We’re winding up our series (if you’re just joining us, we started here). Let’s do one more summary of what we’ve learned about fiction writing:

  1. Writers write. Not because they have to (although there are those kind of days), but because they like to.
  2. There are no new ideas. Not basic ones, anyway. Look for the unique twist to make the story yours.
  3. Stories come from inside you. After all, you’re the writer.
  4. A story tells an event or series of events, and has a beginning, middle, and ending. Self-explanatory.
  5. People make stories happen. This separates stories from landscape art.

Here’s some terms we now know:

  • story arc (also called the plot) — what happens in the story.
  • character arc — how a person in the story changes because of what happens.
  • story question — the question you raise at the beginning of the story (usually related to the character arc) that you have to answer by the ending for the story to be done.
  • twist — the take on a basic idea that makes it unique and special.
  • sub-plot — a smaller story inside the larger one, usually involving a character other than the main one.
  • plot layer — things happening to the main character’s life other than the main story.
  • backstory — everything before the story starts.
  • infodump — telling all the backstory at once instead of letting it come out naturally.

Here’s some other things we learned:

  • Get to know your insides–what you feel, see, hear, smell, taste and think in various situations. This makes the story real.
  • Pay attention to other people and their attitudes. Understand them so you can use them in your stories.
  • To figure out twists for your story, play “What If?” with the various elements of your basic idea.
  • The type of story (literary or a certain genre) determines how you write the story. Learn about different types of fiction to decide which works best for your story.

So what happens after we get out stories written? We’ll talk about that more tomorrow, but since we’re writing to be paid, we should talk a little about it.

Publishing a story is a whole other set of lessons. I don’t feel qualified to address this as any sort of expert, but here’s what I’ve learned that might help you.

The major rule in legitimate publishing: money goes towards the writer. Memorize that.

If someone is asking you for money in order to publish your work, you might be dealing with a scam artist. There are a lot out there, just waiting to grab money from unsuspecting noob writers. Don’t be one of their victims.

The path to getting paid for your work depends a lot on the length of your story and the type of story it is. Short stories can be submitted directly to publishers, and you’re typically paid by the word or at a flat fee. A good pay is 1-5 cents a word, so it’s not terribly lucrative unless you’re great at writing short stories.

There are books listing short story markets, or you can look online. You should double check any book listing online just to make sure the information hasn’t changed before you send anything in.

Novels are a whole other story. Most publishers these days won’t even look at a novel that isn’t submitted by an agent. Fortunately, there are lots of literary agents out there. (In this case, the word literary means book agents as opposed to film agents or modeling agents)

An agent is a business person who works for you to get your book published. They get a percentage of whatever you’re paid (usually 15%) but if they’re legitimate, they don’t get anything until you do. They will help you with contract negotiations, getting you overseas and film rights (if you’re so fortunate), and dealing with editors, media, and publishers. They will help you get multi-book contracts. They will help guide you through your writing career. A good agent is worth their weight in gold.

There are thieves that pretend to be agents also.

Check up on an agent before submitting your work to them. Find out if they actually have sold the sort of books you write, who they sold the books to, and where you can find these books. Most legitimate agents sell 10-30 books a year to large publishers (because that’s where the money is), and you can find the books at any bookstore. Scam artists won’t have done these things, because they just want to charge you money for spurious things like “reading fees”. Once they get your money, they have no incentive to sell your book.

Make sure there aren’t any serious complaints about an agent you’re considering. Any reputable agent won’t mind you doing that.

But we’re not ready to send anything anywhere yet. There’s one more thing you need to know about.

We’ll talk about that tomorrow.