Do you ever feel like the story you’re writing is bland? Like it needs to be spiced up? Or maybe you want to write a story but you’re fresh out of ideas. Perhaps you need to practice storytelling?
Fiction writing exercises are perfect for toning your storytelling muscles. They can also provide you with a wealth of ideas for writing projects.
Today’s fiction writing exercises are designed to stimulate creativity and get you thinking about story from fresh angles. Read more
Please welcome guest author Joshua Danton Boyd with a post on character development in fiction writing.
For writers, characters can be very personal creations. Despite being taken from the ether, we can become attached to them, especially if we’ve been working on their story for years. With all the time and effort put into crafting their fictional lives, it’s understandable that we become overly sympathetic to them. We practically treat them like children. This, unfortunately, can be a one-way road to bland and uninteresting character development and plot lines. Just because you’re happy with your precious hero doesn’t mean your readers will be. Read more
When we writers discuss fiction, we usually focus on plot, setting, dialogue, and especially characters. These, of course, are the essential elements of decent storytelling. But what we often forget to address is the prose.
The words we choose to depict action, express characters’ thoughts, and render their dialogue is another important, albeit often overlooked, element of writing–and that’s true of any form of writing, including storytelling.
Language can raise a story to new heights or it can make a story sink. If readers are struggling to understand words and phrases or if they’re constantly distracted by unnecessary words and repetition, the story will take a backseat to the poorly constructed prose, and you’ll risk losing the readers.
No matter how compelling your story is, if you can’t convey it through well crafted prose, it will get lost in the slush pile and end up in the discount bin. Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to set story aside and focus instead on the language, which is at the very heart of the craft of writing. Read more
Most authors agree that fiction is primarily driven by characters. Successful authors talk about characters who take over the story, who have their own separate and independent consciousnesses. Outlines and plans for plot go out the window as characters insist on moving the story in a direction of their own design.
Because characters are central to most stories and because their primary function is to explore the human condition, it’s essential for characters to be believable. In other words, characters may not be real, but they most certainly should feel real. Read more
Please welcome guest authors Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett with a post about indie publishing and the many benefits it offers fiction writers.
A number of clients of Evan’s literary agency have begun to self-publish, or indie-publish, as a supplement to traditional publishing. For some of these authors, an activity that was meant as a promotional sideline has turned into the main event, with the indie-published books outselling the traditionally published ones.
These authors have discovered that indie publishing offers a number of advantages over traditional publishing. Here’s our advice for making the most of these advantages. Read more
When it comes to writing fiction, we each have our own unique challenges. For some of us, it’s a struggle to come up with names for our characters. For others, it’s hard to write realistic dialogue.
Maybe you’re like me, and find it difficult to write a really good villain–I mean–a really bad villain.
The funny thing about our writing weaknesses is that sometimes all we have to do is identify them and suddenly we start coming up with tons of solutions.
That’s what happened to me a few years ago when I realized I was having trouble writing a nemesis for my main character. Time and time again, it was one of the key elements that was missing from the stories I wrote. I was struggling to create a villain that would give my story the conflict it needed.
Once I noticed this pattern, I started seeing villains all around me–as if merely noticing their absence from my writing made them suddenly appear everywhere in my everyday life. Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises is jam-packed with fun and practical writing exercises.
You’ll learn useful writing techniques while gathering ideas and inspiration for all your creative writing projects.
Experiment with fiction, poetry, freewriting, journaling, memoir, and article writing.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from “Chapter Five: Fiction.” This creative writing exercise is titled “Potter Wars.” Enjoy! Read more
Please welcome author K.M. Weiland with a guest post on structuring your novel.
Take moment to think of some of the most significant scenes in your favorite stories.
More than likely, the scenes that pop to mind are those in which major events occur: Jane meets Mr. Rochester, the Titanic hits the iceberg, Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan. These are some of the most dramatic scenes in film and literature. They’re scenes that move their respective plots forward by leaps and bounds.
These are called plot points.
