Rules of Thumb: 4 Rules for Writing Fiction

A Row of The Chronicles of Narnia Books by C. S. Lewis

During the course of my biographical fiction writing career, I’ve come to realize that not all great novels are the same. Fiction—nay, great fiction—doesn’t conform, but it does have a few boundaries. We call them rules, and respecting them is an unwritten rule in and of itself.

Below are some of these rules in writing for all future award winning storytellers.

1.    Create Well-Rounded Characters

Readers don’t have much patience for textbook characters because they aren’t believable. Creating believable characters means making them life-like, flawed, and nuanced. It means giving them motivations, a strong backstory, and insecurities.

Think about it: wouldn’t it be weird if your antagonist was bad for the sheer pleasure of being bad?

Thus, when creating characters, keep in mind that humans are the sum of their parts. They are made up of the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, and so much more. Your characters, albeit fictional, need to be a reflection of humanity.

2.    Balance Narration with Speech

While fiction-writing is a reflection of your imagination in words, it doesn’t have to have a word-by-word description of the smallest blade of grass in a garden. Even though vividness is key to proper descriptions, you should always lend that vividness to objects relevant to your scene.

If you have no choice but to include a long narrative, try to break it up into paragraphs for readability. You could also have your characters speak instead of telling the reader what was said after the fact.

A Faceless Woman Reading a Book with Paragraphs Broken Up in Chunks of Description and Speech

3.    Select a Narrative and Stick to It

Like grammar, the narration also needs to be consistent for the sake of coherence. Below are the three widely recognized perspectives in literature.

·        First Person

First-person narration is pretty straightforward. The writer just selects one or more of their characters as the narrator, gives them personal pronouns (I, we, us, our), and makes them describe the story whether they are a part of the action or not.

·        Second Person

A second-person narrative is quite rare, for rarely is a reader made part of the story they are watching unfold by using the pronoun ‘you’. See it as the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall, where the characters reach out to the audience by addressing the camera directly.

·        Third Person

A third-person narrator may or may not be a character within the novel, but they would always use third-person pronouns when referring to all the characters, including themselves. In this type of narrative, the writer has the option of switching between narrators or keeping to a single one.

4.    Keep Your Voicing Largely Active

While contractions remain a point of contention between writers, they all encourage active voicing for the following reasons.

  • Shows the action taking place.
  • Strengthens the connection to action.
  • Easily understood by readers despite their proficiency level.

Passivity also has an element of uncertainty that’s not present in active voice, which is why many writers advise against its use in literature.

Glean More from the Best Biographical Fiction

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Welcome to my musings! I’m an author who loves to write novels and short stories that you can read on-the-go. When I’m not holed up writing, you can find me in my garden or at my piano.