Fiction Focused: A Writing Advice Handbook

The path towards writing great fiction is not an easy one travelled--although many chose to pursue it. Whether these individuals be gluttons for grief, closet masochists, or simply blinded by a euphoric haze of inspiration, a consensus can be reached with each holding the phrase, "The art of constructing fiction is worth it," someplace deep in their loins.

In recognition of the great many who sacrifice themselves to these pursuits, this Fiction Focused handbook promises (in a completely non-contract-binding-unpromising way) that it might be of some use. From writing advice, to personal pet-peeves, to general writing characterisation research that most skip.

Uploads will follow (hopefully) every Tuesday, Wednesday and/ or Thursday.

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5. Romance: Love Triangles

There is nothing inherently wrong with love triangles, and despite my soured disposition towards the whole harem movement that's swept various mediums of entertainment I’ve engaged with (cough, cough--anime--cough,cough), I can still see some merit in the struggles of love shapes (not exclusively triangles). Romances and relationships need their own sections of spice and conflict, and I’m totally all for that, however, it’s in the way these ‘spices’ are handled that takes them from being a mild flavoured packet of Plantain Crisps to being a fresh pot of Phaal Curry.


1. One of the joys that should come with the whole ambiguous love shape thing is, well, the ambiguity. The aspect of not knowing which side(s) of the love shape will win. It’s a painful experience reading through badly choreographed tension scenes when you, as a reader, already pretty much know which side of the triangle the protagonist is leaning towards. Why drag out an already obvious choice? It’s not necessary and makes your protagonist come off as fickle dirt-bag when he or she alternates between flirting with the two; leading people on is not cool in real life, and doesn’t translate very nicely into writing either. Some examples where I’ve encountered this (and maybe it’s just me who saw this) were ‘Twilight’, ‘Vampire Knights’, the ‘Shatter Me’ series, the ‘Throne of Glass series’. Throne of Glass might just be down to the way in which I ended up reading the books; I’d had an encounter with it’s fan-fiction form, I think it was called ‘Queen of Glass’ at the time, so it didn’t take much to figure out how things would play out in the series according to the previous title.


In your own writing, if you realise that within your love triangle only one side invokes deep-seeded feelings of passion while the other side is ‘just nice’, then unfortunately you’re most likely falling headfirst into this trap. Let your reader feel the indecision of the protagonist by making them unable to decide themselves.


2. When your protagonist finally reveals their pick of the two, don’t make the side that got rejected turn into a jerk. The sudden jerk-ish attitude makes their development up until that point seem like a sham; generally, fake people aren’t nice to deal with in real life, so don’t reflect that in a love interest after rejection--unless that’s what you’re going for. A sudden disinterest from the rejected party also makes their ‘love’ seem unreal, thus the romantic tension you’ve been working to build up till this point crumbles because it also comes across as fake. Fake people are generally not very well received, and if you pull something like this readers may end up feeling emotionally duped.


One of the best examples I can remember (and I remember because I got so irritated by this character) is Fabian (I think his name was) from the first book in ‘The Dark Heroine’ series (‘Dinner with a Vampire’). I read it on Wattpad a few years before it was picked up by an agent. If most of the content hasn’t been edited; I remember that Fabian along with the sister of Kasper underwent some rapid attitude changes when the former was rejected by Violet. He went from being one of the nicest characters, to being...well...a bit of a douche. I don’t know if it was intentional, but if it was, then it was very well done because I still hold a gem of disgust for his character.


Genuine feelings of ‘love’ can’t be so easily dropped; writing realistic rejections means that you have to incorporate feelings of hurt, sadness, loss. Anger and bitterness would also obviously exist, however to a limited extent; an outburst of anger handled in the wrong way could lead your character to display ‘ownership’ or ‘conditional love’ type tendencies, and these tend to be flags for unhealthy relationships. Do this through showing small meaningful subtextual changes in character behaviour; have them be a little more withdrawn from the protagonist (maybe they don’t banter as much), or maybe they try to keep an ‘I’m fine’ mask on but when they’re alone they vent, or have them touch the protagonist less. By ‘touch’ I’m referring to the idea that people tend to want to be in close contact with a person they hold strong feelings for; so maybe they could get rid of a present that was given to them by the protagonist, or burn all the things that remind them of the protagonist.


On a perhaps more personal level, I find it better to read rejections where the rejectee takes out their frustrations on themselves as opposed to the protagonist or their chosen partner.


This is why Romance can be one of the more difficult sub-genres to incorporate into writing effectively. A good romance needs time to develop (quite a lot more time than a few weeks or months, or even a year), and all that development can be difficult to incorporate into a story that has a main genre of Fantasy or Dystopian. In these cases it can be easy to fall back on simply dispersing romantic conflict and choosing to limit the focus of your writing on world-building. However, if you’ve started drawing a love triangle, then you had better finish drawing it (with a ruler, protractor for the perfect sixty-degrees corners, and all). Arbitrary character changes are a horrid thing, made even worse when they act as a magical solution to a major conflict.


3. Copping out and making the protagonists decision easier by having one-third of the triangle disappear is unacceptable; whether they die or are ‘taken away’. I mean, if this is incorporated within the context of your plot, then fine, but if you’re simply using it as a device to eliminate the pain of making a choice, then you might as well not have written a love triangle to begin with.


As a reader, it is one of the most frustrating things to have an author cop out of situations. Doing this makes all the conflict beforehand meaningless, and as a reader I’m likely to put down your book due to how ridiculous the development seems. Readers would have wasted their time and energy getting invested in this plot point simply to have it fall flat. It’s like spending time on a difficult maths puzzle, only to have your teacher come around a few hours into your intensive problem-solving and tell you that the puzzle doesn’t have a solution.

 

4. This point links with the last section of point two, and that is, if the romance in your story is a sub-plot, keep it as such. Don’t let the romance overtake your main plot, unless of course, you’re actually writing a Romance. Love triangles can be an interesting thing--they’re like a three-way-tug-of-war--but realise that if you don’t market your book as a Romance and all that’s mainly in it is romantic tension, then you’re going to bitterly disappoint your readers. By branding your work under a genre, you make an indirect agreement with your audience. Certain genres come with certain expectations, and if you label your work as Fantasy, then your readers are going to be expecting Fantasy, not Romance with a fantastic edge. Readers usually go into a book with a list of expectations according to genre, if these expectations aren’t met, then the disatisfaction of your readers will be on your head.


5. Eliminate the flip-flopping tendency of your protagonist. If your protagonist cannot decide between the two guys, then your protagonist probably isn’t serious enough about either, and as such doesn’t deserve either. Simply said.


When reading love-triangle-romances, the thing that vexes me the most is the indecisive nature of the individual standing in the middle of the triangle. The long expository sections where they outline how hard their decision is makes it even worse. I can completely understand if the whole decision making aspect is set up to be like a vital ‘choose which partner you have in order to secure the worlds safety’, or something a prince/ princess has to do that isn’t by choice...but that’s about all I’m willing to accept it for.

Ignoring the simple fact that wishy-washy indecision just wastes time and fills a story with vapid and empty attempts at ‘conflict’, I guess I just tend to hold ‘love’ to a higher degree than what the flippy-floppy character trait displays.

 

 

These are the first five things I could come up with, but I know what there are way more; might update as they come to me.

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