what they did, using only ink, paper, and the same vocabulary available to everyone. If a more traditional workshop is largely based on trial and error — write a story and we'll tell you what's wrong with it — my course is based at least partly on why writers write as they do; on the basis for their decisions.

I do remind my students, periodically, that fiction contains an element of ineluctable mystery along with its elements of craft, and that a great story or novel is great in certain ways we can elucidate, and certain ways in which we cannot.

Creative Writing/Fiction technique - Wikibooks, open books for an open world

We don't dissect great literature in the belief that once all its organs are spread out on the table before us, we've got it figured out. We read extensively and, each week, do our best to determine how certain effects were achieved by a different writer. How did James build his characters in The Aspern Papers? How did Joyce structure "The Dead"? The students perform writing exercises as we go along.

During the week we spend on character, for instance, I ask them to write a single paragraph that conveys the appearance and essential nature of a character. During the week on structure, I give them an impossible welter of information — seven different people, with twice that many interconnected dramas and conflicts — and ask them to sketch out a story, with the understanding that they can omit as much, or include as much, as they like. During the final third of the semester I simply tell my students to take what they've learned, and write a story.

Any story they like.

Writing 101: Basic Story Structure

Which can be anywhere from one to 25 pages long though I encourage them to lean more toward single-digit page counts — I stress economy and precision throughout the semester. The stories they come up with are often surprisingly good. Last week we spent half an hour or more looking in minute detail at two versions of a paragraph from Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.

She seems to achieve the compression and electric intensity of her final version through minimising the connective engineering of the syntax in her sentences, taking out explanations, excising the mediating voice from around the things seen. The students went home to work on a paragraph of their own, cutting and intensifying in that way, taking out what's flabby and banal. In the short-story class, we spent lots of time thinking about endings. Why do the endings of short stories carry so much more weight, in proportion to the whole, than the endings of novels?

We wrangle over the endings of particular stories we've been reading together — Dubliners , Eudora Welty, Agnes Owens and others. What satisfies, what doesn't? How can the writer tell when it's enough? Why has taste turned against endings that clinch too tightly, or have too much twist in the tail? The students are working on their own stories: Rehearsing these things collectively loosens the tight fit of fear and inhibition, imagination relaxes. The writing course offers an audience. Everyone lifts their game in response to the exacting readers they'll face next Tuesday.

Everything I Know About How to Write a Story

Student writers are under pressure to learn to hear themselves, to hear how they sound, to make essential judgments about tone and pace and transition. Of course, all writers have always had to learn this; a good writing course just crystallises the opportunity.


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In the past apprentice writers practised with a coterie of friends, or with their family, or with a mentor. Writing courses aren't free; but I'm sure they do help to widen the circle of opportunity, beyond the metropolitan and university cliques. It helps to be clean and presentable when teaching. Students react to sharp odours. It can't be like the University of Iowa during John Cheever's time when you could just wander in drunk and fall asleep for two hours. Today's MFA students expect you to be awake. I also try to get students to bring in snacks because I have low-blood sugar.

But the snacks are really for everyone. That is what goes on. It's the non-universal stuff that is the most useful. Are you using description to cover the fact that you don't really know your characters? For me, when I'm working on a book, it's around words a day every single day. Five hundred words a day is too few. To create suspense, set up a dramatic question.

To do this well, you need to carefully restrict the flow of information to the reader. However, when placed next to the step above, it becomes very effective. Your readers have a right to see the best parts of the story play out in front of them. Show the interesting parts of your story, and tell the rest. Good dialogue comes from two things: Think about the last five novels you read.

In how many of them did a character die? Good stories often involve death. Death is the universal theme because every person who lives will one day die. Tap the power of death in your storytelling. Most professional writers write three drafts or more. Instead, the second draft is meant for major structural changes and for clarifying the plot and characters of your novel or the key ideas of your non-fiction book. The third draft is for deep polishing. Now is when everything starts to gel. This is the fun part! But until you write the first two drafts, polishing is probably a waste of your time.

Good writers know all the rules and follow them. The best way to do it is to figure out characters. Before moving on, also note that jokes can also use plot to sell a punchline. Some jokes are rants, or rants with a twist, but some are stories. Usually they use the plot to build up to the punchline. Otherwise, it'd be one bad punchline.

A character moves the plot. Otherwise, there would be no plot. That means a character can be anything. Notice stories about a tree that blossomed talking to its apples, or a house that sat talking to its furniture. The character doesn't have to be human! The character can be anything! What sets it apart from an object, or a "plot device", is human behavior.

A character can be inanimate. And no, human behavior doesn't always mean emotion. Lack of emotion is also human behavior.

A character doesn't have to be fleshed out either. As an adult, it becomes easier not to align with characters in a story that's told to children. Children aren't as complex when it comes to human behaviors, which means writers can only do so much for children to understand the character. Sometimes adults can think the way children do, which allows them to tell great stories to kids. In the context of a story, characters are what they do on the page.

Not only does the author have to explain their personality and desire, but they also have to show this personality and desire. These don't have to be explicit either, they can be implied. What matters is how it drives the character, because you don't want a lazy dog doing energetic things; that's entirely out of character. Characters could say something based on their own knowledge and experience. The writer doesn't need experience, only empathy and a good perspective. When doing research on fighting with specific weapons for example, their wielders can tell of their own experience using the weapon s and if it causes pain, is difficult to work with, and so on.

If you don't have good or any experience, research helps a lot! Good research helps a lot.