As we’ve already noticed, plot points are significant events. They’re game changers within your story. They’re turning points. Read more
These fiction writing exercises are designed to help fiction writers gain a better understanding of their characters, including antagonists, by learning how to relate to contradictory or opposing viewpoints.
Remember, an antagonist is not necessarily a villain. An antagonist is anyone whose purpose is at odds with the protagonist’s goals.
In addition to antagonists, we should be writing characters who are unique and complex, not characters who are all cardboard cutouts of ourselves. That means we have to get into the heads of people who are strikingly different from ourselves.
These fiction writing exercises will help you do just that. The idea is to try and view the world from a perspective that is completely different from your own and to get inside the head of someone who is not like you. Read more
The more I explore fiction writing, the more complex and multi-layered it becomes. Through the processes of brainstorming, outlining, researching, writing, and revising, I have discovered countless details that authors have to consider as they set out to produce a viable work of fiction.
Over the years, I have collected a vast pile of notes and ideas concerning fiction writing. As I was going through these notes, I figured they could be compiled into a master list of writing tips that might help writers tackle a novel by offering different perspectives and by providing fodder for the creative process.
These fiction writing tips come from countless sources. Some were picked up back in my college days. Others came from books about writing. Many came from interviews with successful authors that I have read, watched, or listened to. And a few came from my own personal experiences as both a reader and writer.
Writing a novel is an ambitious endeavor, never mind editing, publishing, and marketing it. Hopefully, the writing tips below will help make the first part of your momentous task a little easier.
The writing tips below focus on the technical and creative writing process rather than the business end of things. You can take a few of these writing tips or take them all. And add your own fiction writing tips by leaving a comment.
- Read more fiction than you write.
- Don’t lock yourself into one genre (in reading or writing). Even if you have a favorite genre, step outside of it occasionally so you don’t get too weighed down by trying to fit your work into a particular category.
- Dissect and analyze stories you love from books, movies, and television to find out what works in storytelling and what doesn’t.
- Remember the credence of all writers: butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
- Don’t write for the market. Tell the story that’s in your heart.
- You can make an outline before, during, or after you finish your rough draft. An outline is not necessary, nor is it written in stone, but it can provide you with a roadmap, and that is a mighty powerful tool to have at your disposal.
- You don’t always need an outline. Give discovery writing a try.
- Some of the best fiction comes from real life. Jot down stories that interest you whether you hear them from a friend or read them in a news article.
- Real life is also a great source of inspiration for characters. Look around at your friends, family, and coworkers. Magnify the strongest aspects of their personalities and you’re on your way to crafting a cast of believable characters.
- Make your characters real through details. A girl who bites her nails or a guy with a limp will be far more memorable than characters who are presented with lengthy head-to-toe physical descriptions.
- The most realistic and relatable characters are flawed. Find something good about your villain and something dark in your hero’s past.
- Avoid telling readers too much about the characters. Instead, show the characters’ personalities through their actions and interactions.
- Give your characters difficult obstacles to overcome. Make them suffer. That way, when they triumph, it will be even more rewarding.
- Explore the human condition.
- Make sure you understand the three act structure. Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Memorize the Hero’s Journey. Use it.
- Cultivate a distinct voice. Your narrator should not sound warm and friendly in the first few chapters and then objective and aloof in later chapters. The voice should be consistent and its tone should complement the content of your book.
- Give careful consideration to the narrative. Is the story best told in first person or third person? If you’re not sure, write a few pages in each narrative style to see what works best.
- Is your story moving too fast for readers or are they yawning through every paragraph? Are the love scenes too short? Are the fight scenes too long? Do you go into three pages of detail as your characters walk from point A to point B and then fly through an action sequence in a couple of short paragraphs? Pay attention to pacing!
- Infuse your story with rich themes to give it a humanistic quality. Examples of themes include sacrifice, redemption, rebirth, life and death, faith, destiny, etc. These are the big shadows that hover over your story.
- Use symbols and imagery to create continuity throughout your story. Think about how the White Rabbit kept popping up when Alice was adventuring in Wonderland or how the color red was used in the film American Beauty. These are subtle details but they give your story great power.
