Asking Novelists: What is Fiction?

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Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and to talk to hundreds (that’s a conservative estimate) of aspiring novelists. Many times I have been astounded at the lack of knowledge and understanding of the craft that they are aspiring to.

If your heart is set on writing and publishing novels, are you able to give a clear description of fiction? Can you define it?

Most people when asked will say something like:

“Fiction is a made up story; one that comes from a person’s imagination.”

That would be true – in part. But it fails to hit on the most important component of what fiction really is. Perhaps that’s why so many wannabes strive to write quality novels, but fall flat.

Here is the best and clearest definition of fiction:

Fiction is an art form. Fiction is a form of art.

Therein lies the key. To be a fully-functioning, effective, successful novelist, you must understand from the very core of your being that you are working with a form of art.

And just as it is with all art forms there are tried and tested techniques that have worked for centuries. Techniques that will continue to work when you know how to use them.

Once you appreciate that you are working within an art form, the next step is to become knowledgeable of the basic fiction components. The basic components include:

• Characters (main character and secondary characters)
• Character traits
• Setting
• Conflict
• Plot or story form
In addition to knowing and understanding these basic components, a skillful story teller must also be aware of and fully understand:
• Point of View
• Dialogue
• Stream of Consciousness
• Sequence
• Pacing
• Transitions
Fiction is an art form. Fiction has form. Every word that is written in fiction is part of a pattern. If you do not understand that there is a form to fiction, your stories will spill all over the place and you may never understand why. And you will be constantly frustrated.

Fiction has form. Real life does not. A life’s happening, or event, may work as a “seed” for a story plot. But very seldom can that event become a strong, self-supporting plot. In life, events follow one another for no apparent reason.

Fiction isn’t at all like life.

• Events in a novel do not happen by chance.

• In fiction every event must logically follow another.

• There is a reason for everything that happens.

• You as the author are responsible to assign that reason for what happens.

Until you learn these key concepts, your novel writing attempts will flounder – your stories will never soar!

And the saddest part, is that you may never know why!

Make it one of your highest goals to learn every aspect of your craft that you can possibly learn. And then never stop learning!


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