Fiction By James Hall Have you ever taken part in NaNoWriMo? As well as being a time to test your writing effort and output capabilities, it’s also a time to gain valuable insight. When we practice our fiction capabilities so intensely, we inevitably find out where we are as writers. Which parts of our craft are looking strong? Which are in need of improvement? Regardless of if you’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo or not, the opportunity to evaluate our craft skills and find areas to work on shouldn’t be passed up. Here is a selection of fiction craft resources to help you hone your skills. Crafting Better Characters The most memorable fiction characters live on in our hearts and minds, long after their book is finished. On the opposite end of the scale, dreadful characters can cause reader rage. Spend some time reading through reviews and you’ll soon find people whose main dislike of a book is due to their impression of a character. Given the immense importance of characters, how can we assess and improve the way we craft them? Reader Reaction. Perhaps the most important way to assess the state of your character craft is by gauging reader reaction. Even the best character on paper is totally pointless if readers don’t react well. Depth. Even characters with the most useful plot function will suffer if they come across as too basic, flat, or functional. Taking the time to really get to know your fiction character will help to avoid any problems with depth. Necessity. What role does your character play in the story? Taking the time to think through this aspect of character development will help avoid adding anyone superfluous. There isn’t a fiction genre out there that wouldn’t benefit from better characters. Why not take the time to assess and improve yours? Improving Dialogue Dialogue that sounds forced, unnatural, or outdated can ruin the rhythm of fiction. Pointless dialogue that does nothing for the story is also a waste of time. If you feel your conversational craft could use some improvement, what are some areas to focus on? Purpose. For dialogue to be meaningful, it should serve a clear purpose in your story. Are your readers learning something new? Is the plot being advanced? Meaningless chit chat is likely to annoy and bore your readers. Natural Sound. Often, dialogue that works well in our mind when we write it doesn’t sound as good as intended out loud. Read it through to make sure the rhythm is natural and you haven’t accidentally repeated anything distracting or annoying. Consistency. Unless there’s a meaningful reason for their variation, you want your character to speak as consistently as possible. This adds to believability and character depth, allowing them to live on in the mind of your reader. Improving your dialogue will give your reader a really precious gift – a memorable character that lives on inside their minds. Expanding Your Fiction Horizons Sometimes, the best way to refresh your writing craft is to expand its scope. It can be all too easy to get stuck in a craft rut, where we feel uninspired and unenergized. Signs that this might be the case include finding fiction tedious if you usually enjoy it and feeling burned out if you attempt something like NaNoWriMo. Looking to refresh your love of fiction writing? Here are a few ideas. Writing prompts. Using a writing prompt feels like a fun, low pressure way to get your fiction juices flowing again. If you need to restore your love of crafting fiction, why not try experimenting with writing prompts outside your genre? You’d be surprised by what you discover when you leave your comfort zone. New collaboration. Sometimes, the best way to feel good about fiction is to work with someone new. Is there an exciting new collaborator you could seek out? An accountability partner for an upcoming craft project? A change of scene. Your fiction writing environment influences your output. If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, can you switch up where you write? This could be as simple as moving from room to room, or even switching writing devices and going to a new location entirely. Sometimes, the best way to keep your fiction craft as fresh and fun as possible is to mix things up. By reenergizing your fiction as a whole, you improve every individual part at the same time. Which Craft Area Are You Working On? The process of improving fiction is something to be celebrated, no matter how much you’re personally doing. What’s your personal approach to assessing your craft? How do you go about it, and which exercises do you find most helpful? What’s your take on growing as a writer in general? Thank you everyone, and good luck!