5 Ways to Make Your Fiction Come Alive
- By Mike Maggio
- March 6, 2015
Simple suggestions for helping your prose sing
- Paint a Memorable Picture. Writers are artists, using words in place of paint to create visuals for their readers. So instead of simply writing: “The man walked into the hotel lobby” (a perfectly legitimate sentence), transform it into something like this: “The elderly gentleman, dressed in a beige seersucker suit and carrying a small black suitcase in his left hand, marched through the deco-era lobby, wielding his hand-carved mahogany walking stick with an air of smug certainty spread evenly across his tawny face.”
- Let Your Characters Speak. Fiction involves people, and people like to talk. Dialogue makes your characters come alive and helps define who they are. Talking, however, can sometimes be mere banter, so make sure your characters are saying things that move the story along or that give us insight into their lives. For example, here is the elderly gentleman responding to a hotel receptionist’s request for a credit card: "‘Young man,’ the old gentleman interrupted, hoisting his walking stick up on the marble counter and leaning forward. ‘I have been frequenting this hotel for twenty years. I sleep in your rooms. I eat in your restaurants. I even purchase my tobacco in your shops. And each time, at the end of my stay, I settle my account with cash.’"
- While You’re at It, Listen to Your Characters. Characters are people, too! They have hearts and minds, desires and dreams. If you don’t pay attention to them, they will disappoint both you and the reader. If, on the other hand, you let them talk, they will tell you everything you need to know and help you write the story. And if you listen to them while they speak to each other, there’s no telling how compelling your story will become.
- Avoidance, Avoidance, Avoidance. Of cliché, that is. However, avoiding cliché does not merely mean shunning trite expressions (“quick as a bunny,” “dead as a doornail”); it also involves keeping away from obvious plot clichés or giving them a twist to freshen them up. I read somewhere that fiction is comprised of approximately seven to 20 plots, so your job as a writer is to dust them off and fashion them into something new: A woman finds her face floating in the kitchen sink early one morning, gathers it up into the her wrinkled palm, and begins tracing the lines to discover things about herself she never knew. (I may do this one myself.)
- Kidnap Your Readers and Never Let Them Go. A good work of fiction needs to hijack its readers, hold them until they no longer want to get away, and make them feel like they’re being taken to someplace new and exciting with a host of characters they’ve never encountered before and who they feel compelled to spend time with. Never, ever let them down.
Mike Maggio is a poet, fiction writer, and performance artist. His most recent publication is The Wizard and the White House, and his poetry collection, Garden of Rain (Le Jardin de Pluie), will be released in May by Aldrich Press. He is an associate editor at Potomac Review and an adjunct assistant professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. The text excerpts used above are from a work in progress.