Articles on Writing Fiction

Over the years I’ve read a lot of articles on the craft of writing fiction. I’m sure the writers among you have done the same. For those of you not involved in trying to pen the next bestseller, writing a saleable novel takes much more than the simple act of filling a blank page with words. And as an editor (Theresa Stevens) recently told me, (after I made a comment that I wish I’d paid more attention in high school English) your high school English teacher wouldn’t have taught you what you need to know to write fiction.

Show don’t tell. Paint a picture for your reader. Write what you know. Write effective dialogue. Write complex characters. Each scene must move the story forward. Rely on characters to move the story forward, not external plot twists. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict. I could go on and on.

Two years ago I read an article about show don’t tell that truly impacted my writing. I wish I could find it to give the author the credit she deserves, but I’ve spent a good hour searching the leaning tower of papers piled on my desk and filing cabinets, to no avail.

It went something like this:
A new writer knows she’s turned the corner when instead of writing: He was mad so he put on his sneakers and went for a jog.

She writes: The blister on his right heel stung with each slap of his running shoe against the pavement. The midday sun burned his glistening shoulders, sweat trickled down his forehead, blurring his vision. And still he ran, faster, harder, her harsh words echoing in his head, driving him forward. He couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop until he conquered the urge to hurt her as much as she’d hurt him, until he found peace in the utter exhaustion that followed a ten mile run.

Okay. So the above is my interpretation. I hope it had the same impact on you as the original article had on me.

Is there something you’ve read or advice you’ve been given that truly impacted your life as a writer, or life in general?

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12 Comments

  • Angela
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 5:30 PM | Permalink

    There is so much to learn, isn't there? And it's always neat to hear about the bits we read that suddenly make everything click for us. Thanks for sharing!

    Angela


  • John Baron
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 5:49 PM | Permalink

    What a powerful "interpretation!" It washed all the possible responses from my mind. I know there are things that I've read that first stunned me in their simplicity and correctness, and then opened a new door. But I can't think of a single one, other than Strunk and White's, "Omit needless words!", which pales next to your example.


  • Merissa
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 6:26 PM | Permalink

    This is so right Wendy! Great post! Show, don't tell is good advice.

    But SHOWING how to show and not tell makes all the difference. Excellent example.


  • Terri
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 7:48 PM | Permalink

    I just love that paragraph you gave as an example. Excellent example.


  • JL Walters
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 10:22 PM | Permalink

    Wendy, I remember the day I learned to show and not tell. It was at a HVRWA meeting and Jane Toombs mentioned that I should show the villain's shoes scuffing along the concrete.


  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 11:34 PM | Permalink

    Yes, Angela. There is sooooo much to learn! And each day I find something new.

    Thanks, John. I wanted to make an impact.

    I agree, Merissa. It helps to see examples.

    Thanks, Terri.

    Janet, it's funny how certain things stand out in our memories.


  • Bethanne
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:04 AM | Permalink

    Dodd inspired me to write for the fun of it…and that's the best lesson I've learned in 6 years. 😀


  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 1:11 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing, Bethanne. Over the years I've read many articles and blogs encouraging writers to write because they love it, and if they're lucky enough to get published, even better.


  • Shelley Sly
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 3:18 AM | Permalink

    Showing and not telling is, in my opinion, such an imperative lesson for writers. I still have my telling moments, but I feel like my writing drastically improved once I began showing instead of telling.

    More important to me, though, was when I learned what to show. It was a turning point for me to learn to trust my readers and not give away everything, but leave it to them to put the pieces together. I believe one book described it as "resist the urge to explain". Our readers are smart; we don't need to over-explain everything.

    Excellent post!


  • Regina Richards
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:19 AM | Permalink

    This advice, courtesy of my mother, has been helpful to me in writing and in life: I'm going to do something, even if I do it wrong.


  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

    Hi Shelley!
    Resist the urge to explain. That is soooo important. Often my inner writer fights with my inner reader. The reader in me wants all the details NOW. The writer tries to dole them out over the story to keep the reader enticed to read more. It's a constant battle.


  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

    Hi Regina!
    Words to live by.


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