Should You Be Honest When Writing Fiction?

October 18, 2014 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

Writing honestly works. Think of the stand up comedian and note how the most successful really only tell you what you already know. It is the recognition of  something you see in everyday life, caricatured, that is funny. Writing is no different, connect with the reader and they will want to read more.

Honesty When WritingWhat Has Honesty Got to Do With Writing Fiction?

What a strange thought, I hear you say. What has honesty to do with invented, fictional characters, places and events? Actually more than you imagine.

Literary critics delight in using words and phrases that turn the milk and bore the pants off ordinary folk (but then most critics can’t write fiction well enough to make a living). They chunter on about ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ but rarely mention the one feature that makes prose stand out from the page – honesty. Writers of humour – rare beasts – do it; the guffaw is the response that means ‘Got you. I know what you mean.’ We laugh because we recognise the truth of the unique observation these wits have written.

When writers ‘release the brakes’ and express precisely what they are thinking the impact is stronger. No equivocation: ‘That dog stinks.’ Not, ‘That dog has an unpleasant odour,’ or ‘that dog’s scent wouldn’t sell well at Harrods’. In polite company few would shout out the word ‘stink’; but fictional prose isn’t polite company. You and your reader are intimately connected – unless the work is being read out aloud for some unearthly reason!

How to Write Fiction Honestly

When writing fiction, prudent authors rarely name their characters after people they know, or locate the action in places they are fond of. Why? Because the mind plays tricks when in ‘muse mode’ and tends to pull punches rather than hit out when recognising friends and places. In other words it is deceiving itself, and in turn, you, and your readers. I can write more bitingly about a hockey player in Manchester than a golfer in London because hockey and Manchester are foreign countries to me. London and golf, however, are too close for comfort.

New writers often sprinkle their prose with a surfeit of adverbs and adjectives. What they are doing is being polite, well behaved, cautious even, not wishing to rock the boat. Now this is fine for behaviour in company; few like the idiot who shouts out ‘Cobblers!’ in the middle of a convention of bishops. But in fiction, if you want to make an impact, cause a stir, be remembered, is it really wise to behave like a wimp? No, it’s counter-productive.

Leave nouns and verbs alone and they will sing off the page. Clothe them with qualifying adverbs and adjectives and they will lose their impact and have a deadly effect on the pace of your story – and it is the story that matters, which should always ‘get on with it’.

A few examples. ‘The plane landed at Heathrow.’ Not bad, but unless you travelled by helicopter – or are a bird – you could just say ‘we landed at Heathrow. Short and to the point; all that’s needed, unless the action of your novel revolves around the plane and Heathrow. But do new novelists exercise such restraint. Oh dear me, no. For them the plane is more than plane, it becomes a twin-jetted, silver-winged Boeing; it doesn’t land, it gently touches down and Heathrow isn’t enough, it has arrived at London’s invariably busy primary airport, Heathrow.

If you want your fiction to hit submission editors, or even better…. a paying public, between the eyes, cut the waffle. Tell it as it is. Be brutal with your prose. Reserve your colouring-in for picture books. In your fiction, tell your story with words that focus on the plot and the those aspects of your characters that drive the book onwards. When your child is about to stick its fingers in the barbecue, how many words do you use – if you are ten foot away? One, two, ten? I bet just the one. His or her name, at the top of your voice. No waffle. Just an honest, animal call to catch the attention. Do that with your prose, and your readers will thank you. But often they won’t know why.

photo credit: Harpersbizarre via photopin cc

How to Write A BookHow to Write a Book or Novel by Jonathan Veale

This is an article by Jonathan Veale the author of How to Write a Book or Novel. Jonathan has worked as a professional editor and has successfully published several books. If you like his style and want to know more then his book on the subject of writing is where you need to be.

It is a concise, no nonsense account of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing a book with some great insider tips on the best way to get your book published, whether that is taking the traditional publisher route or if you prefer to be an independent author and publisher.

Still not sure? Then you can find out more about Jonathan and his books on his author page.