Bad writing habitsCritiques

Storytelling and related miscellany

From Rick:

This week’s post is going to be short and sweet. I’ve put together some tidbits and tips that I hope readers will find of some benefit.

In a recent Kris Rusch blog post, she hit upon one of my biggest peeves about some of the fiction I see written today: the lack of storytelling. Pay particular attention to her comments about literary fiction.


At Fabula Argentea we receive some submissions that are stories only in the marginal sense. I’m not saying that they aren’t good writing. It’s just that they’re not proper stories. We usually reject them because we publish stories. In recent blogs here, I’ve pointed out the basic requirements for a story: beginning, middle, end, characters, conflict, and resolution. In one post I talked about the difference between articles, essays, anecdotes, and stories. If you missed that one, here’s the link:


What I didn’t discuss there were vignettes and scenes, which are similar to each other. They are not stories, either, because they lack one or more of the elements that comprise a full story. It goes without saying that if you expect your piece to be remembered, it probably needs to be a story. Non-story literary pieces may get published and win awards, but don’t expect them to stand the test of time. I strongly recommend you read Kris Rusch’s article at least twice and let it sink in, especially if you’re thinking that an MFA degree might help you be a better writer.


David Farland just did a post on the topic of narration in which he listed a problem that new writers often have: weak narration.


Of these narration problems, the one I see most frequently is too much narration, usually manifest by the story (often a novel) opening with story setup that consists of background and backstory. If you’re working on a novel, ask yourself–honestly–how many pages the reader has to read before he knows what the story (the story, not the character or the setting) is about. How many pages does he have to read before something significant happens? Or have you spent several paragraphs or pages just introducing your character or the setting? For example, if it’s a ten-page short story, has something significant happened by the end of the page one?

I should point out that “significant” doesn’t mean just significant to the story, but significant to the reader. In other words, the reader had better know that something important happened. While I try to make something important happen in the first page or two of my own stories, my rule of thumb is that the reader should have finished no more than 5% of the story before he’s absorbed in the story itself. I’ve also seen far too many short stories in which the first 90% of the story is little more than a setup for a surprise or twist that reveals itself on the last page. Not good.

But read all of Farland’s article carefully and listen to what he’s saying.


Yet another article that crossed my path recently is one about receiving criticism of your work. I found this one’s advice especially worthy.


All I’ll say here is that if you’re going to be a writer, you have to be prepared for the worst in terms of criticism. This article tells you how to deal with it properly. It also tells you how to tell good criticism from bad.


Have you ever heard people say that the bad guy in a particular novel was too cliché or two-dimensional? Well, here’s an article filled with advice on how to avoid that in your writing.



So, that’s it for this time. The blog is short, but I trust you’ll find the longer articles it references useful.


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