What makes fiction fiction? Is it for the author or the reader to decide? When one pulls back the many layers of fiction, one discovers that fiction is merely truth with names and places changed. Every writer pulls from their own experiences, their own beliefs, and their own thoughts to create a world which is not dissimilar to their own. But what makes fiction different from non-fiction is the use of creative key elements Paul Henradi’s chart of Eight Key Elements Common to All Literary Genres. Non-fiction is limited in the key elements, because of the point of view that it requires. This is not to say all non-fiction is without voice or imagination, but the storytelling done within the pages is different from the storytelling of a fictional piece. Non-fiction assumes an interest in the subject matter prior to, while fiction must solicit an interest with a good hook and creative character framing. Fiction must take the truth or experience and thought, reorganize it into a position of fantasy, then write as if it were a true story. Non-fiction does not. In many ways, it’s lying while telling the truth. This is what can make fiction more trying to write for some.
How do I fiction then?
I write the short story?
Um, well, no. No, I don’t.
Due to the length of a short story, the storytelling must have a strong voice to keep the reader engaged. It is not necessary for the character’s to have a major transformational arc. In some cases, the story may suffer if there is too large of a transformation in a character. In others, the story may strengthen without a transformation because the audience is not in need of one. But the voice of the characters needs to be there, or there will be nothing for the audience to identify.
The conciseness of short stories can be daunting for me. I am quite a wordy person by writing nature, and to find a story within only a couple hundred words is difficult. When I write short stories, I don’t focus on the overall plot, but take more of an Impressionistic role, focusing on the setting, voice and the imaginal pattern between people, rather than the interaction. It tends to be more introspective, because, to me, that is a more interesting route to take when writing short stories: brief snippets of people’s thoughts in situations. A plot within such constraints, for me, is rather difficult, because I am convoluted by nature. There are little to no transformational arcs in my short stories, except the small arc which might naturally occur with something as small as a single decision. If anything, these create implied transformational arcs and allows the reader to decide how the character transforms, instead of me deciding.
Do I novella then?
I have no experience with novellas, except in reading them. If I get beyond fifty pages, it’s going to be a novel. If not, then it is a shelved project which will only see the light of day on those off moments when I’m feeling nostalgic. Novellas are weird creatures in themselves, as they are not short stories, but not quite novels. They are the teenagers of literature: not quite sure what to do with themselves, but demanding to be respected. Within these longer pieces, creating a transformational arc is necessary, but as seen in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the arc may not be necessarily with the main character. Marquez develops a nonlinear story filled with lush settings, strong voices, and an arc which actually follows the person responsible for the murder, instead of the victim himself. Because of the disjointed nature of the story, the reader may not automatically recognize it. Yet, Marquez creates an entire world for the reader through the course of one evening, with such command of voice, tension and setting that the reader is automatically hooked. For me, it might take me several (hundred) edits, but I might be able to find the story within the extraneous verbiage.
Who am I kidding?
I’m long-winded. And I’m not Marquez.
We recognize the novel. It’s that roughly 70-80,000 words recollection of some character’s life story. It’s what they make you read in English class and then discuss profusely. I relish these books. I relish writing them. Other than writing my first poem at the age of eight, novels are where I am most confident. I wrote my first “novel” at fifteen, though technically it would fall into the novella range and was a deliberate plagiarism of Sweet Valley High. I’m not proud of it. There are not many challenges I find with writing a novel, except to sit down to write and actually finish the thing. The characters will develop themselves organically if I just listen, so there is little that I must do in the way of developing a voice. However, I will say that I do have difficulties with my main protagonist’s voice because I have a tendency to slip into their shoes, become them, and forget to include their voice because I hear it in my head and think it’s on the page. If I can exclude myself from the writing and allow the character to have a voice, instead of my own, the writing is much stronger.
The idea of a novel is to fully encapsulate the story so that the reader is immersed within both the story and the characters. They are invested in the change which occurs, whether that be the situation, character or story changes. Since we have not really discussed at length a novel, I’ll use my own to demonstrate. Within my novel, The Mess We’re In, there is not much setting or description, due to the first person nature of the story. We only see Lily’s perspective, and her voice is strong, albeit conflicted. While it is indeed her story, there are three characters who grow and change within the process of the story. Don’t ask how I managed that. I still don’t know. All of the major characters undergo some transformation because, in most real situations, there isn’t just one person who is affected. I believe this is what makes the story believable and realistic. I believe that is what makes fiction, fiction.
That’s how I fiction.
Until next time…
Like my blog? Why not try my novel? Big city actor falls for small-town historian, reigniting a moonshining feud. Things are about to get real messy, but can their love survive?