When writing any story, your goal ought to be to create and maintain a fictional dream, or an “illusion that there is no filter between reader and events that the reader is actually experiencing what he is reading,” as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. defines it.
For the reader, one of the joys of literature is to be immersed in the fictional dream. As a writer, there may be no greater disservice to your reader than to break this illusion. As science fiction author and editor Stanley Schmidt once wrote, “Your job as a writer is to make your reader forget that he or she is reading …”
The stronger the fictional dream, the more immediate the story and its characters are to the reader. The payoff for the author is that his story’s message will stick longer with the reader – never mind that the author’s stature (and sales) correspondingly will rise.
Readers pick up a novel or turn to a short story in a magazine ready to enter a fictional dream. Like a football team that can score at will over an opponent, the author gives away the victory when he repeatedly fumbles.
To maintain the fictional dream, avoid committing these errors when writing:
• Pointless digressions – The reader expects that every sentence will move the story forward. Taking a side trip that serves no purpose in the tale delays this forward momentum, which should only increase until the story reaches its climax.
• Expository lumps – Explanations of procedures, how devices operate and future history often run too long and again break the story’s forward momentum. The best way to explain something is to show it in action and have characters give brief, partial hints so readers through their own thinking can figure out it out for themselves.
• Lists – Even worse than a lump is a list. The items in the list usually are superfluous to the story. If they aren’t, then their importance ought to be incorporated into the action.
• Turgid prose – Bombastic or pompous phrasing sounds unnatural. Authors should write as if holding a conversation with the reader, not lecturing and talking down to him.
• Unrealistic characters – If a character appears false, then the reader won’t identify with him or will find his actions unbelievable.
• Premise with holes in it – Stories make arguments and draw conclusions. If the argument is satisfactorily supported or steps skipped to reach a conclusion, the reader will questions about the story rather than enjoy it.
• Shifts in viewpoint – Changing the perspective from which a story is told can be jarring to the reader.
• Telling rather than showing – By telling what happens, as if giving stage directions, the reader is distanced from the action and the characters.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.