Want a good exercise for writing better fiction, one that works whether you are a creative writing instructor or a fiction writer? Read on.
In Chapter VIII of our Options: Constructing Your House of Fiction (2014), we show one very effective way for creating character. We suggest creating a fictional biography for your protagonist as if filling out a job application. As we say, in the fictional bio “the writer provides important details of a character, such as appearance, attitudes, relationships, and experiences” (44). The bio need not contain every detail, and obviously some things can be filled in as you figure them out during the writing of the story.
The fic bio is an excellent tool for characterization, but what about a similar strategy for helping the writer think through the other basic elements of fiction—i.e., plot, method of narration, and setting? Currently, we are working on a collabo-novel with a group of three friends, and we are setting the book in our own Yoknapatawpha, Clement County, Kentucky. In order to maintain consistency throughout our fictional universe, we devised an interesting method.
Before starting the novel, we first created Ficipedia. While Wikipedia is real and reserved for actual matters, our Ficipedia, as the name itself suggests (fictional encyclopedia), focuses on the make-believe. Think of our fictional bio as a type of Ficipedia entry. For our collabo-novel, we developed a 121st county in Kentucky, and we modeled the two-page entry on a typical Wikipedia entry for a real county. We began by establishing its size, its geographical location, and some of its important features, such as its county seat, Woodhole, and the prominence of Black Bear Mountain and its mysterious area, Banshee Ridge. We then invented an entire backstory of how the post-Civil War Kentucky Legislature created Clement County out of two extant counties.
In chapter XII of Options we point out that a well-developed setting can plays multiple roles in fiction; it can:
- Establish Verisimilitude
- Create Atmosphere
- Reveal Character Traits,
- Serve as Character, and
- Enhance Plot.
Perhaps the best way to allow setting to achieve any of these multiple functions is to first develop a Ficipedia entry. (Tweet this quote.) Having the details from which to draw facilitates verisimilitude, atmosphere, characterization, and plot. And if you’ve ever watched the credits for a TV show or film, you have probably noticed someone listed as “Continuity.” This person is responsible for making sure that all the details fit, that if a scene is shot over several days that the salt shaker is in the same position and if someone is said to have been born in Bristol, CT, early in a story, then by then end that person retains the same birthplace. In our case, knowing that Clement County was created back in 1870, for instance, is a key detail that each of our five writers could use consistently through to get right during the entire 400 pages of the novel.
Creative writing instructors could appeal to their young writers’ milieu with Ficipedia entries for everything from character to setting. Even synopses of student-created stories could be summarized in Ficipedia plot entries. The method of narration of each student’s story could likewise be rendered in Ficipedia format. The more Ficipedia entries created for each story, the closer the writer comes to what Hollywood calls a “bible,” an outline of the foundational details in any movie or TV series.
Effective fiction, then, can begin with the fun of Ficipedia. (Tweet this quote.)
Ph.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.