16 Fiction Writing Tips
Great fiction writing takes dedication and hard work, but there are methods to make the process easier. Here are 16 tips for writing fiction:
- Love your story. You might have a list of story ideas waiting to be fleshed out, but there’s likely one you’re most passionate about. Start with that story. Many authors do their best writing when they’re deeply invested in their characters and plot.
- Withhold information from your readers. When writing fiction, only give readers the information they need to know in the moment. Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory in writing is to show your readers just the tip of the iceberg. The supporting details—like backstory—should remain unseen, just like the mass of an iceberg under the water’s surface. This prevents readers from getting overwhelmed with information and lets them use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
- Write simple sentences. Think of Shakespeare’s line, “To be or not to be?” famous for its brevity and the way it quickly describes a character’s toiling over their own life. There is a time and place for bigger words and denser text, but you can get story points across in simple sentences and language. Try using succinct language when writing, so that every word and sentence has a clear purpose.
- Mix up your writing. To become a better writer, try different types of writing. If you’re a novelist, take a stab at a short story. If you’re writing fiction, try writing nonfiction. Try a more casual writing style by blogging. Each piece of writing has a different point of view and different style rules that will help your overall writing skills.
- Write every day. Great writers have a regular writing habit. That means dedicating time every day to the craft of writing. Some writers assign themselves a daily word count; Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. You might also join a writing group; being accountable to other people is a great motivator. Don’t worry if what you jot down is technically bad writing or you struggle to get something onto a blank page. Some days will be more productive than others. The more you write the easier it gets.
- Set milestones. The average word count for a book is 75,000 words. That can make novel writing intimidating. If you’re working on your first novel, stay motivated by setting milestones. This will help you break the book down mentally so it is easier to manage and easier to stick with.
- Understand basic story structure. Professional writers are well-versed in the framework most stories follow, from exposition and rising action through to the climax and falling action. Create an outline to map your main plot and subplots on paper before you get started.
- Learn strong character development techniques. There are effective ways to create a character arc in literature. Learn what character information to reveal to increase tension in your story. Your main characters should have a backstory that informs their actions, motivations, and goals. Determine what point of view (POV)—first person or third person—complements the character’s interpretation of events.
- Use the active voice. Your goal as an author is to write a page-turner—a book that keeps readers engaged from start to finish. Use the active voice in your stories. Sentences should generally follow the basic structure of noun-verb-object. While passive voice isn’t always a bad thing, limit it in your fiction writing.
- Take breaks when you need them. Writer's block gets the best of every writer. Step away from your desk and get some exercise. Getting your blood flowing and being in a different environment can ignite ideas. Continue writing later that day or even the next.
- Kill your darlings. An important piece of advice for writers is to know when words, paragraphs, chapters, or even characters, are unnecessary to the story. Being a good writer means having the ability to edit out excess information. If the material you cut is still a great piece of writing, see if you can build a short story around it.
- Read other writers. Reading great writing can help you find your own voice and hone your writing skills. Read a variety of genres. It also helps to read the same genre as your novel. If you’re writing a thriller, then read other thrillers that show how to build tension, create plot points, and how to do the big reveal at the climax of the story.
- Write to sell. To make a living doing what they love, fiction writers need to think like editors and publishers. In other words, approach your story with a marketing sensibility as well as a creative one to sell your book.
- Write now, edit later. Young writers and aspiring writers might be tempted to spend a lot of time editing and rewriting as they type. Resist that temptation. Practice freewriting—a creative writing technique that encourages writers to let their ideas flow uninterrupted. Set a specific time to edit.
- Get feedback. It can be hard to critique your own writing. When you have finished a piece of writing or a first draft, give it to someone to read. Ask for honest and specific feedback. This is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Think about publishing. Few authors write just for themselves. Envision where you want your story to be published. If you have a short story, think about submitting it to literary magazines. If you have a novel, you can send it to literary agents and publishing houses. You might also consider self-publishing if you really want to see your book in print.
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