I have been reading a lot of indie fiction lately, between work I’m editing and blogs I follow here at WordPress. Among that fiction has been some real highlights and some very, very low lights. I would never try to dissuade someone from writing fiction–as the craft can be honed, I believe, with more reading and writing–but there are a few basics that every writer should have in mind before they begin their story. If only to serve as guidelines that will give your writing structure and a baseline for every reader to follow along. By lining up these three simple milestones, you can use creativity and defamiliarization in the content of your fiction to render your readers speechless and clamoring for more!
1) Perspective: Or, who is your narrator?
Narrators guide your reader through the story. Sometimes plots are mysteries, dangerous, or too traumatic for the reader to experience “firsthand”–so a guide is installed to cushion the blow or help the reader discover the mystery. The narrator can be one of your side characters, a protagonist, or an omniscient separate entity who speaks directly to the reader. These are called perspectives and are used in the first-person (narrator refers to self [me, myself, I]), second-person (narrator refers to ‘you’), and third-person (narrator refers to he, she, they) varieties.
Perspective orients your reader to your story and can be used as a way to protect your reader from the horrors ahead or make them live it simultaneously with your protagonist. Once a perspective is chosen it’s important to maintain that perspective throughout your story, otherwise the reader can become confused about what action is happening to who and how that information was collected to be shared before, after, or during the fact.
Which takes me to number 2…
2) Direction: Or, when is this story taking place?
The direction of your story is more fluid than the perspective, because stories can be told non-linearly (or not in the chronological order in which events actually occurred). Since the human memory works by association, it is common for things happening now to trigger memories of the past or cravings for things yet to come. And, plot lines do not always land straight; what would be the fun in that?
However, to give your readers an anchor or a thin line to follow in the dark, it pays to have an idea at the beginning whether or not your narrator/protagonist is reflecting on past events, hoping for/moving toward future events, or just living in the moment. Propulsion from that point in any direction is possible and viable, but just make sure it’s clear to your reader when a character is experiencing a flashback or daydreaming about the future. To not be able to tell the difference means your readers will feel short-changed at the end of the story or with the end of the conflict.
Which takes me to number 3…
3) Plot: Or, what is the essence of the conflict?
Conflict drives plot. Facing conflicts shows off the personality of your characters and can work toward defining the parameters of your story. Even with our current obsession with “human” bad guys, having a bad guy to face off against the good guy establishes a frame for your story to occur within. A conflict also provides a beginning, a middle, and an end for your story to discover, overcome, and, then, reach.
Conflict can occur on three different levels: character versus the world, character versus self, and character versus antagonistic character (often with a larger sense of power than the other), or the “David & Goliath” type of story. Being clear about the kind of conflict–not that these can’t overlap or even occur within the same story–your character(s) face makes the story more enjoyable and easier to follow for your readers. It also provides a satisfying conclusion; often bringing your reader right back to the beginning of the book to relive the intrigue again!
Again, these are three very basic and very easy milestones to achieve with some practice and just a little bit of forethought or planning. Outlining a story can help establish these from the beginning, but if you aren’t into outlining, just keeping detailed notes near where you write or edit can help you reign in any loose ends or other unraveling bits.
Good luck and get writing!