Fiction Without The Structure Of Essay Writing

December 20, 2012

So many novices offer critiques to other novices about form and style. And often they both miss the fact that fiction isn’t, and shouldn’t be gone about as, essay writing.

They are two different animals.

I read a long time ago that what’s going on while characters say things is just as good writing as using a tag to tell the reader how something was said.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This excerpt below shows a school counselor taking to a girl who’s had a bit of a meltdown in welding class.

 Before you read it, try writing 90 of your own words showing the same type of scene:

A counselor writing a note for the girl’s file as the girl wakes in her office. The counselor will say something to the girl (dialogue). And have the girl reflect on how and what the counselor says (internal thoughts, and maybe some description).

You have 90 words. Go.

Here’s what I came up with:

Mrs. Frye wrote out a note for my file after I woke up. Who’d figure leaving someone alone in a room to ‘wait a minute and I’ll be right with you’ would’ve done the trick. Sneaky if you ask me. But it did work. I was nearly okay when I opened my eyes again and saw her waiting. Her voice all gentle and soap-opera-nurse as she explained to me; “There’s a lot on your mind, hon, sometimes there’s just nothing left to spare, energy wise, for filtering out loud noises.”

No tags there at all, yet I wrote it to get the gist of how this Mrs. Frye spoke, the Narrator thinks she’s sneaky.

Then the Narrator says Mrs. Frye’s also gentle and talks like a soap-opera-nurse. But there’s no tag to any of the counselor ’s lines, the one we read that’s in quotes, or the one showing how the girl felt about what she hears, the one we’re told about in italics.

Instead there’s a bit of descriptive narration about how the counselor  ‘explained to me’ followed by Mrs. Frye’s line in quotes.

If you thought dialogue requires an exchange of lines in quotes with speech tags for every line (back and forth, who said what, and back and forth, with an adverb for how they said it), you might be in the essay mode of writing fiction.

Take a risk, and a look at new ways to show dialogue.

This concept of new ways to do old things works for other writing elements too.

The trick to setting that works on lots of levels is once you’ve established the setting – let your story use it in many other ways than just letting the reader know where we are.

Look at the part from the example above:

Who’d figure leaving someone alone in a room to ‘wait a minute and I’ll be right with you’ would’ve done the trick.

It can be simple narrative – a prop for the intention of a scene. It can reflect a bit of time passing in a quiet room and only use 22 words doing it. It can reflect a character, her emotion, or the tone of a scene. Or both things at once.

With setting the undertone comes through in ‘lesser-stated’ ways, it’s more evocative and less expository (when worked on and done well) at getting the intangibles across to a reader. So just as the setting then does double-duty in service to narration, so can Dialogue.

Dialogue is more than the what/how it was said, though. More than crafting a unique sound for each distinct character.

It’s, yes, that unique voices you’re after, but also the subtext of the individual character’s motivations and agendas –
all the things that go unspoken by the character; that you try to get through to the reader, without expository narration or ‘leading-the-reader’ speech tags.

One thing to remember is that writing Fiction is far away from essay writing. It’s not essay writing with the rules that govern that type of writing. It’s fiction, and that means storytelling.

You really can get into it without the same structure and just write from what scenes you see or hear in your head. There’s a lot more freedom to it, if you un-clench and allow yourself to go there.



2 Responses to “Fiction Without The Structure Of Essay Writing”

  1. Nice and informative post! Really appreciate the efforts you have put in to research these facts. Probably will help out a lot of readers! Cheers!

  2. ejrunyon Says:

    Thanks Giselle,
    Think of me when you want edits done. I have openings for new clients.

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