Write Fiction Well with these Top Tips for Beginner Authors
If your goal is to write fiction, whether it be a serious sci-fi, a romantic romp, a curious crime, or even just a good old-fashioned too-good-to-put-down tale, then you’ll need to equip yourself with some basic writing tips and tricks. To save you from getting overwhelmed from the mountains of writing advice out there, we’ve distilled all the best advice into our top tips for how to write fiction.
1. Read fiction to write fiction
A good writer of fiction is a good reader of fiction. If you read widely the type of fiction you’re writing, and read other authors, you’ll both consciously and unconsciously absorb writing techniques, styles, and devices. You’ll be able to note from your own reactions when an author has written well, or written badly. It’s important also to read books in the genre you’re writing, or books that have the same audience as yours. That way, you’ll know the common techniques for your genre, and what your audience is interested in.
2. Show, don’t tell
Writing fiction is not about re-telling a story to the reader; it’s about immersing them in the world of your characters. The best fiction will show the reader, not tell them, because readers like to imagine for themselves. So rather than telling the readers your main character was tired, for example, show it through their actions. What do people do when they’re tired? They yawn. They zone out, unable to focus. Maybe they close their eyes, just for a second, before falling asleep! Similarly, if the weather is beautiful, be specific and show the reader how, as beautiful can mean so many things, and it doesn’t conjure an image in the reader’s mind. Instead, say the sun shone brightly in a cloudless blue sky, or the autumn leaves were a crisp golden underfoot.
When describing scenes, always bear in mind the importance of the details for your protagonist and the story. What did your protagonist think of the weather? Did they consider it beautiful? Or were they irritated by the bright sun or the cold autumn wind? Show us the relationship between what is happening around your character, and your character themselves.
3. Avoid character stereotypes when you write fiction
Stereotypes and clichés often have a negative impact on your story, so when you write fiction it’s best to avoid these by thinking deeply about your characters – what drives them, what they like and dislike, what they fear, what they dream for, their habits, and even their upbringing. These aspects don’t have to be included in your book, but they will help inform you, the author, so that you’re creating a well-rounded character.
I recommend dedicating at least a few writing sessions to exploring your characters. Go beyond the first idea that comes to your mind – brainstorm traits, be specific about those traits, and know why those traits fit a character and how it will make them act. Draw from real-life examples, not Hollywood. Research people and you will find such a beautiful variety of souls out there! And if you are writing about a minority group that you are not a part of, for example, your protagonist is a woman but you are a man, or you’re writing a Korean character but you aren’t Korean, then ask a member of that group to read your writing. They can help you realise what is stereotype, what is inaccurate or unhelpful, and what is an accurate reflection of that group.
4. Dialogue is important when you write fiction
When you write fiction, it’s implied that you will write dialogue. It’s part of the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique, landing the reader in the moment of the story. But how to write good dialogue? Contrary to what you might think, good dialogue isn’t just transcribing people’s conversations word for word. Most people say a lot ums and ahs, pause frequently, and can ramble before making their point clear. Written dialogue should (mostly) cut most of this out, and be clear, not rambling (unless your character is having a moment of poor communication and it’s important to the story!).
To make your dialogue sound natural, read it out loud. It’s also important to make sure you keep the story moving forward – don’t use dialogue as a way to explain things which the characters would already know about. This is where knowing your characters and how they act is really important, as it will be much easier to imagine how they would speak in any given situation. Other tips for good dialogue: break it up with action, allow your characters to hesitate and interrupt, and make each piece of dialogue as important as non-dialogue.
5. Consider pacing
A story that goes too fast will leave the reader breathless and stressed, but too slow and they’ll get bored. Pacing in your story will be different at different times. If it’s an action scene, you’ll want a quick pace to heighten the tension and events happening, so increase pace by having minimal description (but still enough so the reader know what’s going on!), and mainly action and dialogue. When you want a slower pace, write more description, and draw out details.
One helpful way to check if your story is evenly paced is to look at chapter length – chapters should be roughly the same length; if not, you’ll know you’ve spent longer on some sections than others. Make sure your pacing matches the genre of your book – having a slow-paced crime story, for example, may not be what your readers are expecting and lead to them abandoning your book out of boredom.
6. Description is important when writing fiction, but don’t overdo it
Sometimes in fiction writing, less is more. Sometimes, it’s the other way round. Either way, beginner fiction writers can fall into the trap of writing three sentences of description when one will do. A paragraph on how the rain is falling in large slithers from a sky full of clouds is overdoing it. You don’t want your reader bogged down in the description (usually!). Keep the story moving forward by using description to create an image in the reader’s mind, and then move on. Pretty language may be cool to write, but most often it can lead to choosing three adjectives that are all subtly different, rather than using only one and moving the story forward.
You should be able to justify every single word. Consider what is natural language and choose those words – if a reader is stuck trying to imagine a complicated metaphor, rather than moving forward in being engrossed in your story, then you’ve failed to justify every word.
7. Be okay with writing a first bad draft. Then edit, edit, edit!
If you want to write fiction well, be prepared to write fiction badly. And know that that’s OK. A first draft is often bad, and many writers produce very unpolished fiction at the start of the process, and then, you guessed it – they edit and rewrite. For advice on how to approach an edit of your first draft, see our helpful blog on it!
8. Write fiction regularly
Set aside a regular time to write. Write words even if they aren’t related to your current work in progress. Even if they are bad. Even if you feel like you don’t have time. Writing fiction is like exercise – when you start out you’ll probably be quite unfit and struggle. But through practicing, and flexing that writing muscle regularly, I promise you it will lead to improvement. Writing will be easier, faster, and produce a better first draft.
BONUS TIP – Accept criticism
We asked published YA author Gabrielle Reid for her best tip on how to write fiction and she had this to say about accepting criticism: ‘There’s going to come a point where re-drafting and self-editing isn’t enough and you need some second opinions, so make sure you really listen to them and weigh their advice against your goals for the story. It might be a writer’s group, a beta reader or a professional editor, but someone is going to have some constructive criticism. For me, I’d rather hear it from a critique partner so I can fix things before the book is published than get a bunch of negative reviews when it’s already out in the world!’
Are you writing fiction at the moment? Or perhaps you’ve finished writing and are seeking help with editing? Join our community of writers and self-publishers on Facebook to share and receive more writing tips and encouragement!