8 Steps to Writing Better Fiction

Yeah, I know what your English professor tried to tell you. But if your English professor could make a living writing fiction, they would have been doing it. – Dean Wesley Smith

once-upon-a-timeWriting fiction is hard, and in some ways is harder than writing non-fiction. At its core, non-fiction is based in finding a unique angle, doing adequate and accurate research and presenting information in an enlightening way. Fiction is all of these things as well, but requires imagination and a more out-of-the-box creative input because a large part of that base you have to make up yourself.


  • Even fiction requires research

Yes, even if your world is a complete fabrication of your mind, you still need to research the mechanics of the things you wish to install, even if it’s just to see how a device’s real-world counterpart works. I usually begin researching about 1/4th of the way into a story, so that I can fact check my groundwork before I get too deep in, and then continue to write and research intermittently.

  • Realize you are going to write twice as much as you actually keep

And accept it. Your story is going to change as it develops, and any given paragraph or page has a 50/50 chance of getting cut. I know seeing you’ve written ten pages today looks awesome, but don’t let the amount of content rule your process. Try creating a dumpster document, where you can move pieces you don’t need anymore – that way they are there if you do need them later.

  • Read like your life depends on it

Read everything you can get your hands on. Read first thing when you wake up and right before you hit the hay. Read things that are in your genre, read things that are fluffy and make you roll your eyes. Read things that challenge you and read things that you normally would not. Remember that you are a writer and words are your craft. You must learn to appreciate them all, even the ones you only occasionally try your own hand at.

  • Choose your adjectives and adverbs carefully

A few here and there are okay, because a well-chosen word can make all the difference in the impact and meaning of sentence, but it’s obvious when you’re trying too hard with your descriptions, or using them to cover up the fact that you don’t really know what you’re writing. I once went through a writing exercise that asked writers to change the word “very” to shit, to illustrate how we overuse certain words without realizing it. Talk about an eye-opening exercise.

  • Check out others’ hooks

I find that if I can’t get my first line – my hook – down just right I have a hard time working on the rest of the story. Some authors can go back and forth without a problem, but few would argue that that first line isn’t crucial. Readers decide by that first line how much time they’re going to invest, so it had better be a damned good first line. Act like a reader and judge based on others’ first lines. See what works and what doesn’t.

  • Give yourself time

Good writing takes time, no matter how short a piece is. You have to write it, edit it, rewrite it, edit it again, leave it alone for awhile, come back and read it, think you’re an idiot, and rewrite all over again. Yes, you need to operate on a deadline, and yes, discipline is very important. This is what time management is for.

  • Don’t fight change

Understand and accept that sometimes, the story you set out to write is not always the story you end up with. Your characters especially are going to change once they have 20 page of life to them, and nothing stays the same in a world where its inhabitants are always changing. Focus on the story you want to tell, but don’t be afraid when it migrates a little.

  • Don’t undermine your own creativity

There are dozens of potential ideas and concepts that we encounter everyday that could become a story; more so for a writer who has taught herself to look for these ideas. When an idea strikes you, write it down, record it, tell someone about it, work on it – if you entertain the thought, go “Huh, that would be neat” and leave it alone then you will probably lose it. When you chose to be a writer, you chose to be a writer 24/7/365. You don’t get a break.


5 thoughts on “8 Steps to Writing Better Fiction

  1. Agreed to all of the above! When I first started writing my first book, I did the same thing you did about a 1/4 of the way through. I realized I didn’t know much about battles, armor, weapons, horses, clothing, etc. etc. Your second point was difficult for me. And the fourth point is a constant challenge. I’m reading a series of books from another indie author and although I absolutely love the story, it really annoys me when they use the same adjectives or phrases over and over again.

    • Reading others’ work and thinking things like they use the same adjectives and adverbs over and over is one of the reasons that I’m hesitant to publish myself… What if I end up being that writer? But of course there are ways to minimize such things. I’m working on another post that’s going to have free online tools for writers and one of the sites kind of addresses things like that

  2. I absolutely agree that research is crusial, just like D. R. Ross said. Only based on what we know from our World- horses, armor, weapons, etc.- can we create a new one. But we should try thinking with an open mind. Weapons and armor are just fine, but what about poor cupcakes? Let me explain myself: When I go downtown, when I watch tv, when I have some cofee with my friends, I’m always thinking ”How would this be in an alternate dimension?”. I believe that, as writers, we must be able to look at everything around us as a could-be writing material. So do make research even on cupcakes, because you might end up with an epic, kick-ass pastry shop as you’re writing.

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