The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction
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Publishing a book can feel like a monumental task, especially when you do it on your own. There’s a whole world of design choices, marketing strategies, and printing options that you need to navigate before your book finds its audience. Count on Palmetto Publishing to guide you along the way.
Writing is an art form, and fiction writing is no different. Fiction, a type of literature in which an author invents a story in their imagination, can have a great societal impact with its presentation of existential and social themes. Fiction can also bring readers to faraway lands or unfamiliar timelines, as well as be a joy to read.
With the wide variety of fiction novels, from romance to sci-fi to horror books, it can be difficult to know where to start when writing a fiction story. Additionally, for those wanting to pursue a career in fiction writing, approaching this field with so many talented authors can seem daunting.
In this guide to writing fiction, we’ll cover the questions:
- What are the elements of fiction?
- What are fiction subgenres, and how do you write them?
- How should you advertise your fiction novel?
- Can you make a living off of writing fiction?
Keep reading to hone your fiction-writing expertise and learn how to make a career out of this literary art form.
Elements of fiction books
While no two fiction books are exactly alike, fiction is a literary style with some common structural elements. All fiction books contain the basic elements of character(s), plot, setting, point of view, style, and theme(s). Let’s examine these elements and how you can make them strong in your fiction writing.
One of the most important elements of a fiction novel is character. Characters are the people authors create in fiction writing to lead the reader throughout the story. The main character is the character of focus throughout the story, which is often described most vividly. Readers get to know the main characters well, watch them grow throughout the plot, watch them face struggles and feel emotions, and overall see how their minds work.
Fiction may also contain side characters or characters who assist the main character in their journey throughout the story. Side characters can be just as vivid or only have small roles in a novel.
Good character-writing is marked by a written character seeming like a real person to the reader. You can achieve this through detailed descriptions of appearance, creating an interesting and complex personality, and getting into the psychology of the character’s mind. A “good” character is also called a “round” character, while a poorly written character is called a “flat” character.
Creating a round character should be every author’s goal while writing a flat character should be avoided. A round character is a character that has dimension, and the reader should feel like they truly know them by the end of the book. A flat character, on the other hand, lacks dimension and may have a weak personality.
Flat characters may arise when writers focus solely on the plot or setting. However, fiction writers must remember that people (or nonhuman characters) are what makes a story a story. Common methods to ensure your characters are rounded include:
- Backstories — Just like real people have backstories, characters should have them too. Detail the events that led up to the present story to show how the past made a character who they are today.
- Want vs. needs — People are driven by their desires, and sometimes what we want and need are different. Highlighting this universal struggle adds elements of complexity and realism to your character(s).
- Development — Your character(s) should react to the plot that progresses throughout a story, such as during conflict, climaxes, and resolution. Detailing how these changes impact them through growth and development makes for a rounder character.
- Psychology — People’s minds are complex, so characters should be no different. Researching psychology can help writers better understand how people work, thus helping them write a more complex character.
- Real-life inspiration — Some writers may even base characters on real people they’ve encountered or know of. Referencing a real person to write your character can help you think of unique, realistic characteristics. You may even ask, “What would this person do or say in this situation?” to create a more vivid profile.
The plot is another fundamental element of a fiction story. Every story does, in fact, need a story. The plot is everything that takes place in the story, typically having a beginning, middle, and end. While every fiction book has a plot, one plot may have a completely different storyline, structure, and timeline than another.
When writing a plot, authors must consider:
- Time structure — Is the story chronological or non-chronological?
- Plot type — Is this a tragedy, quest, hero’s journey, or another type?
- Structure — Does this story have rising action, a climax, a resolution, or other structural elements?
When tackling the element of plot, understand that a typical fictional plot structure has the following elements:
- The status quo — Often, the introduction of a story details the main character’s typical life.
- Catalyst — An event that sets the story in motion, shifting the story out of the character’s ordinary life.
- Rising action — The main character or protagonist faces action or obstacles as they move throughout the story, perhaps in pursuit of a goal.
- Climax or an all-is-lost moment — The main event of the plot occurs and could be positive or negative. The climax may be an “all-is-lost” moment, meaning the protagonist is at their lowest point.
- Resolution — There is a resolution to the conflict, whether positive or negative. The character has developed in some way, perhaps viewing the world differently.
A good plot should keep the readers hooked throughout the story, typically providing conflict that a character tries to overcome. The following elements will help you add more detail to your plot.
The setting is where your story takes place, creating the backdrop for the plot and characters. A setting can add substantial value to your characters, storyline, and genre, potentially making or breaking a novel. Elements of a setting include the time period, location, and appearance.
The key element of creating a compelling setting is detail! The most detailed settings tend to be the most realistic. A setting description should paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind. Additionally, some authors even start with the setting before introducing characters.
Settings vary between genres, with literary fiction and action-adventure books, for example, having very different backdrops. For some genres, like fantasy, settings are particularly important for world-building to truly bring the reader into another world.
Point of View
The point of view is the vantage point from which the reader reads. The three point-of-view (POV) types are first, second, and third person. First-person uses the pronoun “I,” meaning the reader sees the story from the main character’s perspective. Second person uses the “you” pronoun, and “you” is the main character. Second-person may be used to address the reader, drawing them into the story.
