Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

What is Literary Fiction? — March 27, 2019

What is Literary Fiction?

define-literary-fiction

Let’s begin with what Literary Fiction is not: Genre fiction.

Genre fiction includes, for example: Romance, Crime, Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. There will be many subgenres within any particular genre.

Some authors of genre fiction have a very specific niche, and stay within this, whilst others move around within different subgenres, or even genres.

Particular novels may blend two or more genres, with varying degrees of success.

Genre novels adhere, at least to some extent, to conventions and formulas. There will be strong reader expectations, such as the crime being solved, by the detective in a Murder Mystery, and a happy ending in a Romance.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that genre writing is not high quality, or lacking originality. The standard of genre fiction varies widely, and it’s a misconception that genre is automatically inferior to Literary Fiction.

Equally, it’s wrong to assume that Literary Fiction is merely pretentious, and not as genuinely enjoyable to read as genre fiction.

Identifying a Literary novel in a bookstore or library should be relatively straightforward, aside from the section in which you discover the book.

In precisely the same way that a genre and subgenre can usually be established, at a glance: The cover.

Book cover trends vary over time but, whatever the current design trends might be, the tendency is for covers to Do What It Says On The Tin.

It’s how marketing works, and the most immediate way to communicate instantly to potential readers, whether your story is likely to appeal to them.

One vital aspect of Literary Fiction is the tendency to address deeper themes.

It’s true that there is genre fiction out there that also does this, but with Literary Fiction, there’s more focus upon this.

Without the restriction of having to stay within genre rules and guidelines, there is greater opportunity to explore the themes thoroughly – and, often, although not always, at a slower, more reflective pace.

The boundaries are set by the writer, and not the market.

Literary fiction can be successful, and make money, but the tendency is for it to be less popular and commercial than genre fiction.

That’s a major down side. It’s more challenging to market a work of fiction that is less conventional, and doesn’t tick any of the standard boxes.

Character development can be emphasized – something that particularly appeals to me, personally.

I believe characters to be the heart of great fiction.

The quality of prose will be of a high standard.

This is probably one of the few definite requirements.

It often does mean a poetic style, although not necessarily. The style may be more precise than poetic. And we’re not talking purple prose, either – but genuinely fine writing.

For an example of what I would consider to be quality poetic prose, refer to “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.

Literary fiction is often experimental.

It sometimes has a lack of plot, in the ordinary sense, although not always. Some genre novels have almost a literary feel to them, and are on the borderline.

Some would define Literary Fiction as effectively its own genre.

This makes sense, in some respects.

 

But, however Literary Fiction is or isn’t defined, it does have immense value.

Whilst not “better” than genre fiction, it can often unique perspectives, that simply wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a standard genre.

 

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Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder — January 20, 2018

Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder

kill-characters

So, time to discuss death: Character death, that is.

Here are 10 points to consider, when it comes to killing off your fictional people.

Whether you love or hate this aspect of storytelling, it’s something that we have to deal with, as writers: that sometimes our “babies” need to die.

This will probably sound disturbing to non-writers, but most of us, to some extent, find it therapeutic, to commit “murder”, on the page.

1. The genre and type of story are factors.

The number, and nature, of character deaths, will be influenced by category and genre, as well as your personal approach and style. If you have a specific target audience in mind, then think about their needs and preferences.

Scenes of extreme graphic violence would generally be deemed unacceptable, in the context of Children’s or YA fiction.

Even within Adult fiction, there are going to be variations. A Romance or Women’s Fiction novel would generally not be littered with fictional corpses.

If you’re venturing into the territory of horror, dark thrillers, or crime, it could be time to bring on those dead bodies.

2. The death of a character – or characters – should advance the plot.

It ought to move the story forward, in one or more respects. If it doesn’t do that, you need to seriously question whether the death is necessary.

It may be that it motivates other characters, thus becoming a catalyst for future events.

Often, you will be able to come up multiple story benefits to a single character death, in which case, you will know that you’re on the right track.

3. Death can create a sense of realism.

This, combined with advancing the plot, is a good reason to kill a character.

If you’re writing about drug addiction and the criminal underworld, it wouldn’t be unexpected for some of your characters to die.

4. Death can sometimes be used to drive home a point, emphasizing the work’s central theme.

This could certainly tie in with my last example, about drug addiction.

5. Avoid killing characters for the shock value alone.

If the only point of the death is to horrify the reader, don’t do it. No-one is going to be impressed.

6. You will sometimes realise that you’ve included an unnecessary character.

In this situation, many writers feel tempted to kill off said character. Almost certainly, not the best solution.

