Fiction Style Guide
Well, it’s been a long ride. I’ve finally completed all my coursework for a bachelor’s in Tehcnical Communication. I don’t know how I feel about this whole COVID-19 nonsense that’s been going on for over a year. I think working with non-fiction for 4+ years has fried my brain. Maybe I’ve always preferred non-fiction? As I kid I loved documentaries as much as Disney movies.
I’ve been reintegrating myself into creative writing, since there’s a lot more time for introspection during the lockdown.
Here’s a guide on how to write stylish fiction (it’s mostly tongue in cheek).
Italics Usage #
- 3rd person changing to 1st person—‘direct’ thoughts with the subject ‘I.’
- Flashback conversation with another person also counts as mental dialogue.
- Foreign terminology—first occurrence of Latin medical terms, world building terms, etc.
This is to distinguish between ‘fuzzy’ thoughts, the kind of thoughts that don’t come in words, yet must be conveyed by text as per the demands of the written form.
When planning a painting, Koala dives into the recesses of her vulnerability, digging out encrusted jewels that are ugly now, but will be honed into masterpieces. What should I make for dinner? Ack, I need to watch my calories. Would yogurt be a satisfying stand-in for choco cake?
You’ve gotten a little chubby, her mother harped.
Shaking her head, she banishes the critical voice that one should do well to ignore, yet it continues renting the condo in her brain attic. Koala is too safe to appreciate the truly avant-garde panel exhibits at the Milton Art Gallery, but her still-lifes and pet portraits pay the bills.
How do I cure the blight of mundane prose? Will the touches of the sky wilt cold and hard when my turn arises?
How can I convey a world of beauty when my perspective is blunted by no choice of mine? They say smell conjures memories stronger than language, but a chronic infection robbed me of my aromatic nuance, which potentially impacts my opinion of taste. This would explain why I cannot tell the difference between cardboard and burger meat. I suppose I stumble about, rambling around a limited vantage, like a colorblind painter insisting that monochrome varies enough.
The wan flickers of eyelashes remind me of the schooldays I left my backpack behind. How do I convince the teachers I deserve my homework grade without showing them the papers? The dryly inked things exist as a conception in my mind, my memory points to my labor, but the teachers agree not, who must see to believe. Wishing to reason with faith, but faith is not spared for the fair; wanting an exception, yet unerring in applying a universal standard, I do not beg for favors, yet the granting of one exceptional sip refreshes the parched in a desert. Thus I was always thirsty, prudish, and I got low grades.
When the dry and gritty specks are cast away, when the mud crusts off my eyes, I can enjoy the startling breeze of a cucumber splash.
Where does summary succeed when the metaphor fails? Am I wrong for being short? Why does my speech come alive in questions, but not in answering?
Story Structure #
Maybe I can elucidate in a funny manner. I’ve only recently understood the story structure, but not with the “plot point one,” “midpoint,” “secondary plot point,” “inciting incident,” “climax” nonsense. The lifeless academic drivel I’ve heard did not click until I asked my deepest desire: what do I want from a story?
Perhaps I am primarily a thriller reader, although I wouldn’t like to keep myself limited to the tenuous categorical machinations of genre. But like most people, I read because I want to feel, and discover something new. I want something that will shake me to my core. Something that will make me grateful, upset, curious, angry, relieved, and pretzel twisted. I read so I can dive, crash, and die, much like in a dream, and wake up safely.
As a writer, the first stage is learning that your dreams are worthless. Whenever a discussion about dreams pops up, people are quick to describe theirs. How disappointing when most turn out to be excruciatingly disjointed, stupid and pointless, although they’re scientifically explained to be literal brain vomit (One dream I remember having as a kid was being thrown into a cave painted wholly cobalt blue, even the walls and stalagtites. Then I met Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger, and had a tea party with them). No one wants to be lectured at from a trippy volume of facts, or else it’ll be called the ‘encyclopedia of useless philosophies,’ sorry, I meant a memoir.
