Turns out there is only one universal rule of plot, and it goes back to what Joseph Campbell uncovered: every single story worth telling is about transformation via trials.
How do great authors develop stunning narratives, break from tradition, and advance the form of their fiction? They take whatever basic ideas they’ve got, then move them away from the typical.
By far the most common entry-level mistake in the writing game, the thing that can get a perfectly good story rejected by an editor on the first page, is overwriting.
No pressure, but the opening of your book is the gatekeeper in determining whether your novel will sell. If your opening is weak, it won’t matter if chapter two is a masterpiece. Editors and agents and booksellers and librarians and readers will stop reading before they get there.
You need to write a memoir—except the mere thought floods you with anxiety. You’ve got decades of memories; where would you even start? Lists to the rescue!
For new writers, throwing in a few combat scenes can seem like an easy way to add some excitement to a novel, but the reality is that violence can be incredibly difficult to pull off effectively.
Taste is not static. Rather than a fixed endpoint toward which one toils away, it’s a target that moves over the course of a lifetime.
There is one secret ingredient to crafting a novel that readers will read from beginning to end. All the other elements are important and necessary, but they play supporting roles to this one.
Why must writers schedule time for residencies and retreats? Because in doing so, we honor an annual appointment with writer self-care.
Every reader starts a story cold, and you want to warm the reader up to your story as quickly as possible. Learn proven techniques for story openings.
A round-up of the best and most popular advice on writing craft and technique I’ve featured since 2010.
Ultimately, concept is far less important than character when it comes to determining the overall quality of your story, but your audience is attracted to your story based on your concept alone. Does your concept have what it takes to draw people in?
Some stories require greater scope, more voices, or a different context than can be delivered through the eyes of one protagonist. When you find this to be the case, consider using multiple viewpoints. However, you must think about several factors before launching into this greater undertaking.
Author Kurt Rheinheimer discusses how the most precious vein for material is from just before he knew who he was and what was going on.
If I could teach only one key to great writing, it would be this: Make every word count. Recognize the power of a single, well-chosen word. Trust it to do its work. As a rule, the more economically you use language, the more powerfully you will deliver your message.
There are countless ways to defeat ourselves, but the biggest and worst is to make the task too big and then feel daunted before we ever start
Every action in your novel should be justified by the intersection of setting, context, pursuit, and characterization. They all need to make sense. They all need to fit. If you have to explain why something just happened, you’re telling the story backward.
Author Jennifer Louden offers five tips for developing and strengthening your writer’s voice.
Author and writing expert Barbara Baig discusses the lessons about deliberate practice that writers might take away from Anders Ericsson’s book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
Novelist James Scott Bell identifies 5 common “rules” that writers would do best to ignore—such as “Don’t start your story talking about the weather.”
Think in terms of “telling details”: details that let the reader see your characters while also revealing something about their minds.
Much of writing advice boils down to: add more conflict. But don’t forget how happy lives can involve compromise and complication as well.
A plot planner enables you to keep the larger picture of your story in full view as you concentrate on writing individual scenes.
Author Barbara Baig discusses word choice and how it affects tone, voice, and clarity.
Writing groups can cause fatal frustration, deep self-doubt, and sometimes years of wasted effort. Learn the most common dangers of writing groups, and find out how to improve your group to give you more of what you need—and less of what you don’t.
Fiction writer Rowena Macdonald says she finds writing dialogue much easier than constructing a plot.
One of the most important goals of any fiction writer is getting the reader to connect on an emotional level with the story’s characters. But how do you accomplish this without being clumsy—without saying, directly, “Joe felt so upset he wanted to die,” which takes you right into the heart of cliché? John Thorton Williams […]
In an essay about writing a novel with her husband, Beth Ann Fennelly discusses that the process did not lead to fighting, but that it was fun, and not as lonely. However, it didn’t mean half the work. It meant twice the work. She writes: That’s when the novel really started cooking—and finally became fun to […]
The most prevalent point-of-view used by writers today is the third-person limited POV (sometimes spread across multiple characters), as well as the first-person POV. It’s pretty rare to find a contemporary novel written with an omniscient narrator—which is why Celeste Ng found it a terrifying realization, while writing her first novel, that her story required […]
One of the most useful and powerful devices for the fiction writer is understatement. You tell the reader less so that the reader knows more. Instead of having everything spelt out, the reader is given, in a very careful way, just enough information for the imagination to go to work. From understatement the reader can derive great pleasure and satisfaction.
Writers are often advised to fill their scenes with rich detail—to show, not tell. However, taken too far, you can clutter or bloat your story with too much irrelevant description.
Editors can tell within a couple pages if a manuscript will be acceptable to them. How? What makes this decision so clear to an editor and so muddy to an author?