The truth is, there’s no easy fix. If the character never had a significant role in the story, it’s a case of going back, and reworking all scenes in which he or she appears. In other words, delete that character. It’s called editing, right? It has to be worth the extra effort.

7. How about characters who are literally created to die?

No problem, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, if you’re a plotter, as I am, then the aim is to know, in advance, which characters are going to die.

Now, in my own case, this does alter, as I write. I’m not a “synopsis set in stone” writer, even though I do start with an outline. I tend to end up with more character deaths than I started out with, rather than the other way around.

But, anyway – the “born to die” characters are ones whose primary purpose, in the story, literally is to end up dead. As long as the reason for the demise meets the criteria mentioned thus far, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with inventing characters for the purpose of killing them.

8. Research is vital.

Whether a character is stabbed or poisoned, involved in a road traffic accident, or dies of a heart attack, or a form or Cancer, it’s important to get the facts right.

With the internet at our disposal – in addition to more traditional research methods, such as reading books, and talking in person to experts – it’s easier than it’s ever been. Still hard work, but in comparative terms, straight forward – and part of the job, in my opinion.  I find You Tube particularly useful for research.

9. As with other areas of writing, avoid cliché.

You only have to consider a handful of TV dramas, and some cliché death scenes should come to mind. These will jolt your reader out of the story, shattering the illusion, and making it feel fake. So much for the deep emotions that you might otherwise have stirred.

10. Finally, remember that death is followed by grief.

You can choose to leap into the future, skipping the intense mourning period, which is legitimate.

Even then, however, you have to address the issue of ongoing grief, for the characters who remain. The process is not linear.

Everyone goes through grief in real life, and if you truly love your characters, and they feel like real people to you, you won’t shy away from addressing their grief, when people they love die.

Allow yourself to feel their pain, and then hopefully, your readers will, too. We aim to break our readers’ hearts, after all.

 

I hope that these tips will be useful to you, and possibly help you to kill off some characters. If – and only if – necessary, for the sake of your story, of course.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

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Writing Modern Historical Fiction — December 21, 2017

Writing Modern Historical Fiction

write-retro-fiction

So, what is “modern historical fiction”, right?

Well, my work in progress (novel) is modern historical. It’s set primarily in the 1980s, although readers will be given a glimpse of the early 1990s.

We can debate as to where the line is drawn.

Some would say that, if anyone is alive today who remembers a given period of time, then it’s modern historical. It would generally be accepted that the 1950s through to the end of the 1990s qualifies.

As to anything later than 1999, but more recent than – well, now, pretty much – as in, contemporary…

This is a grey area, and one that it’s not easy to sell publishers or readers on. If your novel is set in 2005, it’s basically “dated” – neither historical nor contemporary.

If you can’t “move” the characters from 2005, then it might be a case of holding on to the manuscript until it is old enough to be considered historical. Harsh, I know – but that’s pretty much how it is.

What defines historical fiction, in general?

Obviously, the story must take place in a historical period – but is that sufficient?

In my opinion, the historical setting does need to play a central role in the story.

The genre may be more specific than simply historical of course, and genres can be combined. A historical romance, for example, would need to meet the requirements of both historical fiction and romance.

Is it easier to write modern historical fiction, as opposed to stories set in more ancient times?

The obvious answer would be that it is – as, from a research point of view, it’s easier to find out about more recent time periods.

Everything has its down side, however. Mistakes will be spotted more readily.

If you weren’t alive during the period you’re writing about, try talking to people who were, as well as doing research online, and reading relevant books.

If you were born at the time, do your research anyway, as you can’t rely upon memory for every detail, particularly if you were a child, during the era in question.

Keep in mind that you may have to research aspects of life prior to the period that you actually cover, in order to relate fully to the experiences of your characters.

Character names are important.

Classic names work well, but avoid modern, trendy ones, that may not even have existed, at the time. Replace these with “dated” names, which would have been the trendy ones.

It’s easy enough to Google the popular given names for any particular era, and remember to take the age of the characters into account, too.

I love writing modern historical.

It’s not significantly different from writing contemporary fiction, and I get to address many of the social issues that are close to my heart – but the music is better (personal opinion only), and no-one has a mobile phone, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

 

Writing Modern Historical Fiction – Pinterest Board

Writing Modern Historical Fiction – Reddit (subreddit)

 

This post is a slightly updated version of one published on my previous blog.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

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vintage-transport-event

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach — November 15, 2017

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach

mental-health-realitiesAs someone who suffers from both physical and mental illness, my own experiences definitely influence and inform my writing.

I deal specifically with many issues, including drug and alcohol addictions, and rape and sexual abuse, in my fiction.

