Writing tips for new fiction authors
If you are new to writing and in particular, creative writing, there are a few typical pitfalls to avoid.
Two of the most common traps for new authors when they start fiction writing are to narrate too much and to overuse the passive voice.
These two mistakes make it impossible to adopt the golden rule of fiction writing, with is to show, don’t tell.
In other words, allow the characters thoughts and actions show the reader what is happening. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the narration or the selection of writing elements, tell the reader.
A reader doesn’t want explanations. A reader wants to understand, empathise, sympathise and be drawn into the story.
No matter what type of story you write, if you are an aspiring writer and plan to become a published author, you want to create a one that will hold a reader’s interest.
Yes, you need solid writing skills, but if you want to write a good story, it all starts with a good story structure.
Here are four simple tips on how to write a story.
1. Drafting your outline
If you have taken a writing class, your instructor probably told you that the best stories begin with a plan.
You start with a story idea. But you need to fashion it into a logical progression that has a beginning, middle and end.
Take it step by step, and develop your idea. You can use bullet points, a list of important events or a series of short sentences.
You can add character names, places and perhaps descriptions as well.
Think about how your story will evolve, and how you can create rising action, or tension, that will lead to a climax. Most importantly, make sure you know how it will end.
You might read that some writers prefer to write without a plan and say that they let their characters drive the story.
It might work for some writers. But I’ve learned by trying this method that is very easy to get lost. Or, more precisely, to lose the plot completely.
My experience was that I spent so much more time re-writing and repairing plot problems, which a solid plan would have easily avoided.
Of all the writing tips I could give to a new writer, it would be to plan well to write well.
Another way to extend and refine your outline is to think about writing a short story. It is an ideal way to include more details, write dialogue and learn to get into your character’s head.
Now you can start writing your book.
2. Choose your point of view
If you don’t know what point of view (POV) is, you need to find out before you write a single word.
POV is the perspective or angle a writer uses to let readers hear and see what happens, as well as indicating who is telling the story.
If you plan to write fiction, it almost always uses the third person POV. In other words, he said, she said, they went, he looked, she wondered.
You will also almost always use the past tense, which is logically called the storytelling tense.
Deciding on your point of view will clarify who is telling your story, and make writing much easier.
3. Work on the consistency of your writing voice
Writing voice can be used to describe an author’s writing style, but also for the voice of characters.
Think of writing voice like how you talk. You don’t talk like everyone else, do you?
On television, new anchors all seem to sound the same, because they talk the same.
Creating your unique writing voice is not difficult, but maintaining it throughout a long story it can be.
Look at the words you use in your narrative in particular and search for changes. Is your register changing from formal to informal without any reason?
Are you using full words and then changing to contractions, and then back again?
The same applies to your characters. In your use of dialogue, do your characters’ voices stay consistent?
It doesn’t matter if you are a short story writer or a fiction novelist. A great tale is told by a unique and consistent voice.
4. The passive is toast
As I noted at the start of this article, using the passive voice is where many new writers go wrong.
On occasions when I have reviewed or edited a story, the first thing I do is check for overuse of the passive.
If I see it a few times in the first page or chapter, I send the manuscript back to the author with a note. “Kill off the passive, then send it back to me.”
Should I ever happen to judge a writing contest, I would use the same formula. If I struck the passive early and often, I would stop reading and move on the next entry.
The problem with using passive voice is that it is totally about the author telling the story and not the characters showing the reader what is happening.
The passive leaves too many questions unanswered and events and actions undescribed.
Tom was trapped.
Who put him there? Why did they do it? Where is he trapped? How did he get in there? How big is it?
All of these questions can be answered by using the active voice.
Early in the morning, the villains who had taken him from his home the night before lowered Tom into a cavity beneath the barn floor. Darkness filled his tiny prison as they covered the entrance above his head with wooden beams. He heard the rumbling thunder of a storm approaching, and the villains laughing at his fate.
I allow one exception to the rule because it can only be used in the passive form.
Tom was born in 1961.
Otherwise, always write in the active voice.
When I first started writing, I made all the mistakes I have described. All of them, and many times over.
It takes time and practice to learn how to write, and write it well. However, it can be a rapid learning curve if you always have your reader as the most important person in your story.
Think about how they will read and enjoy your writing.
The quote by Charles Dickens is true, and it is why it is so often quoted when talking about great fiction writing.
“Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.”
If you can do these three things, you will become a terrific writer.
More reading: Proofreading The Right Way