Fiction Writing Tips

Melissa Donovan has 42 Fiction Writing Tips for Novelists on the website “Writing Forward”.  You can view her entire list here:

I have picked out my top ten of her tips, and give my reasons for the selections below:

  • Don’t lock yourself into one genre (in reading or writing). Even if you have a favorite genre, step outside of it once in awhile so you don’t get too weighed down by trying to fit your work into a particular category.  (This particular piece of advice appeals to me because I haven’t selected ‘my genre’.  [See the post on Genre.]  I think this advice is especially appropriate for reading.  Reading different genres can definitely open the mind.)
  • Don’t write for the market. Tell the story that’s in your heart.  (This advice is related to the item above.  It seems to me that some writers have a genre which the market – and readers – recognise.  Sticking to that genre and their market can make them financially successful.  Think J K Rowling.  But even she has branched out with an adult story she wanted to tell.)
  • 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 in lengthy head-to-toe physical descriptions.  (This is a very good point.  I think that what the writer should try to do is to stimulate the reader’s imagination, and a small, but telling detail is probably the best way to do that.)
  • The most realistic and relatable characters are flawed. Find something good about your villain and something dark in your hero’s past.  (In Efraim’s Eye, the villain has a  past which distorts his view of women, and one tends to feel sorry for him.)
  • Avoid telling readers too much about the characters. Instead, show the characters’ personalities through their actions and interactions.  (To this I would add, what the characters say.  The words a character chooses and the way they phrase their opinions can say a lot about their values.)
  • Every great story includes transformation. The characters change, the world changes, and hopefully, the reader will change too.  (I think that we’re all interested in important change – as long as it doesn’t hurt us.  We like to see how and why others change, and the effects on them.  In Efraim’s Eye, Naomi goes through a major change: from being an unfulfilled nomad to setting down nourishing roots.)
  • 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.  (Very true!)
  • 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.  (I think this advice is particularly appropriate for sex scenes.  I used to think I had to paint a complete picture; now, I believe that a few brush strokes are sufficient to engage the reader’s imagination.)
  • Appeal to readers’ senses. Use descriptive words that engage the readers’ senses of taste, touch, and smell.  (To this I would add the reader’s sense of hearing.  Sometimes it’s appropriate for the reader to hear what’s going on.)
  • Apply poetry techniques to breathe life into your prose. Use alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, and other literary devices to make your sentences sing and dance.  (This is about engaging the reader’s brain at another level.  Ms. Donovan has another point about ‘crafting compelling language’.  When we surprise the reader, we get him/her thinking.)

There are plenty of other excellent suggestions on the website!


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