Boiling Down The Essence Of How To Write Good Fiction

Recently, I’ve posted two things that I firmly believe are the cornerstones of how to write good fiction.

how to write good fiction, writing a good book
Writing a good book is a balancing act between action, information, and emotion.

How To Write Good Fiction

Make Me Care

First, authors who are writing fiction must make me care. I need to care about character (most important) and then about their story. If I don’t care, you’re dead in the water. If you aren’t thinking about the emotional impact of your story, you aren’t going to master how to write good fiction.

Balance Action and Information

Second, writing a good book is a balance between action and exposition in writing. Too much action and we don’t hook into the character or situation. (Especially if the breakneck action is at the beginning of your novel, like if you start with a hectic chase sequence, for example, we have a really hard time figuring out what’s going on or why.) Too much information (a first chapter where your character sits in their room thinking about his life, for example) and there’s no action, no plot, no forward momentum, and the whole thing drags. The two elements must always be in balance. In times when there’s a lot of information being introduced, you must also keep your characters moving. You can’t indulge in an info-dump. In times of action, you must also work hard to keep us invested by giving us context and information (later on in the novel, once character and situation are established, this usually means emotional context, ie: interiority).

Always Include Emotion

I was at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference this past weekend, in a roundtable discussion with super agent Tina Wexler from ICM. We were talking about how to write good fiction with regard to novel beginnings and, of course, I sprouted off my “action vs. information” line. Then Tina put the missing piece together and it fit perfectly: “But it needs to have emotion, too. Emotion is the third point of that triangle.”

I made a joke at the time about really working a metaphor to death, but a lightbulb definitely went off because of her comment, and now I think I have the perfect image for my two most important tenets of writing a good book.

The Sword Of The Awesome Manuscript

If fiction is a balance of action and information, the axis of the scale, the part that holds everything else together, is emotion. Without emotion to lord over the work and to keep everything else in check, your whole manuscript falls apart. (And you do not get to hold the Sword of the Awesome Manuscript.)

We should always be in touch with your character’s emotions (especially if you are writing in third person, as that is a challenge for many) and they should be legible and resonant for readers. Whether you’re writing a scene of action or dropping information in your manuscript, keep in mind your characters’ interiority (thoughts, feelings, reactions) near the surface. You can even indulge in some strategic Good Telling–balanced with interiority in writing, of course. If you’ve mastered these tenets, then you’re on your way to mastering  how to write good fiction.

I offer a variety of editorial services that will help you find the perfect balance between action, information, and emotion in your story.

23 Replies to “Boiling Down The Essence Of How To Write Good Fiction”

  1. Christina says:

    I love the diagram! And the metaphor as this is one way to do our fiction justice:))

  2. Stephanie Garber says:

    I agree with Christina. I love the diagram! But more importantly I think you’re right on with what you are saying!

  3. I just love this blog. It is a great tool for writers. Many thanks for the information!

  4. Great reminder about the importance of emotion and how all action and information should be an extension of it. Your blog is so smart and helpful.

  5. So is the sword of awesomeness what an agent or editor uses to chop down a writer when they don’t balance action and information correctly? But I digress…

  6. You never cease to learn from this blog. That picture with the awesome manuscript sword should definitely stay in every writers head.

  7. Sword of the Awesome Manuscript? I want one!

    Currently I’m working on a rewrite. This is a perfect reminder for me to make sure the action, information, and emotion are blended well. (Get ready for a new metaphor.) You will need a teaspoon of info with a 1/2 cup of action and a sprinkle of emotion (recipe may vary depending on scene). Stir and let stand…

    ..Okay, maybe it’s not that easy either, but you get what I mean.

    I need to find all those places where I dumped a pound of info and followed it up with a ton of action. Not as graceful, and really awkward to read.

  8. “I smite thee with the Sword of My Awesome Manuscript!”

  9. Way cool, Mary, and fun! I’ll be quoting you and Tina, who I also adore.

  10. Interiority, love that! That emotional thread that tugs the whole way through. If ONLY it could be that easy! 🙂 Thanks, Mary. Great post!

  11. I think I’ve dropped the sword on my foot a few times lol. Love this post, Mary. Great insights for us to work on.

  12. Thank you for this post it was very helpful. Especially the image. Hopefully I will master these elements one day and hold the sword of the awesome manuscript in my worn-out hands.

  13. I’m very curious about whether or not minimalism has a place in YA, since one of its trademarks is a psychological/emotional distance.

    I think Courtney Summers manages this really well because she gets the point across without resorting to paragraphs of involved interiority. But in general, I don’t see a lot of this type of writing in kidit and I wonder if it just doesn’t resonate with young readers?

    I think there’s

  14. oops.

    Haha, anyway, I think there’s a way to have emotion while writing minimally, but I’ve noticed it’s an acquired taste because a lot of readers just need more.

    Interesting post.

  15. Adele Richards says:

    Perfect timing for a reminder of this.

    I’ve been sketching out chapters today with a mind to balancing action vs information. Now I have to go back and consider where the emotion is coming from.

    Writing is like juggling 99 balls at the same time. Or maybe, less dramatically, it’s three balls – emotion, action and information.

    Oh. AND A SWORD! 🙂

  16. Fabio Bueno says:

    You have found the holy grail of fiction writing! I am revising my mss, and each of the two extended scenes that feel flat lacks one of the points of the triangle. One lacks action, the other, emotion–for your information (sorry, couldn’t resist : )
    Oh, could you please make the Sword the prize of a blog giveaway?
    Thanks again for useful advice!

  17. Very useful, good reminder about making sure the total package is on the page and in balance. Thanks for posting this.

  18. This is great. I didn’t realize until reading this post that applying that “emotion” attribute to writing will surely add substance to a character. Not only does it allow the readers to relate to the characters, but it has the potential to influence the impact of a story’s climax. Thanks! 🙂

    Louis Slade

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