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4 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Story Writing Skills

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

After a fiction writer has put in the grueling work of completing their novel, short story, novella, or other piece of narrative writing, they may realize it’s still missing something. Sometimes a story needs a little improvement to take it to the next level, but it’s hard to pinpoint which elements need work. Luckily, there are plenty of techniques writers can use to ensure their story is a good story.



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The 5 Elements of a Good Story

There are a few elements of good story writing that work together to produce an engaging story a reader just can’t put down:

  1. Compelling plot. A good story delivers a promise of the premise and works to deliver on it. How a writer introduces stakes and weaves conflict through their narrative to keep the reader invested in their storylines is critical for a great story. The plot culminates in some kind of satisfying payoff (even if the story is meant to have a sequel). An ending that tracks and makes sense to the reader will make for a good story.
  2. Believable characters. Believable characters have human flaws, just like people in real life. Even if the characters themselves aren’t human, they still feel like real people with their own lives and point of views. The motivations for their actions make sense, and their character development tracks with how their arc has been set up. A good story has relatable main characters—ones you can empathize with, and ones you can root for.
  3. Natural dialogue. Conversations flow organically between characters, and never feel forced or stilted. Characters feel more real when they communicate more like real people, and not just for the sake of exposition. Dialogue should be true to the period, and properly reflect a character’s background. What a character says and how they say it is influenced by where they come from, their social class, upbringing, and a myriad of other factors. Consider all these factors will make for more organic dialogue between your own characters. Learn more about writing great dialogue in our guide here.
  4. Strong imagery. Appealing to the five senses and beyond can make for a vivid sensory experience that really envelopes a reader in a fictional universe. Writers don’t have to always resort to describing the way things look to create mental images. Describing how something tastes, smells, sounds, or feels—not just how it looks—makes a passage or scene come alive. Author Margaret Atwood offers her tips for adding sensory imagery here.
  5. Good pacing. A good story balances different paces for different moments within its narrative. A story suffering from slow pacing and too little action will bore the reader. Too much action or interest will wear a reader down and overwhelm them with activity. This is especially true for short story writers, who have a limited word count to tell a complete story. Good writers know how to pace their narrative, resulting in good stories. Learn more about pacing your story from author David Baldacci in his tips here.

4 Tips for Improving Your Story

Editing is a phase of the writing process that every writer must undergo to improve their writing, whether it’s their very first novel or their fifth bestseller. Even the most successful authors of famous literary fiction have meticulously combed through their own writing looking for ways to make it better.

Whether your goal is to write a short story or a good book, the following writing tips can help any fiction writer enhance their creative writing and produce better stories:

  1. Get fresh eyes on it. Taking a break and returning to your novel writing or short story writing later on can give you a fresh perspective on your content and story structure. Giving your work to others to read and receiving unbiased feedback can also help highlight any improvements needed. Getting notes back means you haven’t written a good novel, it just means someone not as close to it is having a different experience.
  2. Add layers. Good writers describe what a character is experiencing through their five senses, but a good story gets down into a how a character is really feeling. You could reveal the characters’ thoughts on the page, but a subtler way is by examining a character’s body language. What a character says and how their body behaves in the scene can reveal deeper emotional issues and give them added complexity. For instance, a wife tells her husband she loves him, but flinches when he tries to hold her hand. That hints at a deeper conflict within these characters, and will pique the audience’s interest to learn more.
  3. Embrace flaws. Making characters too perfect with no room to grow will not make for a good story. The most heroic characters in great novels still have something they need to learn, even if it never changes them outright. Giving more realistic qualities to the characters in your own story will bring them to life in a more vibrant and interesting way.
  4. Only keep scenes that matter. A particular scene may include funny backstory or show off your writing skills, but scenes that don’t contribute to your storylines or character developments in a meaningful way will interrupt the rhythm of your narrative, and cause your story to lag. Cutting extraneous details and moments can streamline your story, and enhance your fiction writing overall.
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