- Every great story includes transformation. The characters change, the world changes, and hopefully, the reader will change too.
- Aim for a story that is both surprising and satisfying. The only thing worse than reading a novel and feeling like you know exactly what’s going to happen is reading a novel and feeling unfulfilled at the end–like what happened wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Your readers invest themselves in your story. They deserve an emotional and intellectual payoff.
- Focus on building tension, then give it a snap.
- Enrich your main plot with subplots. In real life, there’s a lot happening at once. While the characters are all trying to get rescued from the aliens, romances are brewing, traitors are stewing, and friendships are forged.
- There is a difference between a sub-plot and a tangent. Don’t go off on too many tangents. It’s okay to explore various branches of your story when you’re working through the first or second draft, but eventually, you have to pare it down to its core.
- If you write in a genre, don’t be afraid to blur the lines. A drama can have funny moments and a thriller can have a bit of romance.
- Make sure your setting is vivid and realistic even if you made it up.
- If you didn’t make up your setting, then do your best to get to the location and see it for yourself before you finish your manuscript. If that’s not possible, get busy researching.
- Don’t underestimate your readers. Assume they are as smart (or smarter) than you are.
- Give the readers room to think. You don’t have to tell your story in minute detail, including each minute of the plot’s timeline or all of the characters’ thoughts. Provide enough dots, and trust that the reader will have fun connecting them.
- Let the readers use their imaginations. Provide a few choice details and let the readers fill in the rest of the canvas with their own colors.
- Don’t focus exclusively on storytelling at the expense of crafting compelling language.
- Appeal to readers’ senses. Use descriptive words that engage the readers’ senses of taste, touch, and smell.
- Apply poetry techniques to breathe life into your prose. Use alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, and other literary devices to make your sentences sing and dance.
- When rewriting, check for the following: plot holes, character inconsistencies, missing scenes, extraneous scenes, accuracy in research, and of course, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- As you revise, ask yourself whether every paragraph, sentence, and word is essential to your story. If it’s not, you know where the delete button is.
- Proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The fewer typos in your final draft, the better.
- Before your final revisions and before you send your manuscript out to any agents or editors, find your beta readers: join a writing group, take a fiction workshop, or hire a pro.
- Do not send out your rough draft. Go through the revision process at least three times before handing it out to your beta readers. The stronger it is when you bring in editors, the stronger those editors will be able to make it.
- Collect and use these and other writing tips in a file or in your notebook. When something about your story doesn’t feel quite right or if you sense there’s something missing, your notes and other resources might provide you with a solution.
- Have fun. If you’re not enjoying writing, then maybe it’s not for you. If you’re not enjoying fiction writing, try something else like poetry, blogging, or screenwriting. Be open and you’ll find your way.
Did you find these writing tips helpful? Got any tips to add? Leave a comment!
Today’s creative writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book I wrote on the craft of writing.
This book guides writers through an adventure in writing. You’ll explore different forms and genres of writing, including freewriting, journaling, memoir, fiction, storytelling, poetry, and article or blog writing.
101 Creative Writing Exercises imparts proven writing techniques while providing writing practice and creative inspiration.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from “Chapter Nine: Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.” This exercise is titled “Moral Dilemmas.” Enjoy!
We each have our own personal philosophies and values. Our values come from our families, religions, and cultures. They shape our morals and the decisions we make.
People are complex. What we believe is right or wrong changes when we find ourselves in real situations. Consider an honorable character who believes that one’s highest loyalty is to his or her family. Then, that character learns his brother is a serial killer. Does he turn him in? Testify against him? Stories get interesting when characters’ morals are put to the test.
We all know the knight in shining armor should risk his life to save the damsel in distress. If he doesn’t, then he loses his status as hero and becomes a coward. What if the knight is forced to make a more difficult decision? What if his true love and his beloved sister are both in distress but he only has time to save one of them?
For this exercise, you will put a character’s morals to the test. Below, you’ll find a short list of moral dilemmas. Write a scene in which a character faces one of these moral dilemmas and has to make an agonizing decision.
