Sometimes our fiction writing projects dry up. The characters turn out to be flat, the plot becomes formulaic, and the story suddenly seems lackluster.
This is when a lot of writers give up and file their half-finished manuscripts into a bottom drawer never to be seen again. What a waste of time and energy.
Before giving up on a project, why not try to resurrect it? Some stories may not be salvageable, but many can be rescued with a little innovative thinking and a few fresh fiction writing ideas.
Fiction Writing Ideas
Today’s writing ideas will help you enhance stories that are suffering from a variety of maladies ranging from boring plots to unrealistic characters. Scroll through these ideas and see if your story can be revitalized.
- Give your characters more than a goal. The characters’ goals are the core of almost every story. They are looking for love, trying to return home, or attempting to save the world. In addition to a goal, give your characters secrets, regrets, ulterior motives, bad memories, or any other issues that will shape their decisions as they move toward the goal.
- Deepen the plot. Most plots are actually pretty simple, but things get really interesting when you introduce subplots or make the plot richer by complicating it: the hero’s goal is to save someone she cares about, but what if she will gain something great if she doesn’t save that person?
- Breathe life into the setting. Sometimes a story’s setting is just a backdrop: Anytown, U.S.A. But you can enliven a story by giving the setting a little time in the spotlight. Any setting, from a deserted island to a major metropolis, can have personality.
- Make new character connections. Relationships often drive plot and conflict. What if two characters who barely know each other find out they share a friend (or enemy)? Build interesting relationships between all the characters in your story.
- Add a twist. Some plots plod along predictably. Give your story some zing by tying the plot up in knots. Nothing keeps readers glued to the page like plot twists and cliffhangers.
- Fine-tune the descriptions. Don’t tell us the character is staring at a wall. Show him staring at something on the wall: a crack, an ant, or peeling wallpaper. If a character is wearing blue jeans, tell us whether they’re old and faded or crisp, dark denims.
- Enhance the dialogue. Are all the characters speaking in the same voice? It’s probably your voice. Give each character distinct expressions. Maybe one character says “dude” a lot while another is constantly assigning pet names to everyone she meets.
- Push conflict to the brink. There’s a reason the hero never diffuses a bomb until one second to detonation. Get your characters so deep into conflict, readers start to believe there’s no way out. Then save the day!
- Strengthen the themes. You can plan which themes will be threaded through your story, but if you don’t, themes will emerge on their own. Identify the themes, and then strengthen them. If redemption is a theme, show a character humming “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley.
- Introduce an archetypal character. These characters stand out and feel familiar. Introduce a mentor or a trickster, or give one of your existing characters some archetypal qualities.
- Scour your favorite stories for tried-and-true fiction writing ideas. If your story hits a slump, just think about how some of the writers you admire have handled similar problems.
- Give your story greater meaning with symbols and symbolism. A white rabbit marks the beginning of an adventure, water indicates birth and rebirth, winter symbolizes death. Create your own symbols (like the mockingjay in Hunger Games) and look for objects of importance that can become symbols, such as a pen, pendant, or some iconic image.
- Dip into your characters’ backstories. They had lives before the story started. Give readers a taste of each character’s past through dialogue (in which they relate something that happened to them) and flashbacks.
- Add tension and intrigue to the plot by making a deal. One character wants something that another character has. To get it, she has to strike a deal. The higher the stakes, the more riveting the read.
- Use repetition for emphasis. Repetition works especially well with symbols. A boy gives a girl a pen when he goes away to college and says, “Don’t forget to write.” She writes, but he never writes back. For three years, she holds on to the pen and the hope that he’ll come back. Then she loses the pen. As soon as she loses it, she meets someone else. The pen makes repeat appearances, emphasizing its relevance to the story. The pen, of course, isn’t the cause of these events but provides a nice echo and works as a symbol for the greater story.
- Complicate your characters. Would a spinal surgeon have a bunch of tattoos? Probably not, which means if the spinal surgeon in your story has a bunch of tattoos, he’ll be mysterious and extra interesting. Choose personality traits and descriptions that don’t quite add up!
- Make the story emotional by killing off a significant character. Some authors have a hard time with this one, but death is part of life. In fact, it’s the one thing we can all count on. Killing a character is almost necessary when your cast is constantly facing danger of a life-threatening variety.
- Plant a red herring in your story. It confuses readers in a delightful way. It looks like the heroine will fall for the charming doctor, but it turns out the man she really loves is a con artist. Red herrings work especially well in mystery stories.
- Let your characters be affected by the events that unfold. The point of a story is to show characters experiencing something significant or meaningful, something important enough to change them. By the end, the characters should undergo attitude adjustments, adopt new philosophies, or otherwise evolve from who they were when we first met them.
- Engage readers with irony; it makes people think. The atheist experiences a miracle. A fugitive on the run gets captured because he saves someone’s life. A fire station burns down.
- Play around with the language. Most readers care more about the story, but they’ll notice if the prose is choppy or dull. Study literary devices and read a little poetry to build your vocabulary and make the best possible word choices.
- Good guys do bad things and bad guys do good things. Sure, truly evil or purely good people turn up on Earth occasionally, but really, most people are a mix of good and bad. The same should apply to your characters. Give the hero a criminal record. Show the bad guy doing something decent.
- Take a broader view. If you’re writing a murder mystery, the main character can have a love interest. If you’re writing a romance, you can throw in a few mysterious twists. Don’t be overly attached to your genre. Sprinkle a little magic on your story.
Got Any Fiction Writing Ideas?
Got any tips or ideas to add? Have you ever put a story on the chopping block and then saved it? How did you do it? What storytelling tricks do you have up your sleeve? Share your favorite fiction fixes and writing ideas by leaving a comment.