If a recounting of dreams cannot be called a story, then what is a story? “Neishen dear! Have you ever heard of wish fulfillment and audience surrogates? Surely phoenixes hatch from the dust of dreams!”
It’s okay if your story is a joke. Jokes are stories too.
I’ve tried studying the art of communication, but I’m still worthless at it. It’s like trying to codify social norms, a feat that anthropologists attempt with mountainous patience. I’m convinced artificial intelligence will surpass them in solidifying a set of rules for human behavior, until the lingua franca evolves beyond English, then deriving a new mental model will be necessary, and the work continues, endlessly.
What Holocaust survivors and readers have in common is that they’re fueled by delusional signals of the electrical brain. You have to give these meatballs a reason for breathing.
As a storyteller, you learn to spin promises, and deliver guarantees. I promise the story will be worth listening to, so you don’t have to feel bad procrastinating on that truly fatal deadline. I promise to teach you secrets that you knew but never knew. I promise a purpose behind the blunders. I promise you balmy ointment after you suffer eyeburn from scanning the millennium pages and pixels.
When you send out a leech collector, you want them to come back with a bucket of leeches instead of hauling back a bucket of seaweed. But make sure you collect seaweed for the sushi chef; don’t hand over barnacles.
What are the stakes of a story? If the prophecy comes to pass, the world will be plunged into darkness, and nary a noble deed will people ever experience for another fifty odd hundred eras. A hero must rise to exodus the chosen ones, like that Moses guy, while the rest are left writhing in hell… Nah, the stakes are subjective.
I’m a cup in a cupboard, and every day the giant ape flies me out for my duty of bearing coffee. I find this method of waterboard torture distressing, for it causes my innards to boil and stain with caffeinated taint. Before I crack and lose my glorious porcelain figure, I must escape. My tattoo says, ‘I hate Mondays.’
When I get tired of writing pretentiously, my prose becomes even more bland than usual. I only know how to sound like a madman or a dunce.
All I can say is that stories are like fractals. A good story is like watching water drain from a plug. There’s a whirlpool, and it looks pretty. It has a structure, it’s cyclical and circular and appeals to our instincts. There’s an element of danger, when you imagine what it would be like to be pulled along. Then comes the idea of a giant whirlpool, and how terrifying a disaster that would actually be, so you stop looking at the whirlpool. But it dances in your mind, and not wanting to let the phenomenon go, you return to watch until the water burps and the bathtub has dried up.
Imagine cramming fifty of the swirling whirlpools together. What do you call that? A fountain? A waterwork? A swim routine? Art? A… novel thing?
A story is structured like food, I suppose. It starts as a pretty plate, fresh and garnished with oregano, then it gets ripped up by teeth, doused in saliva, stuffed down the dark tunnels, doomed to digestion in an acid-filled pit, wrenched through intestines, chewed on further by microorganisms, has its life and water sucked out, then, the light at the end of the tunnel appears, and the turd is pushed out the hole to signal immense relief, and a cornflower blooms on top of it.
Like fractals, there’s repetition, because humans are dumb and need at least three occurances to conclude a pattern is not coincidence. Symbolism and themes feature prominently for this reason, and many authors stick to the same themes, which becomes their niche and comfort, because how else can they tickle the muse out of apathetic valence to clack at a keyboard for thousands of heretical hours?
Every single story is a gift waiting to be unwrapped, and you really wanted that action figure for Christmas, not Auntie’s ugly handmade sweater, although the sweater isn’t too bad. A story is a grimy bathtub waiting to be cleaned, a plug waiting to be pulled so the whirlpool dominoes into disasta, followed by menial scrubbing and spraying of chemicals until the scum has been cleansed and catharsis ensues, and people can bathe guilt-free for generations until vilness piles into the oceans because of chemical byproducts poisoning the environment. That’s when a new solution, and a new story, must be wrought to combat the great ills of our age.