The third-person POV has two types: third-person limited and third-person omniscient. Third-person limited means the story is told by a narrator, depicting the perspective of one character, typically the protagonist. Third-person omniscient provides the perspective of multiple characters throughout the story, also in third-person narration.
Style is another key aspect of fiction, and it’s the type of words, syntax, pace, and structure that a writer uses. Having a distinct style is an important part of being a fiction writer, and it’s what sets you apart from other writers. Style also creates a specific tone and feel of a novel. For example, having long sentences may give your book a stream-of-consciousness style. Perhaps your style contains a lot of metaphors. The more you write, the more you will discover your own unique style.
A theme of a fiction story is what the story really ‘meant,’ including certain issues it addressed and the topics it made the reader think about. The theme might also be called the ‘moral’ of the story or what it taught the reader. Themes are often portrayed through symbolism or the character’s actions. When deciding on a theme for your fiction writing, think about what you truly want your story to portray. Your theme might reveal something about society, politics, life, love, humanity, war, spirituality, good, or evil.
Types of Fiction Genres
Fiction contains a wide variety of genres, or the category of literature characterized by its similarities in style, setting, and plot. Before writing fiction stories, authors must decide what genre they are writing. This helps authors approach the structure of their writing, as each genre has its own elements that make it compelling. Below are some common fiction genres and their typical elements.
Romance — Stories in the romance genre are about romantic relationships between people. They are often characterized by desire, tension, and even drama. Most romance books consist of the protagonists being apart from one another, yet ending up together eventually. There may be dramatic events, people, or other obstacles that keep them apart or bring them together.
Fantasy — Fantasy fiction includes mythical kingdoms, otherworldly creatures, and magical concepts. Fantasy books often take place in ancient or medieval times. World-building is an essential element of the fantasy genre to transport readers into another world.
Science Fiction — Sci-fi is characterized as a story that takes place in another timeline, often the future, or in a different dimension or universe. Science fiction books typically include concepts of technology, human evolution, and dystopia or utopia. Typical sci-fi plots may include a threat to humanity, the dangers of technological advancement, or post-apocalyptic scenarios.
Young Adult — This genre is written for adolescents ages 12 to 18, covering themes related to coming of age. Young adult books may overlap with other genres, such as sci-fi or mystery, but they are always geared toward young people.
Mystery — Mystery books are characterized by stories with a mysterious element the protagonist must solve. A common type of mystery novel is a crime novel in which the main character is trying to solve a crime.
Suspense/Thriller — This genre keeps readers ‘at the edge of their seats,’ or rather turning the page in this instance. It involves pursuit, characters in danger, cliffhangers, and darker elements. The threats can be both physical and psychological, and there is often rising action that leads to a climax.
Realistic Fiction — This fiction genre takes place in the ‘real world,’ with ordinary people, settings, and stories. The purpose of realistic fiction is to show beauty or meaning in the mundane. It contains believable events, contemporary issues, and relatable messages.
Many novels overlap between multiple genres but tend to fall into at least one distinct category. Every genre also has its typical tropes or cliches. Whatever genre you choose to write, research similar books in your category to get a sense of what makes for a compelling piece within that genre.
Palmetto Publishing provides editing and publishing services for authors of every genre and industry, including the above fiction genres. Get started on your fiction publishing journey today.
Pursuing fiction writing is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. Embarking on a writing career also includes business, publishing, and marketing efforts. While many struggle to make a living out of fiction writing on their own, it’s certainly possible, especially with the help of publishing experts like Palmetto Publishing.
Making a living
You might be wondering, “Can I make a living out of fiction writing?”. The answer is yes. However, it’s important to be realistic about the costs and profits of book writing. Writers earn different amounts depending on whether they are self-published or work with a publishing house.
Self-published authors may make 60% of royalties from books sold on Amazon, minus the cost of printing. Traditionally published authors may receive a check up-front, and they receive less royalties from the following sales of their novels. Understanding the right publishing methods for you, as well as knowing how to advertise, are essential to having a successful writing career.
Choosing one’s publishing route makes a large impact on one’s writing career. Traditional publishing with a publishing house may bring little investment and up-front profits, but self-publishing also has many benefits. Self-publishing with a family-owned publishing service like Palmetto Publishing ensures your book is polished, has an enticing cover, and will gain media exposure.
When marketing your book, there are many ways to gain exposure as a self-published author. Overall, advertising a fiction book requires:
- An interesting cover
- Receiving reviews on places like Amazon
- Spreading the news on social media
- Creating and updating an author’s website
- Purchasing online ads
Palmetto Publishing also offers book marketing services, including marketing copy, press releases, media distribution, and more. Palmetto Publishing has over 780,000+ media contacts to ensure your book reaches the right people.
Fiction writing is a beloved literary art form that is equally challenging, fun and fulfilling for many authors. When writing a fiction novel, it helps to understand the various structures of fiction and its sub-genres to ensure your novel is enticing to readers.
If you are pursuing a career in fiction writing, know that you do not have to go it alone! Palmetto Publishing is a top-tier publishing service provider. We provide the following services to take your self-published novels to the next level:
- Cover design
- Interior formatting
Get started with Palmetto Publishing today to get your book into the hands of your readers.