Not every subject that I write about is one that I have experienced personally, although I can always relate, on some level. I have never had drug addiction issues, for instance, although I have had problems with alcohol, in the past.

When it comes to mental illness – yes, definitely, I cover that too, as a writer, but not in the usual, neatly packaged way. For myself, it’s a priority to reflect realities that are not usually represented.

Most of my characters are either not diagnosed with mental illnesses, or the diagnosis is not mentioned.

It’s idealistic to suppose that everyone who has a mental illness is diagnosed – and correctly diagnosed, at that – and also, that everyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness necessarily has a mental illness at all.

I refuse to endorse the psychiatric system by going along blindly with the “this diagnosis treated by this type of medication”, textbook version.

I have also had enough of the myth that, following a suicide attempt, people are routinely admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I have never been an inpatient in psychiatric hospital. When I have taken overdoses, for the most part, no-one has actually realised at all. My parents, and others around me, have assumed that I must be sick from drinking too much.

On the few occasions when I have been treated for the physical effects – far from being admitted to psychiatric hospital afterwards, I have simply been sent straight back to full-time work, as soon as physically able. Literally. In fact, it was the same after being raped.

I have not had therapy, and any dealings with the mental health services have ended up causing more distress than if I had simply “got on with it”, and not sought help at all. And, yes, there are others in similar positions. Mine is, by no means, an isolated case.

The lack of support received is effectively then used against those of us who have been denied help, since we receive fewer “illness points” than others who have received medical attention – which, in turn, affects subsequent decisions about medical care, or lack of.

I do have a character who attempts to take her own life, and others who experience suicidal thoughts, and my characters don’t receive the “textbook” version of the NHS service, which is not the reality, for most of us.

I understand that many people have traumatic experiences within psychiatric hospitals, but this is already represented in literature. The experiences of those who are forced to “get on with it”, and offered no support whatsoever, need to be portrayed, as well.

My protagonist, Lucy, has symptoms of anxiety, which I convey in the “show don’t tell” tradition.

The subject of whether or not she has a diagnosis isn’t mentioned. She doesn’t.

Her mother, Helen, does have anxiety too, and is diagnosed – and this can be seen through the fact that she is addicted to prescription tranquillizers.

I have the benefit – the extreme privilege – of being a writer, and as such, I believe, a responsibility to speak out, on behalf of others.

I have done this, at times, through my poetry. As a writer of realistic, modern historical fiction, I hope to achieve more, in this respect. I shall certainly try.

Writing is my therapy and my passion. It has enabled me to survive. There is no greater blessing.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams – always.

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My post about Sylvia Plath, and my feelings regarding the term “suicide poet”, might be of interest.

Some thoughts on addressing controversial subjects in our writing

hemingway-quote

 

Describing Locations in Realistic Fiction: 5 Tips — November 12, 2017

Describing Locations in Realistic Fiction: 5 Tips

describe-location-fictiondoctorow-writing-quote

 First things first: Why in realistic fiction, exclusively?

Because that’s what I write myself, and the majority of what I’ve read has also been realistic fiction. I don’t feel qualified to give advice relating to speculative genres.

Reading-Berkshire-UK

1. Keep descriptions brief.

This does vary, depending upon the type of story, and your own particular writing style – but, in general, modern readers don’t appreciate page upon page of descriptive writing. Mixing it up with other elements, such as dialogue, can help, as it does make it much easier to consume.

2. Use specific details.

Yes, this does come under the “show don’t tell” umbrella. If there’s a tree, is it an oak tree? Lime tree? Birch tree? It makes a difference, and makes the scene feel more authentic, if we have a little more information – and it doesn’t exactly require many additional words.

writing-quote-Chekhov

3. Use all five senses.

A sound or aroma, for example, might be the extra touch, that brings a visual image to life.

4. Be inspired by real places – but, at the same time, not confined or restricted by them.

The amazing aspect of writing fiction for me, is the blending of fact and fiction, so don’t be afraid to mix it up.

5. If you find that you don’t naturally include much description in your first draft – don’t worry.

I personally tend to write mainly dialogue, and minimal narrative, initially. It’s easy enough to add more description during rewrites, and anything that slows down your writing process should probably be avoided. My post on White Room Syndrome is particularly relevant to this point.

 

I hope that this short post has provided some useful suggestions, to help you with the important task of bringing your realistic, fictional settings to life. 

For further related reading, I would suggest my brief posts about avoiding filter words, and using foreshadowing.

In addition, I’ve covered how to create atmosphere in your fiction, and how to build suspense and tension.

