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.
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.
All three paths to producing emotional responses in readers are valid, but all three have pitfalls and can fail to work. To successfully use each, it’s necessary to understand why each is effective when it is.
Sometimes that first draft is never going to become a final draft. That doesn’t mean it’s a waste, though.
Any accomplished writer is also a reader—and usually a reader first. For the writer who is the least a bit humble, this sets up one of the most significant psychological barriers to pursuing a writing career: How could I ever produce something as wonderful as [admired writer / admired book]? This is an area that Steven […]
In 2015, Kindle Press published about 90 novels. By the end of 2016, it had published a total of 218 books—all chosen through the Kindle Scout program.
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.
It’s sometimes easier to cut a piece of writing if you can’t see how to fix it. Just remove the offending bits, job done. But it can deaden a piece.
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.
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.
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.
This post was originally published in 2014; it is regularly updated with new information. If you’re seeking one-on-one help with queries, I offer a critique service. The stand-alone query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a […]
The greatest tool for gaining reader confidence is internal dialogue—because when a character reveals his thoughts, he’s confiding in the audience.
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.”
Learn how to determine what genre you’re writing in and why it matters—plus the difference between commercial and literary.
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.
Award-winning author Jane K. Cleland explains how to implement the slow reveal to add suspense to your writing.
A plot planner enables you to keep the larger picture of your story in full view as you concentrate on writing individual scenes.
For a love scene to move readers, it must embody the principle of restraint—in dialogue, in description, and in the characters’ actions.
In the literary fiction world, it’s often taken as an article of faith that writing is an intrinsically important activity to be engaged in. Is it?
Thriller author Todd Moss discusses the pitfalls of using current events as the basis for a novel.
A couple weeks ago, I advised young writers to have patience—with themselves, with the publishing process, and with their development. Writer Gabe Herron recently wrote an essay for Glimmer Train that echoes that theme as well. He says: Time is the main thing. There never seems to be enough of it, especially once you’ve gone […]
What young people need to know about writing and publishing.
Editor and writing coach Kristen Kieffer discusses how to get the best out of a beta-reader experience.
Setting is often an afterthought when writing a scene, but it can affect characterization, tension, pacing—and more. Bestselling author Mary Buckham shows how to create effective descriptions for any type of narrative.
Learn what it means to see and read the world in terms of narrative design.
For every 45 minutes that you write, do 15 minutes of something else. But there’s one catch.
Author and editor Rachel Starr Thomson explains how to use descriptive detail to illuminate character and move plot forward.
Writer Joseph Bates explains all the point-of-view options for your novel and how to choose the best point of view for your narrative.
Fiction writer Douglas W. Millikin offers an honest and insightful essay about the biggest myths writers face about their profession.
Larry Brooks discusses how to create a concept for your novel that will compel readers (and agents and publishers) to read more.
In today’s guest post, author Maggie Kast (@tweenworlds) discusses the role research plays in the development and evolution of a historical novel.
In a free one-hour class, New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins will reveal the common plot mistakes he sees writers make, as well as his own personal storytelling tips—solutions that changed everything for him once he discovered them.
In this interview, Bonnie Neubauer, author of The Write-Brain Workbook discusses her own creativity practices and goals, her favorite means of gathering writing prompts, and myths about creativity.
As publishing becomes increasingly digital-driven, how are the business models for authorship changing?
Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld explain how to craft a compelling scene and when it’s okay to use summary.
Editor Jessi Rita Hoffman warns against the use of “stammer verbs,” words that cause an unnecessary halt in the scene.
Author Barbara Baig discusses word choice and how it affects tone, voice, and clarity.
Alex Limberg discusses attaining the perfect balance between dialogue and description in your fiction.
If you want to write realistic dialogue, resist the temptation to follow a very logical “call and response” structure.
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.
Blogger Tania Strauss of NY Book Editors discusses whether you should outline your novel before beginning to write.
When we talk about plot as separate from the characters, the symbols, the locales, the dialogue, and the philosophical introspection, what we are doing is privileging events over everything else. But nothing exists in a vacuum.