Highlights from Christine Fletcher’s Presentation: Essential Skills for Every Fiction Writer

Ashleigh RousselleBy Ashleigh Rousselle

If you’re going to write fiction; you’re going to have to read fiction.

If you plan to write romance, read romance; read in your genre.

The most important parts of novels are: character, action/conflict, and details.  These are “rock-bottom essentials.”

Fiction begins with characters—the people on the pages. Your character shouldn’t be a puppet; a good character lives and breathes on the page—they have morals, flaws, things that are unique to them. When the book is over readers should be able to understand the characters enough so that they keep thinking about them for years.

Christine Fletcher swears she knows some characters in novels better than she knows members of her own family. And that’s good!

Readers shouldn’t just identify with characters; writers want them to become emotionally invested. It’ll keep them reading the book, and make them tell others about the book…

You need to be able to visualize/see your character. Not just physical, but motivations—why they do what they do.

Basic wants: love, money, power. Figure out what your character wants more than anything. You also need to know why.

Fear—what’s  at stake?  What happens if the character doesn’t get what they want?  Has to be huge—has to really matter—for that character.

One main want, and one main fear, should run through the entire book. Keeps the book together, introduced at the very beginning.

People in real life can be as out of character and unexplainable as they want but your characters cannot.  They can’t suddenly change, everything they do has to be reasonable for the character you’ve introduced the readers to—which is why the basic wants help. If you don’t know why your character is doing something, neither will your readers. You can surprise readers, but the decisions your characters make can’t come out of left field with no real reasoning behind them.

We can use fiction to explore the things that drive us insane. Things we want to know but never will. In fiction we can figure it out. You can make it all make sense in your head

Know your characters better than you know yourself.

Experiment with 1st person versus 3rd person—how does it sound in your head?  If the main character seems to be talking directly to you then write in 1st.  What’s the easiest way to tell the story?

Characters have to be compelling; readers have to be on their side. It’s the main character that’s taking the readers through the story. Characters must feel intensely, and take action. Characters have to do something.

Reading a novel is an investment of energy and emotion—make it worth it.

Stories usually begin with an inciting incident, which cause the protagonist to take action. It’s the incident, which set the story in motion. Something that jars the protagonist out of usual routine and sets them down a certain path.  Must be something that plays off characters great want or great fear.  Also: why now—what’s happening to make you chose that moment to start the story.

Readers should feel like they’ve been dropped into characters lives.  Meaning they should have had a life before the novel started.

Don’t procrastinate writing your novel in order to figure out every detail of your characters lives—some things can only be revealed while you’re writing the novel.

Conflict drives the story. No conflict, no story. Anything that opposes your characters. Internal or external. Something your character has to overcome.

Characters who have no internal conflict and are perfect are called “Mary Sue” or “Mary Stu,” they should not exist. Everyone has internal conflict, so characters with internal conflicts are extremely relate-able. They have to be clear on the page for the reader.

External conflicts can be situations or people, minor to major. Time could even be a conflict. Creates tension.

Remember the weather!

The antagonist has to be as compelling as the protagonist. Don’t rely on clichés.

Readers often judge by the first page—so make it interesting!

Antagonist has all own (dis)likes, wants, and fears—just like protagonist.  Well-rounded person.  Antagonist needs to be worthy of protagonist, need to be evenly matched.

There must be conflict of some kind on every page.  Keeps tension going and readers attentive. No matter how small, doesn’t have to be explosions, and car chases, more like a knock at the door, or a strained silence between mother and daughter-in-law.

You must torture your characters. (Make bad things happen to them.) Making your characters miserable doesn’t guarantee that your readers will keep reading. you can’t make random bad things happen. Conflict has to be meaningful; has to be related to the story question (the question around which your story is based—enough to make the reader read to the end to get the answer.)

Toward the end: bigger conflicts, and the more it should play against your characters flaws, wants, weaknesses…etc.

End can’t be predictable—why would you read till the end?

Conflicts can occur directly because of main characters actions.  It’s their fault.

Never resolve all the conflicts, (until the end).

Don’t protect your protagonist, something really needs to be at stake. If you’re avoiding a scene you need to write it and let it play out.

Fictional dream—getting immersed in novel. Not being aware that you’re reading, being in the book.  You start visualizing the world the writer wrote.

Don’t jar your reader out of the world you create. Be careful with the language.

Details bring the world alive, they leave cues, let senses take over.

Don’t describe everything, describe the right details.

The writing shouldn’t call attention to itself, the story is the main focus.

Details show emotion, that emotion must match the rest of the story.

Use all five senses, don’t always rely on sight.


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