 

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Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Chawton-Hampshire-cottage

 

Writing Dark Fiction — November 11, 2017

Writing Dark Fiction

dark-write

I wish that I could write consistently, but this isn’t possible for me, for various reasons.

Apart from anything else, there is one week in every month when I cannot write, due to the severity of my PCOS and endometriosis. I also have other restrictions, caused by my physical and mental health, and personal circumstances.

There is another reason for the slow progress on my novel, and believe me, this is frustrating – but I do have other ongoing projects, and everything ties in, anyway – so I’m not achieving as little as I myself often feel.

The other reason for my lack of progress is that I do write dark fiction.

I wrote a post some time ago, on my previous blog, regarding why I write about so-called “depressing subjects”.  Note: Updated version, on this blog, now exists, also.

I know that I can never make it “easy” for myself, because my heart is in control, and insists that I write about what really matters – that I do not ignore the darkness, but face it, head on, in my fiction. I will never churn out cutesy romance novels – and, no, I have nothing against such novels, and part of me might even envy authors who can write commercial genre fiction, that fits in and sells. It isn’t me. My plots and characters do overwhelm me, and I don’t feel able to write every day.

I’m terrified that I won’t be able to do justice to the stories that I have to tell, but I must try.

It’s my vocation, my passion – so much more than a career, which it is not, as yet – and definitely more than a hobby. Please don’t refer to anyone’s writing as a “hobby”, unless you know for a fact that the writer in question regards it as such – because it is honestly the ultimate insult, for most of us.

I feel that this was “all over the place”, but hopefully it made some sense. I wrote a short post recently, which included details of my various social media sites, and this is currently the best place to find out where I am online: my different pages and projects.

Keep believing.

Character Development: My Process — October 17, 2017

Character Development: My Process

character-development-my-processFor me, characters are the make or break factor, in a work of fiction – more so than any other element, such as plot or description.

My own characters are real to me.

This doesn’t mean that I know everything about them. It means that, what I don’t know, I can potentially discover. I know some of my characters much better than others. That is the way with real people, after all.

I don’t consciously “make things up”.

My process is more intuitive. I would say that I “realise” details about my various characters. I learn as I go. I might be daydreaming about something unconnected to my story, and then something will occur to me. Sometimes I even have a thought, or experience an intense emotion, and it takes me a moment to understand that I am inside a particular character’s mind. Because some – okay, most – of them have been through hell, their minds can be scary places, at times.

Ultimately, all of my characters are myself, and yet, none are entirely me.

There is a part of me in each of them. We are on parallel life journeys – my fictional people, and myself. They do sometimes shut me out, but I can usually get through to them eventually. I am closer to them than almost anyone in real life.

This is just a brief introduction to my personal character development process, and hopefully, I will write more blog posts about aspects of character development, in the future.

My posts about creating believable characters, and naming your fictional people, might be of interest.

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Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Sylvia Plath: Not a “Suicide Poet” — September 26, 2017

Sylvia Plath: Not a “Suicide Poet”

term-suicide-poetpoetry-prose-Sylvia-PlathFirstly, I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend, and fellow survivor poet, John Hirst, who passed away recently.

John and I discussed this subject via Facebook, not so long ago.

sylvia-plath-poetry-quotes

Speaking as someone who has been deeply inspired by the works of Sylvia Plath, I don’t find it acceptable that people refer to Sylvia as a “suicide poet”.

For a start, many of the writers whose works we still enjoy, are no longer with us – and yet, how many of these are referred to by their causes of death?

You don’t hear them spoken of as “heart attack novelists” or “stroke poets”. Why, then, define Sylvia by her cause of death? It is often assumed that she wrote mainly or exclusively about mental illness, suicide and death, but that just goes to show that many are judging, without having read much, if any, of her actual work.

The most dangerous aspect, for me, is the glamorization, for want of a better term, of Sylvia’s suicide.

Anyone who has actually read her, heavily autobiographical, novel, “The Bell Jar” – and, yes, that does deal with the subject of mental health – will not come away with the impression that there is anything glamorous about mental illness.

And that ties in with my final point – that Sylvia was a writer, and not exclusively a poet.

“The Bell Jar” is a fine example of moving, and beautifully written, prose. I would imagine that Sylvia’s mental health was a factor in why she was not more prolific, and this is definitely something to which I can relate. She was so much more than a “suicide poet”.

If this was of interest, I would recommend reading another of my posts, in which I explore the subject of mental illness, and my approach to the issue, in my own fiction.  Also, my piece about the challenges, as well as blessings, associated with being a writer, whilst struggling with both physical and mental health issues.

Find me on social media.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

 

 

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