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Fiction Essentials for Powerful Writing

Fiction Essentials for

Fiction Essentials for powerful writing

By David Pico

Truth in Fiction
Ground your fiction in powerful ways

Well of CreativitY
Never run dry of material

Give your story purpose


Deconstructing the fiction of the greatest authors and novel of all time.

FREE writing techniques you can put into your fiction today:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Simple Dialogue Technique – Gabriel Garcia Marquez was known for “magical realism”, but it is this simple technique of dialogue he mastered that remains truly magical.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Characterization – Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature and created characters that echoed with the deepest human emotion. How he did it is not so difficult to understand.

Ernest Hemingway’s Repetition Formula – Hemingway used closely-set repetition to embed emotion and reality in his readers. There is a simple but powerful formula involved that you can use in your own fiction.

(*][*get it here – www.fictioncraft.weebly.com[*)*]


The role of fiction


There are many opinions on how to write fiction, and many contradictions. What works for one writer seems laughable to another.  Nearly all great storytellers, however, are universal in at least one opinion: fiction must tell the truth. 

This does not mean you cannot write about the fantastic and the magical. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, a baby is carried off by ants, a virgin ascends into the sky, and flowers rain from the sky. In Bleak House, Charles Dickens has a character spontaneously combust. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F Scott Fitzgerald’s character is born old and ages backwards. 

We believe these things because the authors are telling us the truth of how people act, how they respond emotionally and mentally to situations.  They are telling the truths of what separates man from an animal. The way they tell these truths is the fiction part.

[*Fiction is all make-believe – understanding this is your key to freedom. *]

For a story to be believable, your characters and ideas must be true to life. Your ants must act the way we know ants to act. They must work together to carry the baby away the way we know ants to work together when moving a twig. They must live in a hole in the ground and have a queen. Your flowers must lose petals as they fall from the sky.

The point is realism of imagination, convincingness of imagination.  ~ John Gardner

So you must put real qualities in your imaginary world, but the more important part of telling the truth is that fiction must reaffirm human realities and emotions – things that people deal with in real life.

King Kong was a giant ape who climbed skyscrapers and swiped at airplanes. But he felt real love and was jealous and protective, and in the end it wasn’t airplanes that killed him, “it was beauty killed the beast.” 

[*That is Truth in Fiction. *]

Your characters (whether oversized gorillas or arrow shooting elves) must act with real emotion and a real mind.  They must be recognizable. If readers can’t see themselves or the people they know in your fiction, then your fiction is not telling the truth. 

Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus said “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” 

[*This is the role of fiction *]- to take pieces of life and human ideas (reality) and recreate them in fiction that readers can recognize, understand, and respond to emotionally. 

This is why people read fiction – fiction tells the truth better than reality.  It reveals truths we may not have known about ourselves and the people around us had some clever author not held the mirror up to us.

Francois Mauriac did not write with a new and striking style. He wrote the truth as he saw it in people, an “unshakable honesty in the face of human frailty.” He had a gift for “laying bare the human heart” – and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for it. 

Ian McEwan won the Booker Prize for his novel, Atonement. He considers fiction “fundamentally about the recognition that you are like others and the ability to empathize with others is at the core of our moral thinking.” 

Again, this why people read fiction.  Yes, to escape into another world…but to see themselves in your characters and feel the real human emotion of your fiction.

Italian storyteller, Giovanni Verga, said it best over a hundred years ago:

 “The simple truth of human life will always make us thoughtful; will always have the effectiveness of reality, of genuine tears, of the fevers and sensations that have inflicted the flesh. The mysterious processes whereby conflicting passions mingle, develop and mature, will long constitute the chief fascination in the study of that psychological phenomenon called the plot of a story, and which modern analysis tries to follow with scientific care, through the hidden paths of oftentimes apparently contradictory complications.

When your fiction tells the truth you can make it as imaginary or as real as it comes to your mind.

So go ahead and put your character on a magic carpet or keep his feet on the ground. Give him a human heart and a human experience, and I can’t wait to read it.

Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed. ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

a great writer (must be) convinced of what he is saying. If a writer disbelieves what he is writing, then he can hardly expect his readers to believe it. ~ Jorge Luis Borges[_ _]

I think a great book—leaving aside other qualities such as narrative power, characterization, style, and so on—is a book that describes the world in a way that has not been done before; and that is recognized by those who read it as telling new truths—about society or the way in which emotional lives are led, or both—such truths having not been previously available… ~ Julian Barnes



From this point forward, you may not call yourself an “aspiring author”. You must write. Author’s write, they don’t aspire. 

There’s a great scene in Midnight in Paris where Owen Wilson meets Ernest Hemingway and mentions he’s an aspiring novelist. Hemingway pounds the table and says “If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer.” He then points across the table and clarifies, “But you’re not as long as I’m around, unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it.

If you’re a real writer, you write no matter what. No writer need feel sorry for himself if he writes and enjoys the writing…  ~ Irwin Shaw

in order to write books, all one needs to have is something to say, a stack of blank papers and a pen with which to say it; everything else is extraneous and nothing more than an attempt to add theatrics to the trade.  ~ Camilo Jose Cela (Nobel Prize Winner)


Writer’s block is for amateurs…


The first advice you hear when starting out as a writer is to “write what you know.” Most great writers, however, advise also to write what you don’t know; to write the story you like best, the one you want to see on your shelf. 

Saul Bellow had never been to Africa when he wrote Henderson the Rain King. Tolkien had not been to Middle-Earth, or known any hobbits. Thornton Wilder had not been to Peru when he wrote The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He won the Pulitzer for it. Wilder said, “the journey of the imagination to a remote place is child’s play.”

Novelists are frequently as interested in what hasn’t happened to them as in what has.  ~ Phillip Roth

[*Now you have been freed. Write about anything you want. *]

Where does writing material come from? 

From life. Grab snippets here and there. Observe everything. Inspiration can come from something as simple as a man crossing the street, or an uncle telling about a prank he pulled back in college. 

From books. Read everything. The spark for many novels is found in the pages of other great novels. One line from a great author can bloom into an entire novel for you.

“The ugly fact is books are made out of books,” Cormac McCarthy has said. “The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.”

Many books are derivatives of others. McCarthy’s own Blood Meridian is a westernized derivative of Moby Dick, and McCarthy does not hide Melville’s influence. When McCarthy created the “Judge”, Ahab was at his elbow. 

The Odyssey was redressed as Don Quixote, which has spawned many others books, including 1997 National Book Award winner, Cold Mountain

When you finish reading a novel, you should sit a moment in the settling dust and try to understand what moved you about the story. If you can identify what moved you, you can recreate it in your own fiction, and improve it. 

Fall in love with old movies, when they relied on story instead of special effects. Pay attention to story. Note the professional reactions of the actors who embody their roles and bring real emotion to the part. Watch documentaries. Real people give raw reactions, they give real expressions, real gestures, real words. 

Take a walk and dream. 

Many authors take notes. A stroke of genius widens their eyes and they reach for a pen. Many authors resist taking notes, believing the good pieces worth writing about will stick in their minds, and the unworthy pieces will fall out. 

Whether it is in mind or on paper, a writer’s subconscious sorts through the files of experience and knowledge and bubbles it out as fiction. A writer who doesn’t use their subconscious will have a difficult time. It is your well of creativity.


There are days when the words pour onto the page almost without the need of revising, as if something more powerful than you is working through you. You don’t know where it comes from, but it’s organized and ready, breaking down large ideas into bite-size nibbles, making sense of all the dangling strands and running them down new avenues. It seems your job is to just move your fingers and capture it all.

Suddenly the story filtered out of the depths of memory, and I didn’t have to look for words. Rather, it was the words that seemed to dislodge my most secret feelings.  ~ Elena Ferrante

This is what Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) said other authors blindly defined as “inspiration”, hoping if they sat at the keyboard long enough their “muse” would arrive. Rand believed a writer who was aware of how this inspiration came about could sit down and work with their muse in hand, able to take lightly sketched ideas and write them into powerful scenes. Rand understood that a writer’s mind did most of the writing when it was away from the blank page, piecing together, by way of experiences and knowledge, the “premises and intentions he has already set” for his story. 

In short, when you understand your subconscious and get out of its way, your characters and scenes will write themselves. 

