So you want to write fiction, do you? Essentially, you only need a few items: a word processor, a little free time, and a big imagination. While being able to spell big words helps out as well, it’ not necessary to have won the National Spelling Bee when you were in the sixth grade.
It also helps to know what kinds of fiction are out there. You need to be able to categorize your writing (to some extent, at least) so that you have a good idea of where to go when it comes time to publish it.
This doesn’t suck the creativity out of your work: it just makes things easier when you start looking at the fiction market with your byline in the forefront of your brain. It also makes cocktail-party conversations more interesting because you can describe your work without a lot of uh yeah it’s, uh like uh, you knowlike stuff and other such nonsense.
First, you can break fiction down by word count.
Generally speaking, the shortest is FLASH FICTION, which is roughly 1,500 words or less. It can be a challenging piece to write because you have so few words at your disposal, but must still tell the full story (with a beginning, middle, and end). You also have to deal with character development (tricky as the word count plummets).
Quite a few online sites publish flash fiction. An Internet search for “Flash fiction” (or “short shorts,” as it is also called) will produce plenty of results.
SHORT STORIES are usually less than 30,000 words long. When these are published, they usually find their way into magazines or collections. Most magazines, incidentally, prefer word counts of 10,000 or less. However, once you’ve written and finished editing your story, however many words you use should feel right to you.
NOVELLAS are basically short novels. They’re fairly popular because they’re usually quick reads (Mary Higgins Clark, as an example, writes fairly long novellas or short novels, depending on how you look at it).
NOVELS, of course, are between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Some writers recommend setting a target word count before you begin, so that you have a focal point for your writing. Others simply go by a popular formula: REVISION = DRAFT 10 percent. In other words: when editing, cut at least 10 percent of the words from your work. This applies to all writing, not just novels.
There are two main categories of fiction: any of the above can be put into either one.
COMMERCIAL FICTION is the work you find on the shelves at bookstores, or in popular magazines. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Tom Clancy write commercial fiction: their work is driven by the plot more than the characters, and their books appeal to a large audience.
LITERARY FICTION is more character-driven. Some describe it as being more intellectual, though there is nothing stupid about most of the commercial fiction on the shelves today. Literary work, however, doesn’t appeal to quite as broad an audience: while many literary-oriented writers are incredibly talented, many readers just aren’t into it.
Then we have genres, which can be interesting because quite a few writers ignore these boundaries when putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you prefer).
Here are a few examples of genres:
Horror (Stephen King)
Mystery (Mary Higgins Clark)
Thriller / Espionage (Robert Ludlum)
Psychological Thriller (Dean Koontz)
Sci-Fi (Robert Heinlein)
Humor (Erma Bombeck)
Memoirs (many writers come up with memoirs and as of late, this genre has exploded)
Romance (basically every Harlequin book ever published)
Women’s fiction (basically anything geared toward women. Incidentally, women far outnumber men where book-buying is concerned)
Once you find your niche, you can submit your fiction with more confidence – and improve your chances of being published.note