Current Fiction Writing Advice – 8/1/16


  • The best people to get fiction writing advice from are long-term professional writers who have been supporting themselves through their fiction work for 15+ years, publishing at least a book a year (therefore not relying on a fluke).  Short story collection = 1 book.  Other types of writing (e.g., graphic novels) don’t count.
  • Therefore I’m not the best person to get advice from; feel free to read what I got but a lot of it’s repeated from other sources and there may be a lot lost in translation.
  • Business writing advice is a whole different ballpark; I’m not going to cover that here, and I suck at it anyway.
  • What makes a story good isn’t the plot or characters or any separate aspect of the story–what makes the story good is the storyteller, not only in the sense that the storyteller has a job to do (making stories), but also in the sense that the storyteller is the story.

HOW TO WRITE (the short version):

  • Be yourself.  This is more important than it sounds at first.
  • Read a lot.  For pleasure first, even if later you get all analytical.
  • Write a lot (in the millions of words range).
  • Type in, outline, and research the work of long term professionals whose work you love.
  • Experiment with other people’s advice rather than swallowing it whole.  If it works, great.
  • Don’t wait to get “good” before locating opportunities for rejection.  (It doesn’t count if the possibility of getting published doesn’t exist.)
  • Don’t work for free.  This is not just a business move.
  • Either readers give a shit about how you make them feel or they don’t.  If they don’t give a shit, it’s on you–either up your game or get better readers or both.

HOW TO WRITE (higher level theory)

  • I mostly deal with Western commercial “genre” fiction.
  • Western commercial fiction (from the cultures descended from European countries) is all about beginnings, middles, and endings.
  • Western commercial fiction relies on conflict.
  • Modern Western commercial fiction relies on free will and resolving or failing to resolve one’s conflicts rather than the actions of the gods or fate, although those elements can be used if handled with sensitivity.
  • Modern Western commercial fiction relies on tricking the reader into feeling that they are either “in” the world of the story, or are otherwise emotionally connected to it.
  • Current techniques for studying modern Western commercial fiction involve breaking down fiction into different aspects–plot, character, mood, theme, etc.  However, these things aren’t truly separate and divisions between them are artificial.

HOW TO WRITE (medium level theory)

  • Beginnings introduce the story in its various aspects:  character, setting, plot, theme, etc.
  • Middles carry the story through permutations of conflict.  The character tries to resolve the conflict, continuously failing to do so in one way or another–either because of their own actions, or because the situation gets worse.
  • Endings resolve the conflict, either successfully or unsuccessfully, and wrap up loose ends so the reader feels at ease with finishing the story.
  • The patterns of beginnings, middles, and endings are repeated on every scale and through every aspect of fiction.  Each chapter has a beginning, middle, and ending; each scene has a beginning, middle, and ending; each beat has a beginning, middle, and ending; each character (and each character trait) has a beginning, middle, and ending; each setting has a beginning, middle, and ending; etc., etc.

HOW TO WRITE (ground level theory)

  • Find what works for you.  This is what works for me.
  • Get in character with sensory detail, character attitude, and internal monologue about the setting:  beginnings.  Plot takes a backseat for a bit.
  • In the beginning of the middle, exploit the possibilities hinted at in the beginning as tools for resolving the conflict.  Drastically change the level of conflict in the middle of the middles.  At the end of the middle, prove that none of the tools from the beginning will work, even as the external situation gets worse.
  • Detail the logical consequences of trying to solve the conflict at the endings (which often goes poorly…until the last second, perhaps, during the final scenes), then hint at the next thing to come OR tell the reader there’s no more (the end of the end).

HOW TO WRITE (butt level theory)

  • Whatever works to get the words on the page and out the door is the right thing to do.
  • If it does not get the words on the page and out the door, it is not the right thing to do.
  • “But I just–“
  • No.


  • Should I write to market?  Up to you.  The market changes.  As soon as you get good at one thing, you have to switch what you’re doing and write something else–if you only write to market.  If it’s fun, though.
  • Should I get major in English/get a creative writing degree/go to a Masters program/take an online class/go to writer conferences/take a free class?  Up to you.  Main question:  is the education being provided by a long-term professional writer who has supporting themselves through their work (not by teaching classes) for the last 15+ years, publishing a book a year?  If not, apply salt proportionate to cost.
  • Should I self-publish?  If and when you’re reasonably prepared for a one-star review from someone who doesn’t get your work and who insults you personally, you can self-publish.
  • How much should I edit?  Nobody cares as long as the story makes them feel the way they wanted to feel.
  • What story structure should I use?  Whatever works.  Nobody gives a shit what story structure you use unless it doesn’t work.
  • Should I outline or not?  Nobody cares as long as the story is good.
  • But so-and-so said I had to…  No.  Nobody cares as long as the story is good.


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