If the word “subconscious” seems too heavy, there are other words for it: understanding, intuition, instinct – your general awareness of life and the subliminal ability to make sense of all the things you know.

Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.  ~ Ray Bradbury

So when you need Character #2 to enter the stage, you are able to draw up a portrait of details easily because your subconscious, in secret anticipation, has already done much of the work. 

Young authors, Rand said, are in danger of burning through their material and ideas after their first book because they don’t put their subconscious to work. They skim material off the surface instead of plunging down deep. 

Henry Miller spoke of the writer’s creative well: “Every line and word is vitally connected with my life, my life only, be it in the form of deed, event, fact, thought, emotion, desire, evasion, frustration, dream, revery, vagary, even the unfinished nothings which float listlessly in the brain like the snapped filaments of a spider’s web. There is nothing really vague or tenuous — even the nothingnesses are sharp, tough, definite, durable. Like the spider I return again and again to the task, conscious that the web I am spinning is made of my own substance, that it will never fail me, never run dry. 

Ayn Rand and Henry Miller agreed. By understanding your subconscious, Rand said, you will never run out of ideas and the ability to express them.


A writer must learn to trust and rely and his subconscious. To train your subconscious and keep it healthy: 

p<>{color:#000;}. Don’t double-cross it  - If you tell yourself you will sit at your desk tomorrow morning and write, you cannot skip the appointment. Leading up to tomorrow morning, your subconscious is working on your story. If you don't sit and let your subconscious spill out what it has done, your subconscious has no reason to believe you will let it do so in the future, and it will stop working in the background. 

p<>{color:#000;}. Try to leave structural revisions  - Many authors edit as they write (we all write the way that works best for us), but subconscious writing should leave structural sentence revisions for another day. Get the idea out on the screen and move on, don’t stop to work the words around. Revisions move an author from an imaginative part of the brain to a logical part of the brain. If you stop to restructure each sentence as they come out, you are actively putting the brakes on your subconscious, and your subconscious could respond by holding back. 

p<>{color:#000;}. Disengage  - Don’t think about your story when you’re not writing it. Many great writers talk about getting physical after a day of writing. They get away from the keyboard and take a walk, play tennis, go fishing, put in a workout. Physical activity frees the conscious mind and passes the story-work along to the subconscious. 

p<>{color:#000;}. Stock your subconscious  - with life, with observations, with knowledge. Don’t think your life is that interesting? Think again.  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. A man who never reads lives only one.”(attributed to George RR Martin) – Hemingway believed his experiences included the books he’d read. Read stories with different themes, explore many different subjects, different genres. Your subconscious will know a little about everything. 

Everything you observe is now material. It can be as simple as that man crossing the street (was he hurried? was he relaxed? what were the physical details and what did they hint at?) Attach meaning to your observations (why did he cross that way? what was his story? what are the possibilities?)

Giving observations roots (understanding) will store them in your memory and allow your subconscious to bring them up when they are needed. Remember, the better you can tell human truths, the more you will move readers.

Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.  ~ Willa Cather

A writer’s material is what he cares about.~ John Gardner

From tiny experiences we build cathedrals.~ Orhan Pamuk
[_I have never written a story in my life that didn’t have a very firm foundation in actual human experience—somebody else’s experience quite often, but an experience that became my own by hearing the story, by witnessing the thing, by hearing just a word perhaps. It doesn’t matter, it just takes a little—a tiny seed. _]~ Katherine Anne Porter

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination—any two of which, at times any one of which—can supply the lack of the others.~ William Faulkner


Give your story purpose.

People never explain to you exactly what they think and feel and how their thoughts and feelings work, do they? They don’t have time. Or the right words. But that’s what books do. It’s as though your daily life is a film in the cinema. It can be fun, looking at those pictures. But if you want to know what lies behind the flat screen you have to read a book. That explains it all.”
― A Week in December, Sebastian Faulks


The nature of the novel, as it has always been, has been to make as much sense as we can of humanity. A novel can, in Cormac McCarthy’s words, “encompass all the various disciplines and interests of humanity.” 

Herman Melville said readers are looking “not only for more entertainment, but, at bottom, even for more reality, than real life itself can show.” 

