Bunmi Ishola
26 October 2020

What is fiction?

Fiction is probably the genre that most writers are the most comfortable with. The primary definition in Merriam-Webster says fiction is, “something invented by the imagination.” It can be based on facts, but doesn’t have to stick to the facts. It can be poetic, but doesn’t have to worry about rhythm, rhyme, meter, or any specific technique. The people can be real, but the dialogue made up. The place can be real, but the people made up.

Fiction comes in many different genres—to name a few: romance, epistolatory, fantasy, mystery/suspense, magical realism, speculative, historical, realistic—but there are three main forms of (written) fiction storytelling:

Short stories: generally 1,000 to 10,000 words, a short story generally focuses on a very specific self-contained incident, character, or place. The world’s first stories—fairy tales, fables, mythology, legends, and the like—are all short stories. They capture your attention in the moment of the telling and then they are over. You get everything you need to be satisfied with the story in one sitting.

For examples of short stories, check out the 2020 Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist.

Novella: this is a complete story with a clear beginning, middle, and end—just like a novel—but it is short enough that it could easily be read in a day. Unlike a short story, it goes beyond a single self-contained incident. The Atlantic published a piece a few years ago describing the novella as “longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, the form has been the ugly stepchild of the literary world,” but acknowledging that things are beginning to change for this form of storytelling.

Looking for examples of novellas written by African authors? Check out this blog post that lists a few options to explore.
Novel: the longest form of fiction, usually 40,000 words or longer. This prose narrative features a connected sequence of events that involve connected characters. It is perhaps the most popular form of fiction in the (traditional) publishing world.

If you’re looking for examples, 2020 has seen the release of a good number of novels by African authors on the continent and in the diaspora, most of which have been gathered in this post.

For literary magazines such as Akuko, the short story is usually the style of choice because of the word count limit. However, writers are welcome to submit excerpts from their novellas or novels for consideration. What’s important is that your story draws the reader in, involves conflict and resolution (or at least the promise of resolution), and ultimately leaves the reader satisfied.Regardless of what type of fiction you hope to write, reading different writers who have distinguished themselves is one of the best ways to learn to be a better writer. Good writers are readers. So read wide. Pay attention to the craft of what you’re reading and then experiment with new styles to find what works best for you. We look forward to reading what you create and celebrating your voice.

Our intention in sharing the examples is not to say you should copy them, but rather to provide clarity on what the fiction category entails, as well as perhaps provide inspiration on where your writing can take you. Perhaps you’re inspired to write fantasy based on African mythology like Tomi Adeyemi in Children of Blood and Bone or K. M in Tristan Strong Punches A Whole in the Sky.  Or perhaps, like Keletso Mopai writing ‘Monkeys’, you will interweave your mother tongue into the storytelling—no translation for non-speakers, but richening the narrative with its accessibility. You may choose to explore family, love, and faith like Yaa Gyasi does in Inscape. Or maybe you will play around with point of view and write in second person like Tanzanian author Erica Sugo Anyadike in ‘How to Marry An African President,’ forcing the reader to literally step into a character’s shoes.

Whatever you do, remember that with fiction a writer is only limited by their own imagination.

**please keep in mind that these links provided are in no way an exhaustive list of what exists in the world of African fiction. We are simply providing them as a starting point as you explore this form of writing.

Bunmi Ishola
26 October 2020
26 October 2020

From the collectives