Jim Westergren
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"If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves." - Thomas A. Edison

Fundamentals of Writing

During the course of my writing I have located and isolated three main factors that are the fundamentals in any written communication.

These three factors are very distinct from each other and could be said to be the anatomy of what is being dealt with in this often diffuse term "writing".

As you can easily see a great story written in a poor way, a shitty story written by a language-expert a sophisticated philosofical Sci-Fi novel read by a child wanting to learn how to read all doesn't bring about the good final product.

What is the final product?

The final product lay in the third factor, the reader. The first and second factor are all made for the reader. Every written work has a purpose of communicating something to the reader - always. Sometimes the writer writes it for himself but still there is a reader and still it is supposed to communicate something.

The communication intended to come across to the reader can be everything from the moon and the star. Feelings, facts, an idea, a reminder, joy, a message maybe, a moral or anything that could be imagined by the human mind.

There is often a purpose with the written work. It is a good idea to sit down and figure out the purpose for a novel before starting to write it. It can be a big purpose or a small one but knowing the purpose makes it easier to write. For example my purpose of this essay is to make the reader understand the fundamentals of writing. Knowing this I can then guide my essay to achieve this. It does not have to be a big purpose maybe just to remind something, understand something or make some joy for the reader.

That the reader reaches the established purpose behind the written work as established by the writer could be said to be the goal behind any written work.

The three factors are done in the sequence mentioned. First the writer figures out what to communicate, formulates the communication for the reader and then the reader reads the work. It is basically simple.

Here I take up each of the factors in regards to Fiction writing.

The first factor - what

On what is being communicated I isolated the following ingredients:

General story

This is the bone of a novel. To be good it must keep up the readers interest at all times. A good trick is to establish parallel stories that keeps up the interest. A predictable story does not bring up any interest at all.

How the story is told

This still falls under first factor as it has to do with in what way you tell the story. The usual one and what I consider the best one is that the story is told from the viewpoint of one single man who does not know more then the reader. Then this main character gets to know things together with the reader. A good trick is also to make the reader active himself while reading and finding out things. One example could be: "can the reader figure out the murderer in the detective story before the main character?" There is many different ways to tell a story and I am sure you have read many different ones.

Characters

An important ingradient of a story is the characters. They have to be well established to the point were the reader knows them well and how they do, think and act. To achieve this the character's ideas, considerations and feelings has also to be communicated. The characters is a very important part of a novel but is often not recognized as such. The writer must make them "alive" and real for the reader.

Scenery

The scenery must be well painted out and made real for the reader. This is one of the hard points in writing as it is a matter of a balance. Too many details makes the story boring but too less does not make it real and exciting. The writer must know when to express many details and when not to and draw it rough. Here the second factor plays a vital role in acheiving this. My father has mentioned to me a few novels he has read in which he really "was there" in the story. In those examples the writer could been said to have achieved this ingradient. In fantasy, science fiction or superstition this is even a greater task as the reader is not familiar with the environment but to bring new and exciting things for the reader can make a lot of interest, so utlized correctly makes it easier to get the interest of the reader.

Message

This is what I consider an important part. This is what the reader gained after haven read the book or story and what he will have in mind afterwards. To be a very good message the reader would for example realize something new in his own life or the world around him. The quality of the message is what is the task of the real good writer.

The second factor - how
The factor of how to communicate it requires skill as it is a true craft of art. And this is the skill of writing. This is done with the language with its words and sentences.

For the writer many words has to be learned and he has to posess a great vocalabery in order to be able to express the exact idea of what he want to get across, but also in a way so that the reader can grasp it. The writer must as well master the grammar in order to achieve that and make the communication easy understood. This skill is probably best achieved by writing in quantity, mastering the grammar, reading and observing the works and writing style of acclaimed authors.

The third factor - the reader
During the first stages of this essay I did not recognize this to be a factor but I have since understood its vital importance. And not only to reach the purpose of the writing but in writing itself.

It is a maxim that any writing would be useless without a reader as it is the reader it is written for. (Except in those rare cases writing is done with the purpose of learning.)

When you start to think about the reader when you write it goes much better (per my own experience).

One thing to think about before starting to write the story is to figure out who is the reader. Who is the public? Is it Sci-Fi readers, children, people who usually don't read? Knowing and estalishing this before can change the way how the story is written drastically. For example, does the readers understand the scientific words you are using? Does this kind of readers understand the philosofical idea you are trying to get across?

Another thing is to involve the reader in the story. Give him mysteries, quests, surprises, etc. Play with the reader.

Think about the reader while you write and make him interested.

You are not writing history in fiction. In history-writing data, facts and figures are important as well as how things went.

Bit fiction-writing is not history-writing, fiction-writing is mostly for the entertainment of the reader. Not to find out what had happened but to make the reader experience an adventure.

Once I read a shortstory from Isaac Asimov, Robot Visions, and it was so damm interesting. Once I had finished reading it I started immidietly over again and read it again. I was reading it while walking in the street on the way to the work despite the cold and that my hands got frozen. This story made such an impact on my mind so that I was speculating and speaking to other people about this for many days later. This story was really written for the reader.

I once read from an essay of Isaac Asimov that somebody had told him the following: "Only because you wrote the story doesn�t mean that you understand it." In that example the reader had understood symbolic meanings which the writer did not intend to get across. This shows that for different readers a story communicates different things and maybe even different messages. This also shows that the reader is a factor in fiction writing, an important one.

A story not written for the reader is a boring story.

And this I think is the must fundamental basics in writing, that you write for somebodies reading - even if that somebody is yourself.

The writer is not a factor of a story and of no interest. What is important is 1. What is communicated, 2. How it is communicated and 3. the reader. Everything else is junior to this.

I believe that a novel can be written so good that it can change the life of the reader and his viewpoint on life. Those authors who has achieved that point and changed my own viewpoint on life is Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard. I hope I can do the same.

EDIT: 13 Jan 2005

I did some revisions.

10 Jan 2003

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About the Author Jim Westergren Jim Westergren is a Swedish web entrepreneur. He is happily married and has two lovely children. Some of his interests are web development, SEO and writing. He is the Founder and owner of TodaysWeb offering SEO, web development and manages projects such as DomainStats and N.nu. Read his ..

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