April 1, 2015


Susan Breen wrote one of my favorite books, The Fiction Class - appropriate because she teaches fiction. 'Write what you know' is common writing advice. But don't get hung up on the facts - be willing to make things up, Susan says, for the sake of the story. Isn't that the beauty of fiction? You can write about your life but then you can change how things turn out (kinda like I did in What More Could You Wish For).
My only problem with Susan is that she teaches in New York and I'm in Chicago, so I was happy to find this article that has some great advice. If you're working on a novel, or even a short story, read it. Now. Before you write any more.

For more than a decade, I’ve taught fiction writing classes in New York City. A surprising variety of people have walked through my classroom doors, ranging from Broadway actors to retired English teachers to a few people unclassifiable. But oddly enough, although the students vary widely, as does the writing, the problems people run into stay remarkably the same. Nine writing mistakes crop up again and again.
1. Beginning the story too early.
Many writers start their stories before the interesting part. Way before. So instead of beginning with something intriguing, the author wallows for a few paragraphs or chapters, which causes the story to slow down. This is a particularly damaging mistake when you’re planning to send out material for publication. Anything that causes an editor’s attention to wilt is a bad thing.
Say you are writing a story about Cinderella. Here you have a vulnerable young woman whose step-family mistreats her. She longs for love, escape or a good time, depending on how you want to write the story. What should your opening paragraph say? Where are you going to begin?
You might decide to start with a bang and have the fairy godmother arrive in the opening paragraph.
“Who is that beautiful creature!” Cinderella cried out. She stared in awe at the vision in front of her.
This sort of opening paragraph is the literary equivalent of shouting to the reader that she’s about to read an interesting story. Later in the story you’ll explain who Cinderella is and why we should care. For now, in this type of opening paragraph, you’re just grabbing attention.
You might prefer to start the story a little earlier in Cinderella’s day, before the fairy godmother gets there.  Perhaps when Cinderella is going about her chores.
Cinderella winced as she scrubbed the floor for the fiftieth time.
This sort of opening paragraph intrigues the reader with Cinderella’s character. Why does she have so much work? What sort of person is she that she’s not complaining? The reader suspects, from reading an opening like this, that something is going to happen that will disrupt Cinderella’s day.
Where writers go wrong is in starting the story much, much earlier in Cinderella’s day, around the time Cinderella wakes up.
Cinderella opened her eyes. She listened to the birds. She got out of bed and brushed her teeth. She hoped it would be a good day. She flossed.
This isn’t terrible, but it isn’t intriguing either. I don’t have a hint of what the plot’s going to be. Since waking up is something I do every day, so far, I’m not that excited that Cinderella’s doing it. Worst of all is that because so many writers start with someone waking up, it becomes just another waking up story to me. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Proust comes to mind. But if your story starts with someone waking up in bed, try cutting out the first three paragraphs. See how the story reads then. It almost always improves the story to chop out the beginning. 
2. Leaving out the plot. Have you ever run up to a friend and said, “I have the most amazing story to tell you. Nothing just happened!” 
Probably not.

Finish the article 9 Common Mistakes in Writing Fiction

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