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At Work
If you wanna be a writer you gotta be a reader.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fictional Style (You Need This)

You can write, fine.  But if you want to be a published fiction writer, you must find your way to a fictional style of writing.  What’s this thing–fictional style?  It’s a way of writing that employs the techniques of fiction for the goal of “streaming” (modern metaphor) your story to the reader. And there’s a big difference between basic writing and “streaming.” 

Below is a paragraph from a young writer in high school.  He wrote a novel, and his teacher (bless her) reached out to me.  “Now what?” she asked.  When I had a moment I took a look and  saw a few things immediately.  First, the kid has the desire to write.  He wrote a damn novel–that’s an achievement.  But it’s “written”, not streamed.  So the biggest thing this young writer can do is work on his fictional style.

Student excerpt: 

            He ran as fast as he could. He didn't think he had run this fast in a long time. He could hear the gun shots ringing out. He even anticipated a few, dodging behind rocks and other debris that could save him. The sun was beating down hard on him. Out of habit his gaze went momentarily towards his watch. It was one thirty five in the afternoon.   "Not that late," he thought aloud. Just then a bullet whizzed by his head and another blasted a rock by his foot. In response he grabbed the revolver that was resting at his side and the crossbow that was slung over his back. Turning around, Arcsen, now running backwards, aimed his two weapons, and fired. The pistol only hit one of his pursuers in the shoulder. The bolt, however, hit its mark.

My rewrite:

            He ran. Gun shots pinged as he dodged behind rocks, debris, anything that could save him. The sun hammered down–he found a moment to look at his watch–it was one thirty-five in the afternoon.
            “Not that late,” he breathed.  A bullet hissed passed his head.  Another blew up a rock near his foot.  He grabbed his revolver from his holster, and snatched his crossbow slung over his back.  Turning, he ran backwards as he aimed his weapons and fired.  His pistol shot blew skin from a pursuer’s shoulder–he went down.  The bolt missed its mark….

My Comments for him: 
            “You story has everything you need, but your goal now should be toward a stronger fictional style.  This means “showing” as opposed to telling/explaining.  That is, try to eliminate all topic sentence generalities in favor of tightly described action—just the action, and action that avoids clichés such as “the bullet whizzed.”   Also try to eliminate all weak verb constructions such as “was running” (use “ran”) and most all adverbs.  Adverbs often end in ‘ly—kill those suckers.  In short, learning fictional style is a matter of practice, practice, practice—plus laying your prose alongside that of a published writer, and examining how the two examples are different.  I can’t take time to read your whole manuscript; I get a LOT of requests for such editing, and if I did them all, I’d never write again.  Your job now is to take a close look at your fictional style. I hope my brief re-write example will be useful in that regard.

Good Luck"

(P.S.  The student wrote back, all excited, and said, “I’m on it!”)

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