Do You Need to Read More Fiction?

Writing fiction is really fun. Face it, being constrained by reality is, well, being constrained.

Most of us don’t like feeling constrained. However, while fiction isn’t constrained by reality, it must be connected to some form of reality to be effective.

The USS Enterprise, of Star Trek lore, going to Warp 4 impresses those who know there’s a Warp 1, the speed of light, more than members of the audience who have no idea that warp-speed actually means the highest possible speed we humans, given current physics, can image.

Fiction is about stretching reality to the outermost point of belief and no further. It’s a fuzzy line and depends on the audience’s willingness to believe and suspend judgment. That’s a critical point most politicians fail to understand…but I digress.

Themes, Characters and Fantasy Worlds:

Here’s an example from an unpublished piece of fiction taken from David Gerrold’s book, Worlds of Wonder:

“Erindell moaned in distress. The entire forest roiled with disturbance. The youngtrees (sic) swayed in anguish; the bigtrees sobbed, pumping the air up through their columnar throats. The notes were so deep they were felt rather than heard — a pressure in the air that gave the travelers queasy feelings in their bellies. Despite their deafness, the horses stirred uneasily, so much that finally the riders dismounted and blindfolded the steeds to walk them to safety. All around, the rustling of leaves and branches sounded like the howling of a storm, but the air beneath remained still — as if they moved within a bubble of calm.

“What does it mean?” Vellar asked the tree-girl.

She couldn’t answer. She was shaking badly, as badly as the forest. She held out a hand to touch the nearest bigtree, then recoiled as if burned. Her face showed suffering, she could barely control herself. “I don’t know. Something awful has happened — might still be happening.” Overcome, she collapsed sobbing to the ground.”

Notice how much you learned from this short fragment. There are two characters, a male and a “girl,” and they are traveling through a forest of trees. The trees are sentient and very sad. The female has a connection, some kind of emotional tie, with the forest and is experiencing an unidentified pain.

Both characters have mystical sounding names, are apprehensive, if not downright scared, and are riding “deaf” horses. Something terrible has happened and it’s not over, in fact, you sense impending danger.

In 170 words you learned the genre of the piece – fantasy, met the main characters, the setting – a forest, glimpsed into the plot and, if you’re like me, want to read more. None of this was explained, per say, it was all shown to you in a tight bundle. Like all good writing, this piece is clear, concise and compelling.

Does your writing accomplish that much that fast? Reading fiction and understanding how it works is a fun way to expand and improve your writing skills.

Steve