Principles of Great Writing That Make for a Great Life

You must have heard the expression “life is stranger than fiction”. If you’re honest about it, there’s nothing strange about either, just the narrow-mindedness and the narrative boundaries of the observer.

Great fiction writing is remarkably revealing of what it takes to have a great life. It’s about ingredients mixed together in a pot more than a linear succession of steps. Think of a great novel like Ana Karenina versus a retard-level superhero movie: one boggles the mind to elevate it, the other follows a prescribed “hero’s journey” to numb it into comfort.

You can apply these principles to any piece of fiction writing, and with just a little bit of extra creativity to non-fiction and your own life. They are powerful.

Don’t believe me. Just put them to work and see for yourself.

1. Give your characters strong desires and goals.

Movement is the essence of character. If you want to create memorable characters, they must have a source of energy that drives them forward, that often turns them into a force of nature. Even if “forward” is their own doom.

Of course, you can create a piece of writing with weak characters or no characters at all. That’s high-level aerobatics, and you need to be aware of the costs and pitfalls. For one, writing well without compelling characters is incredibly difficult. And if you populate your stories with weaklings, readers may leave in disgust precisely because the writing is too good. No-one likes the weak, even if they tell you otherwise.

The same principles apply with even greater gravity in your own life. To have a great life, you must have a driving force to give you forward movement every day. The authentic desire that can fill that role is rarely a given – it is something you need to discover and cultivate for yourself. Develop a personal Vision that draws you on, and you will be unstoppable.

Even if you know nothing about building character, a powerful Vision can completely change the way people look at you. You immediately stand out among the rudderless mass.

Obsession, mania, relentlessness. They make you not just resourceful, but inexhaustible.

2. More action, less talk about past or future action.

A lot of authors seem to consider dialogue a great way to fill in background exposition without tedious descriptions and disruptive flashbacks. Amateurs always look for shortcuts and conventions, trying to avoid the real work of doing it well and doing it organically.

When you see this in writing, you will find that 80% of the time it could have been skipped altogether and the other 20% it comes up short and slapdash and requires further development. In both cases, the fundamental problem is the same – that words (fill-in talk by the author through a character) have replaced action (observation by the reader).

There is a great example of this that everybody is somewhat familiar with – Hamlet. There is so much talk, and talk about prior events, that this is easily Shakespeare’s most tedious play. Note that all the backwards talking doesn’t just reveal Hamlet as a spineless weakling very early on, it also makes it incredibly difficult to not get bored within minutes. It feels fake, forced and flatulent.

That’s how you appear to people when you talk all the time about yourself, your goals and your dreams: weak and annoying. Eloquence and communication are immensely valuable, but you can sway people and sway them for good only with decisive action. Shameless self-promotion can get your foot in the door, but only real value has the staying power to keep it there.

Even if you or your ancestors have achieved great things, relying on the past to guide your future is a dangerous and lazy game, which the universe has a mean taste for punishing. Use the past as a foundation and resource, not something to identify with.

3. Characters must earn their romances (no knights on a white horse).

You can substitute for “romance” anything that makes the will to power bubble up to the surface. Whatever grand goal or accomplishment comes up, it must be costly. Otherwise it appears flimsy, and is.

To have great significance, an event must require great exertion and sacrifice or, if it’s chance, it must have a profoundly transformative effect on someone’s character.

This is true by definition in “real” life. People don’t value things that come easy. People are not affected profoundly by things that don’t affect them profoundly.

When you write up a story where a couple of people just meet each other and things magically work out, you’re committing a mortal sin. It’s not just that it’s not credible and realistic. You’re implicitly making the characters look weak and directionless because they didn’t have to work for it. If they value so much something that they didn’t have to work for, they must surely be numbnuts, don’t they?

Every time you see this type of romance in good writing, it’s either revealing some character flaw (someone got used to the easy life and spoilt on sheer luck) or just a cruel setup for a tragedy. The reader is almost literally looking for the anvil that’s going to fly in out of nowhere and splatter someone’s brains all over the cozy furnishings.

You know the ceaseless stories about lottery winners who end up bankrupted or suicided. Remember this every time you win. At no time are you more exposed than in the moment of victory. Earn your stature by being prudent with your winnings, even if you really just got lucky this time.