These fiction writing tips from authors and editors range from “put your characters in therapy” to “see stories as snakes.” I rounded up the best tips for writing fiction from a range of successful writers, including journalism professors, novelists, and screenplay writers.
Every writer has different reasons for writing, but the bottom line is you have to write well. Read Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School by Gotham’s Writers’ Workshop for more writing info.
Before the tips, a quip from Anais Nin: “I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live,” she writes The Diary of Anais Nin. When you’re writing fiction, are you creating a world that makes you feel more alive and vibrant? Nicholas Sparks said he’ll abandon a book as soon as he gets bored with writing it. He has to be fascinated with his characters’ world, or he won’t write the novel.
The most well-known tip for writing fiction is from authors such as Stephen King and Anne Lamott. They encourage writers to read, read, and READ more fiction. It also helps to learn how to read novels. Why do you like or dislike certain characters? Is the writing gripping, even thought the plot or theme is distasteful? Do you dread the end of the book, because you want to live in the characters’ world longer?
12 Fiction Writing Tips
Pull up a couch. “My best advice for writing fiction: act like your character’s therapist. When you put your characters in therapy, you discover their hidden fears and secrets, and all the motivation you need for their behavior.” – Kelly Simmons, novelist and former journalist
Find the characters’ motivation. “In real estate it’s location, location, location. In fiction writing, it’s motivation, motivation, motivation. The art of creating believable characters is knowing their motivation. Why are your characters doing what they are doing? What do they hope to gain? What about their past makes achieving this goal so important? Why did they chose this course over another? Things don’t just happen. There are no coincidences. Everything is, or should be, driven.” – Laurel Bradley, writer
Heed the classic fiction writing tips. “Show, don’t tell, the reader is my fiction writing tip. Readers need details to visualize your words. They need to smell the perfume, taste the wine, feel the cashmere. Don’t just say it was a beautiful sunset; describe it in vivid detail.” – Mark Grabowski, journalism professor (for more “classics”, read more fiction writing tips)
See stories as snakes. “The best fiction writing advice is from a children’s writer Bruce Hale: ‘A story is like a snake with its tail in its mouth. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. Some stories even end up in the same place they started.’ He likes to tell the children who are staring at a blank piece of paper to write the word “NOW” on the paper. Now, the paper is no longer empty and you can begin writing!” – Kristen Kuhns
Write fiction that make sense. “The best writing advice I can give is: fiction has to make sense. So – do your homework! If you’re writing about a place you’ve never been, make sure that what you say about the place and the real people who live there is true. Lately I’ve seen writers put a huge Western-style ranch in an Eastern state, describe a modern Indian reservation in 1880s terms, and refer to nonexistent airplane routes. Most readers can overlook small mistakes, but big mistakes can be jarring enough to wreck your story, especially when a quick online search is all that’s needed to locate the facts.” – Trudy W. Schuett, writer and librarian.
Don’t be a wannabee fiction writer. “My best fiction writing tip: ‘Writers write; wannabees talk about it.'” – Shelley Lieber, author.
Get creative — write “edgy and quirky” fiction. “My best writing advice is to start with the truth and then twist it with your imagination.” – Zola Lawrence, writer and teacher
Set and meet your writing deadlines. “Having a deadline draws you forward, past the demons and doubts and into the land of completion. As Rob Hartzler, a wise artist friend of mine, told me, “It doesn’t exist unless it’s finished.” – Claire Bardos, screenplay writer
Embrace your writing procrastination. “When I was a freelance writer, I used to set aside about 20 minutes for procrastination activities every morning before I started to write. I took care of a lot of administrative and housekeeping tasks that way. Once I paid tribute to the procrastination judge, I was free to sit down and let it flow! That’s my fiction writing tip.” – Claire Bardos, screenplay writer
Outline your novel. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K. M. Weiland will help you brainstorm plot ideas, discover your characters, structure your scenes, format your finished outline, and use your outline to write the book you’ve always wanted to write.
Write freehand – it also helps with editing and revising. “My fiction writing tip is to write freehand. I wrote my entire book freehand and then went back and typed it. Although this was time consuming, my ideas and thoughts flowed easily with pen and paper versus when I tried to write using the keyboard/computer. In addition to writing freehand, I was told to write on a huge tablet and to use a pen that wrote smoothly. My tablet was 14×17 so whenever I wrote in public people would stare in wonder about what in the world I was doing.” – Kelly Damron, writer and blogger
Know your audience – one of the best fiction writing tips. “My best advice for writing for children is to understand everything you can about the age of the child you are writing for. Observe children in a specific age group by observing a class for a week in a public school. Watch teens at a movie theater, bowling alley, video arcade, or fast food restaurant. Watch the books they select at a library, book store or school book sale. Take notes and observe what they do and say as it relates to their physical, spiritual, emotional and mental abilities.” – Cindy Kenney, freelance writer and editor.
Set writing goals. “I’m the author of six books. The best fiction writing tip I’ve ever received was given to me by a fellow author who said, ‘Write ten pages per day.’ Whenever I’m looking to tackle a book project or a screenplay, I use this advice and the project just sails by.” – Yasmin Shiraz, author.
What best writing advice – or fiction writing tips – have we missed? Comments welcome…