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Invite the reader in:
a few tricks of making fiction gripping

Dr Bob Rich (2005)- All Rights Reserved


All fiction is fantasy. As a writer, you create a reality, and invite me to move into it while reading your story. That reality may be very close to what I find in my everyday life, but even then, you are introducing me to people I've never met, take me to places I've never seen, describe events that never happened.

Your aim is to make this created reality so strong that it becomes more real to me than my own life--at least for the moment. Every device that helps you to achieve this is good, everything that has a chance of weakening or destroying the illusion is bad.

Now we come to a central concept: 'point of view' (POV). Everything anyone writes is always from a POV. 'The boy crossed the road.' Someone perceived him doing so, and the writing reports this perception. Although the wording is in the third person, the POV could well be the boy's, as in the following:

The boy crossed the road. Ow! Ow! he thought at each step as the hot dark surface burned the soles of his bare feet, but he refused to make any sound. After all, Rachel was watching.

Or, the witness of the scene could be some other person:

The road must feel red hot, Rachel thought with an inner smile as she watched Roddie pick his way across, almost dancing from foot to foot.

If the witness is not any person in the story, then it is the writer:

The boy crossed the road. His name was Roddie, a five-year-old very impressed by her big cousin Rachel, all of twelve. So, he wasn't going to let on that anything could upset him. Therefore, when he crossed the hot road barefoot to her, he did his best to hide his discomfort. However, he didn't really fool her. She could see it from the way he picked up each foot fast, almost like dancing.

This little paragraph has several things wrong with it.

It's an author lecture: an outside view that distances us from the characters rather than taking us into their world.

It gives too much information. As a reader, I am not there to be informed, unless I'm reading a textbook. By telling me all these facts, you put me into an analytical frame of mind. Then I'll be critical, assessing the information I receive. Instead, you want to get me to LIVE the current witness's experience. And there is no hurry about informing me. Their ages, the relationship between them can be revealed later, through dialogue, action, and (as a third preference), thoughts.

The paragraph reveals both their thoughts. This is tempting, but instead of making the story real, it gets in the way of allowing the reader to identify with the current witness. I cannot BE Roddie if I also know what Rachel is thinking, or vice versa. The most powerful way to capture me is to pick one person who presents the scene. Any other people are best presented from the outside, the way the current witness perceives them.

The first two samples of writing were vivid, full of sensory data: how that person sees, feels, hears the world at that moment. The third one lacks such elements.

Let me illustrate the relatively subtle point of how an 'omniscient view' can be counterproductive. I am reading a story about two sisters, and have been immersed in the world of Joan, the elder girl. Then the author writes, 'Miriam eventually drifted off to sleep, remembering the wonderful meal they had enjoyed that afternoon, but Joan lay awake.' This is a perfect example of how head hopping distances the reader. Because I am shown the thoughts of both girls, I cannot identify with either, and therefore I FEEL that I am being told a story, not that I am in it.

So, in summary, to bring your writing to life, present it from within, through the perceptions of ONE character per scene, using vivid sense impressions.


About the author: Dr Bob Rich is a professional editor and multiple award-winning writer. His 13th book has just been published. This book could save your life, titled 'Cancer: A personal challenge'. Other books by him teach you how to build your own house , deal with emotional problems or simply to enjoy yourself. Look him up at http://bobswriting.com


         Last updated: February 19, 2007