Why, you might ask, would anyone write a book about fiction-writing modes? A mode is a particular manner of doing or expressing something. Eleven different modes comprise all written fiction. Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life book describes them and how to use each one effectively. With a deeper understanding of these modes, you can better utilize your creative talents to craft successful fiction.
Fiction writers use these modes to tell stories. No doubt you are already familiar with some of them. Dialogue is a mode of fiction writing. So is narration. You can probably name a few more, such as exposition, summarization, and description. The others may be new to you: recollection, sensation, emotion, introspection, action, and transition.
Fiction-Writing Modes will teach you what you need to know about all eleven and how to use them. You will find that this book is unlike any you have ever read. Other instruction books, however helpful, lack order and a classification system of what comprises written fiction. They do not adequately address all you need to know about fiction-writing modes to become an effective fiction writer. Some articles, books, and seminars identify a few modes, but none of them discusses or even identifies all of them.
Were you surprised to learn that there are eleven fiction-writing modes? If you don't know the eleven, you may be writing without all the tools available to you. That's the equivalent of a painter trying to create masterpieces with only a few colors.
Learning to write better fiction is an ongoing pursuit. Ernest Hemingway said, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."[i] While that may be true, each of us can improve by learning when, where, and how to utilize the basic tools of our craft.
I am the author of Backlash: A War of 1812 Novel, two young-adult novels, and Scenes and Sequels: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction. I publish a fiction-writing newsletter for a growing list of subscribers around the world. I teach writing at seminars and workshops, and I write articles about the craft of writing fiction.
Who should read this book? If you are a beginner, this book will provide an invaluable foundation from which to build your skills. If you are an experienced author, this book may help you reach new levels of success. If you are already a bestselling novelist, you might find interesting the words of Stephen King in the foreword to his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, "Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."[ii] A better understanding of fiction-writing modes can help any writer understand why some writing works and some doesn't.
Writing fiction is not just an art. It is also a craft. If you want to excel at the craft of writing fiction, you need more than inspiration and intuition. You need skill, and skill comes from know-how. Knowing how to use fiction-writing modes can help you engage a reader, say what you mean, and achieve the results you intend. The eleven fiction-writing modes are the tools of an author's trade.
This book will teach you the features, strengths, and weaknesses of each mode. You will learn the mechanics of writing in each mode. You will see when to use one mode and not another. You will master selecting the exact fiction-writing mode for a particular passage to cause the desired effect on the reader.
Let's define the modes first, each of which we will discuss in depth in the upcoming chapters.
While researching fiction-writing modes and drafting related articles for my monthly online newsletter, For Fiction Writers, I formulated ideas to make this book the most comprehensive and concise resource available anywhere regarding fiction-writing modes and the mechanics of presenting them.
This book is about a specific aspect of writing fiction, but having a big-picture understanding is helpful. Five fundamental elements comprise all fiction: character, plot, setting, theme, and style. Each has its own specific function within a story:
All eleven fiction-writing modes apply to the five elements of fiction. Action and summarization are at the core of plot, revealing events in detail or in summary. Sensation, emotion, introspection, and recollection take readers into the mind of our characters, sharing feelings, thoughts, and memories—revealing who each character really is. Description helps us visualize a setting from the tiniest details to the grand vistas of the story's world. Any or all of the eleven modes may contribute to the underlying message of a story's themes.
Fiction-writing modes fit under the element of style. Style reflects the myriad of choices fiction writers make in the process of creating fiction. They encompass strategic decisions such as point of view and choosing a narrator, but they also include nitty-gritty, tactical choices of grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence and paragraph length and structure, tone, imagery, chapter selection, titles, and (drum roll) fiction-writing modes. In the process of creating a story, these choices meld to become the writer’s voice, his or her unique style. How you use fiction-writing modes and the skill with which you use them becomes a significant aspect of your writing style.
The state of the art of writing fiction is evolving. Your own skill as an author grows as you acquire knowledge. One way you can improve your writing capabilities is to learn the components of fiction and how best to use them. This book will help you get closer to writing at your full potential.
Throughout the book's five parts, I include examples to illustrate the issues being addressed. Many examples are drawn from whatever books were within reach as I wrote the manuscript. Some of the examples are from my own young-adult novels, The Brute and Cracks.
Full disclosure: my preferred style of writing is a third-person point of view with close perspective. I strive for intimate, immediate fiction (terms defined in the book). Fiction-writing modes apply to all types of fiction, but my recommendations and examples favor writing in a style favored in thrillers and other popular fiction.
Throughout this book I define concepts and terms within the text. Where appropriate, I provide examples. You'll also find a glossary at the back.
What is the best way to use this book? That depends upon your needs. Reading this book from beginning to end is probably most beneficial, but you may find other ways. If you have a particular interest or writing issue to deal with, look at the table of contents or thumb through the index to locate that specific subject. This book may also be a handy desk reference for answering your questions while you are writing fiction. The various chapters may also serve as inspiration to presentations at writing classes, clubs, and workshops.
