Effective fiction depends upon
a) using words and symbols in a language the reader can understand in a way which he or she can grasp, presented in a legible form, with perfect grammar and so on,
b) attracting rather than repelling the reader with those words and symbols.
Successful fiction therefore goes in two stages.
1. Getting into effective communication with the reader using shared symbols.
2. Sticking the reader to the work and pulling him or her through to some kind of fulfilment.
There is many a reader who will go around raving about a particular writer, whose techniques are not particularly technically or aesthetically wonderful. Nothing emotional or spiritual has been accomplished, or perhaps even attempted. All that has happened is that a tremendous attraction has been established between the reader and the work, perhaps largely based on wish-fulfilment. This is often so aligned with the reader’s own longings that he or she then considers that something miraculous has occurred. This is why 'popular' fiction can be so popular without any sign of advanced writing techniques or depth of meaning -the attractive power of the writing alone has accomplished something. Ian Fleming’s James Bond books are an example. Other writers use similar techniques, but take the reader to places emotionally and spiritually: these are the great authors, writers like Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Forster, and so forth.
It is a very tricky and no small thing to be able to communicate to a reader. Because it’s done all the time whenever we read, we can forget what an amazing thing is occurring when we take symbols from a page and instantaneously compute with them mentally and emotionally. It is quite remarkable, and is such a remarkable feat that it appears to be an end-all of writing to some.
But now you should be able to take the reader somewhere with it.
Here’s the really odd thing: readers really want to know what you have got to say; they really want to enjoy what they are reading. If your ability to create attractive power is very good and very smooth and if your word- and sentence-level discipline is perfect so you don’t upset this attractive power, and if you just maintain your rhythm with the reader all the time, and do it with good control, you will achieve more popularity as a writer than you ever thought could exist: readers will reach for your work again and again. You will have created an 'un-put-down-able' book.
You must write well, be perfect disciplined as far as spelling and grammar go, and get your style smooth. Don’t jolt the reader with errors. But all of that is simply part of the first role of the fiction writer.
That first role is important. That creates the steps that go up to the door and if you can’t get to the door you can’t do anything. The perfect communication, the perfect writer control, these things are just to get you into a position where you can grab the reader’s attention and hold it.
Writing fiction perfectly means being able to reach the reader, being able to 'talk' to the reader, and being able to attract and grip the reader. All of those things have to be very good; they all have to be present and they all have to be perfect. If they are all present and they are all perfect, then you can start to emotionally or spiritually affect somebody reading your work.
The wish- fulfilment of popular literature generally has a short-term effect; to make a lasting impression, an aspiring fiction writer has to use the techniques of writing used by the great authors.
Exactly what those techniques are and how you can use them is outlined in the book How Stories Really Work.
-Grant P. Hudson is the founder of Clarendon House Publications. Download a free catalogue here.