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5 Tips for Writing Fiction

23 May, 2011
Photo by Leo Reynolds, Flickr

Writers of the top 10 writing blogs (as judged by selectors connected to the blog Write to Done) were recently asked to provide their best writing tip. Selecting and combining what I found useful and adding my own thoughts, I have come up with 5 helpful tips for writers of fiction.

  1. Write YOUR story.

    Write ‘the story you were born to write.’ But how do you go about finding your story?

    Consider your interests and dislikes, your particular background, your dominant values and beliefs. Pay attention to the kinds of books you like reading, especially the ones you keep and reread. Then consider how to combine your interests. If your bookshelves are filled with historical books about ancient Egypt, collections of horror stories, and books that tie in with your passion for silver collecting, imagine how you could blend  these topics to create a story.

    Discovering a unique perspective ensures that you do not fall into the trap of copying others. Janet Evanovich broke new ground when she moved into crime writing and created a refreshingly different sleuth. She made her character, Stephanie Plum, a novice rather than an expert. Not the usual hard-boiled, lone detective, Stephanie is a romantic who enjoys being part of a normal (well, maybe not!) and loving family. By going beyond the familiar, Evanovich created a successful niche in this genre.

  2. Keep inspiring yourself.

    Every month, my photography club sets a topic for a photo. Having a topic encourages me to brainstorm ideas and try out ways to respond to it. If I didn’t have the topic, I probably would never get my camera out and experiment.

    Looking for inspiration is just as important when writing. As you go about your day, jot down ideas—things that happen to you, topics you read about, overhear, sense, think. Try brainstorming these ideas and experiences to consider possibilities for developing a story.

    When award-winning writer Christos Tsiolkas happened to glance in the interior of a laundromat, he had an inspiration, an image of  ‘a middle-aged man trying to find coins for the detergent dispenser’. The result was a published short story, ‘The Dawn Service’.

  3. Find more arrows for your writing bow.

    One of the exciting but frustrating aspects of being a writer is that writing helps you discover what you really want to develop in your work. By grappling with your material, you learn more about writing—different ways to reshape and strengthen your stories.

    The skills you gain as you write function as additional strings to your writing bow, but I tend to think of them as arrows. While in New Guinea, a tribesman presented me with his working bow and set of arrows, each arrow made for hunting a particular prey. Does it help to think of your writing skills in a similar way, each one having a specialised purpose that you know?

  4. Focus on readers first, then go for perfection.

    No fictional work is perfect; some of the best stories have minor problems in plot or style.  Stig Larsson’s famed Girl with Dragon Tattoo trilogy has some long boring bits. Did I stop reading because of these problems? Definitely not because the overall story was gripping.

    Eventually you need to perfect your story—but the first draft is not the time to do this. As you start your draft, focus on readers. Think about what you want to tell them and how you imagine them reacting as they read your material. Keep focused on the bond your story will build between you and readers.

    If you edit and redraft prematurely, you run the risk of what one blogger called analysis-paralysis, where you begin doubting your story and perhaps even your writing ability.

  5. Establish a consistent routine.

    A doable writing routine—it’s what many of us try to develop and maintain. For some writers, the routine means writing at a certain time each day or establishing regular periods during the week. For others, the sense of routine may be something completely different but workable.

    More difficult than starting a routine for writing is keeping it up.  I should know—I’m having some rooms painted, which means that I cannot get to my desk easily, and the solitude and writing time I’m used to has temporarily vanished.

    Even though it is difficult, try to keep your writing habit going. I was taken with one blogger’s advice:  The only person who can make your writing a priority is you.

    Are there things you could change in your life in order to bring your writing to the fore—and keep it there?

[‘The Dawn Service’ was published in Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend section, 8 January 2011.]
12 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 June, 2011 8:37 pm

    Great article. Also love the reviews of Kristin Cashore’s books. Both of those are sitting on my bookshelf and I can’t wait for the third one. x


    • 13 June, 2011 9:40 pm

      It’s great when you find a writer whose work speaks to you so powerfully that you can’t wait to read whatever they come up with next. I was like this with Sarah Paretsky’s crime series, featuring the Chicago private investigator, V.I. Warshawski. Sometimes I hold off reading the most recent work of an admired author because I still want to have some books that I can look forward to reading. I have to be in the right circumstances to savour the story rather than rush through it.


  2. maatsuyker permalink
    8 June, 2011 11:50 am

    Thanks for these, Marsha. Excellent.


    • 13 June, 2011 9:33 pm

      It’s easy to write about what we could be doing as writers–much harder to incorporate the habits into our writing practice.


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