Every written word is a personal perspective. Whether it’s fictional or real, it always unfolds from one’s own soul. But there are guidelines to follow.
Here is what I’ve learned:
Kill Your Darlings
Humans are notoriously self-centred, and this increases with the validity of our self-worth. And that’s why Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch coined this particular phrase.
To be precise, he coined it as “murder your darlings”, but the literary world prefers the word “kill”. I prefer the word kill.
The problem as a writer is sometimes we will write phrases or paragraphs, or even whole chapters, that do not accentuate the story we are telling. But we love them; we enjoy the way they roll off the tongue or the imagery they evoke. And perhaps that’s the lesson we must learn as writers, whether we tell journalistic truth or fictional lies: not everything you write is gold.
Become your own worst critic. Write like a guru and edit like an arsehole. As you begin your journey into storytelling, you will start to pick out the words and phrases (and chapters) that are better left unsaid. They’re fluffy additions to the story, and most times they can detract from the true meaning.
However, you cannot let the arsehole take over too much, for there are reasons why we say the things we say. Or even do the things we do. And as a writer, it’s your job to figure out what is a darling and what is daring.
There are norms in writing that writers flick away. But they don’t do it lightly. Things like quotation marks or short and sharp sentences. As writers, we learn to understand these rules of language. We adhere to them as best we can. But the art of meaning-making is an ever-changing science.
My advice is to go with your gut. If you truly believe your reader will apprehend exactly what’s being said, then stick to it. But if it’s just a bit too pretty, kill it.
Conflict Is Everything
Whether you’re delving into a fictional war or sharing some bittersweet truth, there must be conflict involved. Every paragraph must feel like a battle. Every page must build tension. It’s what keeps the reader hooked.
Consider the previous section where I started with a very harsh jab at the human psyche:
“Humans are notoriously self-centred, and this increases with the validity of our self-worth.”
Doesn’t that feel like a stab? It’s supposed to! It’s my way of grabbing your attention. More often than not, you’ll likely turn around when you’re called a nasty name. You’ll want to know why. And if you stick around long enough, you’ll get your answer.
So be sure to regularly add conflict in your story. Whether it’s a conflict between your fictional characters, conflict within your character’s world or even conflict against the reader.
The right amount will always get them hooked.
Treat The Reader Wisely
Writing is truth-telling, even if it’s fiction. But discovering truth is rarely an out-of-body experience. It’s simply just an “aha” moment. When everything simply makes sense. You’d be surprised how easily your reader will fall into this.
So in saying that, please don’t treat your reader like an idiot. Guide them, of course; point out the wisdom you’ve inherited. But for the love of god please do not treat them like morons. For they are cleverer than you think.
There’s a balance here; a delicate line between arrogance and simplicity. All you need to do is find it. You don’t want to throw them unknown words that fly off into the distance without reason. But you don’t want to belittle them either.
My advice: pretend they know what you’re talking about, but are in need of a refresher.
The Art Of Profluence
Storytelling must get somewhere. You don’t write anything for no reason. There’s a reason, there’s a secret desire, there’s a need. Work towards it.
Profluence, put simply, means smooth flowing. In stark terminology, it would be the idea of getting somewhere. By contrast, influence means “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.” Therefore, “profluence”, with the prefix “pro”, must evoke a positive effect. In this instance, a hopeful flow in the story.
One of the first users of “profluence” is John Gardner, who defines it as “a requirement best satisfied by a sequence of causally related events.”
He further explains it by saying this:
“We cannot read a whole novel in an instant, so to be coherent, to work as a unified experience … narrative must show some profluence of development.”
It’s noted most especially in fiction writing, but this can be brought towards nonfiction too. Profluence is the difference between a hooked reader and a bored reader. The moment someone stops reading is the moment the writer has failed.
To be precise: keep things interesting. Don’t waffle on unless it accentuates the story. And try to keep to the plot points.
Some stories require a longer time to decipher. They’re so in-depth it may require a week to really uncover the entire idea.
But more often than not, you can spell it out in 25 words or less.
So unless there is a reason to spend a few pages digging, just keep it simple. Lest the story gets boring.
Know what you write
The original phrase is “write what you know”; in other words, write only what you are experienced in. But I prefer to write it as “know what you write”.
A lot of what I write arises from the experiences that I’ve been privileged to endure. But there are times when I need to write about things that I might not know much about. And every successful writer has encountered this.
Indeed, you cannot go into any subject with blind audacity. You must research, understand, feel and immerse yourself into whatever you wish to write. This may include interviewing people, spending hours on Google or even just simply pondering.
Writing about what you know is great on a personal level, but it can detract you away from the unknown. If we only wrote about what we know, then what of the Sci-Fi genre?
If you want to write about the unknown, go ahead! But be prepared to back up your story with facts. Or, at least in the fictional, an approximation of facts. A relative semblance, if you will.
You must expect there’s someone out there who knows the truth.