Sunday, 10 November 2013

My Four Cornerstones of Fiction Writing

Jac Wright, Author, The Reckless Engineer
The deck outside The Mermaid on a misty day.

For me there are four cornerstones that hold up good fiction.
  • The Characters
  • The Plot
  • The World Building
  • Literary Prose & Narrative

I take great care with each of the four aspects in the stories I write, which comes to me naturally, for sacrificing even one aspect makes the story weak and diminishes its value––it makes the story stumble. 

The core of the plot and the main characters usually come to me inextricably interwoven together in a moment of inspiration like a segment of a film or a disjointed dream. For example, I woke up late on a warm summer day this June with an image of a fugitive escaping and running away from an overturned van transporting him to court from prison that had met with an accident. Prisoners wear normal clothing in England, not orange jumpsuits, and they are not in chains.  He runs into the crowds and a bus parked behind a mall to hide among the people only to find that it is a film set.  The actor playing a main character of the movie and the director are having a fight. The actor suddenly punches the director in the face who falls backward. My protagonist fugitive hiding among the supporting film crew catches him and breaks the fall.  The director gets up, wipes the blood off his nose, fires the main actor loudly, and asks him to get out of his movie set.  He turns to my protagonist and asks: ‘You there, what’s your name?’  ‘Art Miller,’ he gives a fake name.  ‘Art, you are playing Michael Fallon. His trailer is yours now. Go with my crew and get dressed.’  And there I have the plot, the main characters, and the first chapter of my standalone book, In Plain Sight.

At this point, the most important aspect is the characters. I am a firm believer if Virgnia Woolf's Bloomsbury school of writing. I give each one of my characters a particular psychology and then keep them true to this psychology through the story. I got interested in Freudian and Jungian schools of psychology during Stanford's Liberal Arts education program and have kept up the study of it over the years. Sometimes my writing is almost a close psychoanalysis of a character or two. I keep my characters true to their particular psychology through the story, and hence they may do a mix of things that are good or bad. However, they always remain true to their particular psychology though they sometimes struggle against it due to the demands from those around them or from their own conscience.

After I have the main plot idea and my main characters I build a world for them, although the world that I build is a little corner of contemporary Britain that we live in.  For me it is very important to do justice to the place that I set the story in (in The Reckless Engineer, that is Portsmouth, London, and Aberdeen, Scotland). My writing will always evoke a strong sense of the towns–
–its sceneries, industries, architecture, and the general atmosphere––painting these for the reader like with a brushstroke. Character and world building go hand in hand for characters cannot exist in a vacuum and must have a world they inhabit and the writer must paint the full picture of the characters in their little corner of the world, bringing the whole scene to life, in the mind of the reader.

One author who excels at world building in very poetic language in his crime fiction is Benjamin Black.  Ian Rankin is also known to favour such literary writing where no aspect is ignored or sacrificed.

I then put my characters with their individual psychologies in the world I build for them and let them drive the story forward. The plot progresses and emerges naturally from the actions of the characters who remain true to their psychology throughout.

For the writing I draw a lot from my training in classic poetry and drama. I tend to use a good amount of imagery and phonetically appealing phrasing to enhance the ambience.  I set most of the scenes as if I were writing a stage drama or a film setting. In fact each novel is a series of 50 or more dramatic scenes.

There are aspects or techniques in addition to the Four Cornerstones above that I engage in my writing. There may be socio-political, ethical, and philosophical commentary interspersed in the narrative. They enhance the structure of the story as well as character building. For example, economic stressrors in the years the story is set in will impact on how the characters act.  

Sacrificing even one of the Four Cornerstones is something I do not do. One must treat all four aspects with respect. It is silly to sacrifice one or the other because the story topples and leans in the direction of the weak cornerstone. I therefore build my stories on my Four Cornerstones of fiction writingCharacters, Plot, World Building, and Literary Prose & Narrative.

Jac Wright, Author, The Reckless Engineer
The Mermaid in Port Solent, Portsmouth

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