Graham Greene classified his own novels as being either meaningful works of art or simpler entertainment. Many writers write to entertain in the moment, and if done well, your books will connect.

As a novelist you should want to write a book that is engaging on both levels, one that moves hearts and keeps the pages turning. Readers remember these books. 

Whether you start with life’s greatest questions as Leo Tolstoy did, or you write popular fictions as Stephen King does, for a reader to connect with a story, there has to be an idea to prop the story upon – a theme.


Before you toss away the word “theme” as something too lofty for your fiction, reconsider. Literary Theme has synonyms: attitude, aim, drive, purpose. 

Most authors don’t begin with a theme (I’m going to write about the struggle of good and evil in man’s heart). No, usually a character, image, or situation pops into a writer’s mind (I’m going to write a story about pirates on the high seas). An author can quickly expand this initial character, image, or situation by finding the theme in it (I’m going to write a pirate story on the high seas – and the struggle between good and evil in Captain Bloodeye’s heart

Now you have a story worth writing…and one worth reading. Now all you have to do is find the right scenes, and with the struggle between good and evil guiding your way, your writing will quickly fill the pages.

[*Theme is the main thought drilling through the center of your pages; a general idea that the events in the novel attempts to clarify, or at least offer possibilities. *]

Themes are abstractions, usually a human value, emotion, or belief, and as an author it is your job to put it into concrete examples (scenes) so your readers can comprehend, understand, and respond. 

For example, Latin American novels often deal with themes of freedom and social issues, and use concrete events of corrupt dictatorship and government overreach to demonstrate, i.e. Autumn of the Patriarch

One theme can often lead to subsidiary themes within the same novel, making it work on several levels. For example, love is a popular theme in French literature, and, as a result, so is jealousy. 

Themes are rarely original. 

If you are waiting to find the one theme that has never before been touched by narrative, you might go to the grave without a story written.

Jack London often took other writers’ theories and fleshed them out in his novels. Darwin’s idea ‘Survival of the Fittest’ is a driving theme in White Fang:
This was living, though he did not know it. He was realizing his own meaning in the world; he was doing that for which he was made – killing meat and battling to kill it. He was justifying his existence, than which life can do no greater; for life achieves its summit when it does to the uttermost that which it was equipped to do.

Jack London’s approach is not unique. Find a theme in life that draws you in: and demonstrate it through characters and situations.

The question of what to write about quickly vanishes. 

Authors touch on universal ideas, something that is worth something to everybody. That’s why readers connect, and no two authors will see an idea the same way. Originality is found in your demonstration of your chosen theme. If themes were off-limits after one novel, there would only be a handful of novels in the world. 

Mark Twain said, “All ideas are secondhand. The kernal, the soul – let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances – is plagerism.” 

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that writers “tell our two or three stories each time in a new disguise – maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.” 

“I say the same thing in different worlds.”  ~ Bernard Malamud 

Ian McEwan says an author should “deal in a kind of currency of the sorts of questions we’re asking ourselves all the time: What it is to grow up, what it is to fall in love, grow old, make choices, deal with regrets, try and do something about your errors.”

Know the theme(s) of your story and keep events moving to serve this underlying idea. 

Ayn Rand said when an author understands their theme, they are able to express it exactly. Jack London agreed, and along with this authorial understanding came self-expression:
…the very form of the thinking is the expression. If you think clearly, you will write clearly; of your thoughts are worthy, so will your writing be worthy. But if your expression is poor, it is because your thought is poor, if narrow, because you are narrow. If your ideas are confused and jumbled, how can you expect a lucid utterance? If your knowledge is sparse or unsystematized, how can your words be broad or logical? And without the strong central thread of a working philosophy, how can you make order out of chaos? how can your foresight and insight be clear? how can you have a quantitative and qualitative perception of the relative importance of every scrap of knowledge you possess? And without all this how can you possibly be yourself? how can you have something fresh for the jaded ear of the world?


Frank O’Connor said theme was the greatest essential of a story. “You have to have a theme, a story to tell.” 

