Writing Fiction: Grow Your Characters (And Sell More Books)

If you’re writing fiction, you need to observe everything. Not only with your eyes, but with all your senses. Start training yourself to pay attention: use your journal, and write down what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

Here’s why: the power of your fiction is in the details.

When you use detail, via a viewpoint character, readers will believe in your character. And if you want to sell more books, you must create characters in whom readers believe.

We’ve discussed writing in series if you want to sell more books:

When you write a series… you create the series’ “world” once, then you can use it for each subsequent novel in the series.

Your fictional worlds grow from details.

Writing fiction: it’s all in the details

I’ve been rereading Le Père Goriot (Father Goriot), Honoré de Balzac’s classic novel, set in 1819 Paris. The novel is a master lesson in the art of observation:

Her face is as fresh as a frosty morning in autumn; there are wrinkles about the eyes that vary in their expression from the set smile of a ballet-dancer to the dark, suspicious scowl of a discounter of bills…

In the novel’s first pages, Balzac describes Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house and its occupants: who they are, and how they think. If you haven’t read Le Père Goriot, you’re in for a treat.

You’ll be horrified when Rastignac, the main character, grows and develops from a naive young law student into someone who treats his family as ruthlessly as Goriot’s daughters treat him.

When I mentor fiction authors, character development is always a challenge, but it starts with observation and details. In Le Père Goriot, everything contributes to character development, even the long descriptions in the novel’s first pages.

Rastignac steps from the poverty of Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house into the brilliance of aristocratic Paris. Readers may be horrified at Rastignac’s actions, but they can understand them.

Balzac’s details build a world of realistic characters. We may not have Balzac’s genius, but we can observe.

When you’re writing fiction, details help to create Janet Fitch’s “vivid world”

From Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers:

Smarten up your protagonist.

Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating… Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

We’ve discussed imagination. If you’re concerned that you lack imagination, use your journal and build your skills in observation. Your observations will fuel your imagination.

Try this exercise. Wherever you are, jot down five quick details. Use your senses. What can you see and hear? Smell?

The more you use this exercise, the more your skills in writing fiction will improve.