What is fiction?

Fiction is writing that draws on your imagination. It might have some emotional truth, or might be inspired by reality, but the writing takes the reader somewhere else.

Fiction tends to use language that is more descriptive and often poetic.

Examples of fiction include:

  • poetry
  • plays
  • novels
  • short stories

You are likely to be working on shorter pieces of fiction writing in which you:

  • describe a place
  • describe a person
  • write the opening section to a story
  • or something similar

An engaging opening

In a story or novel, the first paragraph has a lot of work to do. It needs to grab the readers’ attention and hook them into the story.

The opening sets the tone and creates intrigue. For example, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins opens with:

quote
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

This is an effective opening that offers threads for the reader to follow. Collins creates intrigue by giving enough detail to create a sense of place, but not so much that we learn everything at once.

We want to find out more about Prim – who is she? Why does she have bad dreams? We also want to know what the narrator means by ‘the day of the reaping’.

The details in this opening passage create a sense of place. We learn from the ‘rough canvas cover’ and the fact that the narrator shares a bed with her sister, that this is a poor family. The mother is mentioned, but not the father, so another question is posed – where is their father?

Story arc

Most fictional (and non-fictional) stories follow a recognisable pattern. One pattern that is familiar to readers is the five-stage story arc. This structure is also used in films and television shows.

A five-stage story arc takes the reader through the following stages:

  • exposition - an opening that hooks the reader and sets the scene
  • rising action - builds tension
  • climax, or turning point - the most dramatic part of the story
  • falling action - realises the effects of the climax
  • resolution - the story is concluded

Think back to the last book you read - where were the five points to the story?

A five-stage story arc showing exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

For example, Cinderella

  1. Exposition - Cinderella’s mother has died and the stepmother moves in with her two daughters.
  2. Rising action – the ‘ugly sisters’ make Cinderella do the housework and don’t invite her to the ball.
  3. Climax – with a little help from her fairy godmother, Cinderella makes it to the palace ball and dances with the prince.
  4. Falling action - the prince finds Cinderella’s glass slipper and travels the country to find her.
  5. Resolution – despite the efforts of the ugly sisters, the prince finds Cinderella. They get married and live happily ever after.

Next time you read a book or watch a film/television programme, notice how it fits into this story structure. What hooks you in at the start? What obstacles do the characters face? What is the most dramatic part or turning point in the story? How is the story resolved?

A convincing close

Aim to finish your story in a convincing way, tying up all the loose ends. Aim to resolve the story and leave your reader feeling satisfied with the way the story ends.

Note that cliffhangers can work well as chapter endings in novels, but they can be less satisfying at the end of a short story!