- In the novel Sophie’s Choice, a young Polish mother and her two children are taken to a concentration camp. Upon arrival, she is forced to choose one child to live and one to die. If she doesn’t choose, they both die. Write a scene in which your character must choose between the lives of two loved ones.
- A single woman is close friends with the couple next door and has secret romantic feelings for the husband. She discovers that his wife is having an affair. Normally, this woman minds her own business but now she sees an opportunity to get closer to the man she wants.
- Some countries have strict laws regarding drug possession. A family has traveled to one such country for vacation. Upon arrival (or departure), one of the teenagers’ bags is sniffed out by a dog. The bag is opened, the drugs are identified, and the guard asks whose bag it is. Both parents are considering claiming ownership. Everyone in the family knows the sentence would be death.
- Your character gets to travel through time and face this classic moral dilemma: the character finds himself or herself holding a loaded gun, alone in a room, with a two-year-old baby Hitler.
- A plane crashes into the sea. Most of the passengers escape with inflatable lifeboats but they do not board them correctly. Your character ends up on a lifeboat that holds eight people but there are twelve people on it, and it’s sinking. Your character can either throw four people overboard and eight will survive or they will all die except your character, who will get rescued after the others drown.
During the scene, the character should agonize over the decision and reveal his or her reasons for the choice that he or she makes.
Tips: Search online for “lists of moral dilemmas” to get more scenarios.
Variations: If you don’t want to write a scene, challenge yourself to come up with a few moral dilemmas of your own.
Applications: These moral dilemmas also work as story prompts. They force you to put your characters in situations that are deeply distressing, thus creating conflict and tension.
Please welcome guest author Tony Vanderwarker, who has generously shared his experience studying writing under his mentor, best-selling author John Grisham.
A while ago, having been asked to introduce friend and neighbor John Grisham at a writers’ retreat, I took the opportunity to give the audience a peek into John’s incredible plot development machine. As I pulled back the curtain to reveal what I’d learned when he’d mentored me in writing a novel, I found myself on a different footing with the famous author. Not that I had progressed to fame and fortune, but I had a book under contract and I sensed for the first time how much progress I had made.
John and I had been friends since our sons played high school football together. While traveling together and sharing holidays, we often talked about his writing but seldom about mine as there was little to talk about. Occasionally he’d ask, “How’s your writing going?” and I’d have to give him some stiff upper lip kind of answer like, “Going fine, just started a new one,” when the truth was my stack of rejection notices was getting so tall it was threatening to topple.
John had been through the rejection nightmare himself a couple times so he knew the territory. Both A Time to Kill and The Firm were turned down repeatedly. His agent finally found a small house for A Time To Kill but it ran into financial problems and couldn’t fund any promotion so the novel died a slow death and Grisham reverted to peddling it out of the trunk of his car. And The Firm only attracted attention from publishers after an auction for the movie rights.
At the halftime of one football game, out of the blue John asked me, “You doing okay with your agent?” I shrugged and said, “He’s a young guy—not so sure he knows his way around the biz too well.” John immediately offered, “Be glad to give you an introduction to my agent.”
I jumped at the chance, unaware that I was about to set off on a journey riddled with the deceptively sweet highs of feeling as though I were about to “make it” — maybe big—and the dreadful, sugar-crash lows of disappointment.
John’s agent, David Gernert, said he’d be glad to take a look at my latest novel. You could have scraped me off the ceiling. My imagination fired up visions of auctions with publishing houses vying for my book, six-figure advances and movie deals. I was on cloud nine and ready to crack open the champagne.
A month later, my manuscript passed the first test: one of Gernert’s underlings, all atwitter after reading it, said he loved it. I finally felt like the door to the inner sanctum of published authors was slowly cracking open for me. I was close to shaking the “unpublished author” curse. Certainly nowhere near Grisham, who was on his tenth novel, but moving out from under the black cloud.