Each chapter addresses a fiction-writing mode and how that mode works. This book is intended to be the most comprehensive, yet concise discussion about fiction-writing modes anywhere. Some of the information may be familiar to you, but much of it won't.
As far back as I can remember I've heard the training adage: "See one. Do one. Teach one." I've read fiction, I've written fiction, and I've taught fiction. Teaching fiction, including writing this book, helps me become a better writer. I'm pleased to share what I've learned.
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STILL NOT CONVINCED?
Years ago, when I first began writing fiction, I was bewildered by the jargon used to describe novels and the process of creating them. Let's face it, there's a lot of information out there, and much of it is conflicting. Year by year, book by book, I've been sorting out the terms, structures, and processes needed to turn an idea into a novel.
One day I had a breakthrough in understanding how writing fiction works. I suspect we have all had "aha!" moments when something changes how we look at things. Such a moment for me was many years ago when I was reading The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall.
One of the keys to successful fiction, according to Marshall, is to know what you're doing and why at all times. He noticed that many beginning novelists don't seem completely conscious of what they are writing. As a result, they misuse what he described as fiction-writing modes—the types of writing of which all fiction is made.[iii]
Marshall listed five fiction-writing modes: action, summary, dialogue, feelings/thoughts, and background, each with its own set of conventions regarding how, when, and where it should be used. Over the years I've incorporated them into my writing and my thinking.
Another "aha!" moment for me occurred in reading Jessica Page Morrell's Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. She listed six delivery modes: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition.[iv]
To their credit, both Marshall and Morrell have recognized the need to identify and describe the various modes novelists utilize in the process of creating fiction. But their disparate lists raise several questions: (1) Which is the more appropriate label for the concept: writing modes, fiction-writing modes, delivery modes, or something else? (2) Are all of the terms listed by Marshall and Morrell appropriate for inclusion in a list of modes? (3) Are all the potential modes included in their lists?
Let's take the question of a label first. The term delivery modes has some merit, but in my mind it creates an image of big vans driven by people in brown shorts. So let's try another one. When I did a Google search using the key words "writing modes," I found that the term is already being used to describe four broad types of writing: descriptive, expository, narrative, and persuasive. I vaguely remember these terms from my school days, so in deference to English teachers and their students, maybe we ought to leave writing modes to the classroom.
When I studied the Google search results for "writing modes," I saw that narrative writing refers to storytelling. Aha! Maybe we should label the modes as narrative modes or narrative-writing modes. Both have appeal, but the word narrative bothers me because it means different things to different people, especially writers.
Maybe Marshall has the right label after all with "fiction-writing modes." Fiction writing is consistent with the concept of narrative writing, and the term has little room for misunderstanding. Alternatively, "novel-writing modes" excludes short stories, and the modes encompass both forms of fiction. Until someone comes up with a better label, I'll use "fiction-writing modes."
Now let's look at the second and third questions. Are all of the modes listed by Marshall and Morrell appropriate to include on the list? Could there be more? To answer that question, I combined both lists and then added more candidates: scene, sequel, stimulus, response, flashback, background, feelings/thoughts, narrative, description, action, summary, dialogue, exposition, transition, recollection, introspection, sensation, and emotion.
I eliminated scene, sequel, stimulus, and response, because I categorize them as structural components of plot:
I deleted flashback from the mode list because I consider a flashback to be a scene within a sequel or, less appropriately, within another scene.
Background didn't make my list, either; it's essentially the backstory of a plot, and I view plot as having three temporal dimensions:
Backstory, current story, and future story can each be revealed in numerous ways: dialogue, exposition, narration, recollection, or flashbacks.
Marshall's concept of thinking/feeling as a mode makes sense, but the term seemed cumbersome and incomplete. In its place I inserted introspection, recollection, emotion, and sensation.
Again, the term narration troubled me. Not only is it one of the four general writing modes, but it also encompasses everything a fiction writer produces. On the other hand, in a more narrow sense, narration is a specific type of writing where the narrator communicates directly to the reader. With this application in mind, I've retained narration as a fiction-writing mode.
Likewise, the term description in its broadest sense could be taken to include all fiction. What is dialogue but a description of conversation? Or, isn't action just a description of what is currently happening? But some writing clearly focuses on describing something specific and isn't easily categorized in another mode, so I kept description as a fiction-writing mode.
After combining the Marshall and Morrell lists, adding more candidates, winnowing the list, and then converting them to nouns ending in -tion, I arrived at the following list of fiction-writing modes: action, summarization, conversation, narration, description, exposition, transition, sensation, emotion, introspection, and recollection.
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[i] Hemingway, Ernest www.goodreads.com/quotes/142038-we-are-all-apprentices-in-a-craft-where-no-one
[ii] King, On Writing, 11.
[iii] Marshall, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, 142.
[iv] Morrell, Between the Lines, 127.
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