He said the secret of the theme is to write it down in four lines.
“If you make the subject of a story twelve or fourteen lines [then] the story is already written. It has ceased to be fluid, you can’t design it any longer, you can’t model it. So I always confine myself to my four lines. If it won’t go into four, that means you haven’t reduced it to its ultimate simplicity.”

Sebastian Faulks said “if you could put it in a single sentence, you wouldn’t bother to write the book.” 

John Steinbeck, however, said one sentence would do: “…it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about… try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it…”

p<>{color:#000;}. To Kill a Mockingbird is about Good and Evil.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Grapes of Wrath is about man’s selfishness toward other men.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Great Gatsby is about excess and the American dream.

p<>{color:#000;}. A Farewell to Arms is about love and loss and the realities of war.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Cather in the Rye is about the self-isolation of youth.

p<>{color:#000;}. Romeo and Juliet is about forbidden love (so is Twilight).

And, yes, popular fiction has underlying themes (themes the authors most likely did not set out to show, but turned up in their fiction nonetheless) :

p<>{color:#000;}. Gone Girl is about relationships, trust, fidelity, manipulation, control, lies, revenge.

p<>{color:#000;}. The Girl on the Train is about betrayal.

Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. Your “forbidden” passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing…” Joyce Carol Oates
If you are too hung up on theme, your characters give up free-will, and individuality, and become servants. Characters must be real people. Readers don’t want characters to be pawns lined up on the board to prove a theme, nor do they want a character and situation that never finds some underlying idea behind it.


You should write the book that you want to see on your own shelf, written as it needs to be written, and you should write it without worrying about the literary critics reading over your shoulder. Forget the critics. You are writing to people who will enjoy your story. 

Thornton Wilder said he wrote “in order to discover on my shelf a new book that I would enjoy reading…” – Wilder’s novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, won the Pulitzer. 

Handle your own balance between art and entertainment. Drain one to the other. How a novel is written must be appropriate to the story. For many readers, theme will go over their heads. Which is why a novel must entertain.

Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.  ~ Ernest Hemingway

If a writer looks at their work as a thoughtful exploration and an entertainment – he cannot fail to gain a following.


Deconstructing the fiction of the greatest authors and novel of all time.

FREE writing techniques you can put into your fiction today:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Simple Dialogue Technique – Gabriel Garcia Marquez was known for “magical realism”, but it is this simple technique of dialogue he mastered that remains truly magical.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Characterization – Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature and created characters that echoed with the deepest human emotion. How he did it is not so difficult to understand.

Ernest Hemingway’s Repetition Formula – Hemingway used closely-set repetition to embed emotion and reality in his readers. There is a simple but powerful formula involved that you can use in your own fiction.

(*][*get it here – www.fictioncraft.weebly.com[*)*]

I write about situations that are common, universal might be more correct, in which my characters are involved and from which only faith can redeem them…  ~ Graham Greene

The real breaking point [between popular fiction and literary fiction] comes when you ask whether a book engages you on an emotional level. […] They should all be entertainments, you know. That is, in some ways, the nub of the problem. If a novel is not an entertainment, I don’t think it’s a successful book.  ~ Stephen King

I believe Faulkner said, striking a match in the middle of the night in the middle of a field doesn’t permit you to see anything more clearly, but to see more clearly the darkness that surrounds you. Literature does that more than anything else. It doesn’t properly illuminate things, but like the match it lets you see how much darkness there is.  ~ Javier Marias

…it behooves us not to try to take over that authority, not to try to write fiction that is about the meaning of life, that tries to grasp what only God can grasp. So one writes entertainments.  ~ Alice Munro

I really do believe that a novel has to be a feast of the senses, a delightful thing.  ~ John Gardner

Fiction Essentials for Powerful Writing

Free techniques you can use in your fiction today. Get it at www.FictionCraft.weebly.com Fiction Essentials for Powerful Writing Essential techniques for writing great fiction used by the greatest authors who ever lived. Truth in Fiction - Ground your fiction in powerful ways Well of Creativity - Never run dry of material Theme - Give your story purpose FictionCraft - Deconstructing the fiction of the greatest authors and novels of all time.

  • Author: David Xavier
  • Published: 2016-09-29 21:20:15
  • Words: 4429
Fiction Essentials for Powerful Writing Fiction Essentials for Powerful Writing