Then came the first crash: Gernert gave it a second read and decided to pass. “If it’s any consolation,” he told me, “this is the first time this office has been split on a submission.” Close only counts in hand grenades, I thought to myself, back under the black cloud again.
I struggled along for another couple years, cranking out two more novels and adding to my pile of “We’re sorry, but your novel yadda, yadda, yadda’s.” Then one day at lunch, after asking how my novel writing’s going, John said, “Be glad to help you, kind of mentor you, if you’d like.”
Another high: I practically fell off my chair and accepted his generous offer. For the next two years, John took me under his wing, and taught me his plot development techniques. Outlining furiously under John’s exacting eye, I thought, “I’ve got a bestseller going, I can feel it.” My imagination went haywire. I daydreamed I was on the set of The Today Show, chatting about what it’s like to write a novel with John Grisham. Maybe John will join me? How big an advance will I get? Will there be a Porsche Turbo in the offing? Who’s going to star in the movie version of my book? Harrison Ford, maybe? Will I be asked to write the script?
But John made it crystal clear that he would be a taskmaster, too, saying, “The best advice is based on brutal honesty.”
And brutal he was. He rejected my first outline right off the bat, “Throw it out, start over,” he told me, “takes too much ink to get it going.”
As a friend, John’s chummy and jovial, but as a mentor, he pulls no punches, lets me have it smack in the face when he sees fit. He put me through a year of writing outlines before I could write Word One of the novel. He even made me feel like a complete dunce at times, like I was back in the fourth grade, sending me back to rewrite outline after outline. While I gained more and more appreciation for his plot development acumen, I realized how totally inept I was in comparison.
Slowly, I got the hang of it. By the time I started writing the actual novel, I felt pretty perky and confident—riding toward a high once again.
That only lasted as long as it took me to finish the first draft. “Scorched earth” is what Grisham reduced it to. He savaged it and while he didn’t say it, the theme running through his critique is, “You dummy, Vanderwarker, didn’t you listen to a word I said?”
“Take a year rewriting it,” he said, not hiding the disdain in his voice. He may as well have sent me to the crematorium.
I was crushed. At a particularly low point, I considered caving and giving up, the uphill seemed so steep. Fortunately, I had a week to lick my wounds before I ran into John again. “How you doing?” He asked. “I dinged you pretty bad.”
“Did sting a bit,” I said, in what must be a new level of understatement.
“Yeah, I know the feeling. Every time my wife or agent marks up my pages I want to punch them in the nose. But the problem is, they’re usually right.” It’s some solace that John know what its like to be in the dumper.
When I finished the novel, John was less than enthusiastic, “Vastly improved,” is what he told me. What’s worse, I sensed he lost confidence in me as a fiction writer. A grade of “C” from Grisham was not going to get me to the big time. Dreams dashed, I was also bummed that I let my buddy down. The message was clear: Hang up the laptop. So for three years, I did.
Then I got the idea to write a memoir about penning a novel with John. I figured out how to do it using the techniques John taught me. I got John’s permission to use his stuff, knocked it out and found an agent who enthusiastically took it on. I sent it to Grisham and he liked it. “Really enjoyed it,” he emailed me. “You’re much better at writing non-fiction than fiction.”
“Wow! ‘Mikey likes it,’” I thought, the quirky expression of ultimate relief and amazement jumping back from my past in advertising.
Now with the memoir coming out in early 2014, I’m once again on solid ground, sugar levels steady—at least for now.
As I stood in front of the audience giving my spiel about writing with John, I cracked a few jokes and told a funny anecdote about the experience. I had them eating out of my hand. As I looked out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grisham’s smiling.
I wondered, Is John thinking, ‘How do you like that? Vanderwarker finally put it together?”
I’ll have to ask him someday.
About the Author: Founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, Tony Vanderwarker is author of the memoir Writing With a Bestseller (Skyhorse, January 2014) about his experience being mentored by John Grisham while writing the thriller Sleeping Dogs, releasing in 2014. He has also penned the forthcoming novels Ads for God and Say Something Funny. More about Tony can be found at TonyVanderwarker.com.