There are several basic rules when it comes to writing fiction.
1. Character Is Key
You need to have a main character that readers can identify with. They don’t have to be perfect. To make them interesting, they do need to have some issues to work through in the course of the novel.
2. Outline Your Plot
Write an outline of what is going to happen in the beginning, middle and end of the book. This will give the characters some direction in your novel. It’s okay to change things if your characters or situations in the book take on a life of their own, but have a general idea of the point of the story.
3. Start in the Middle of Things
"In media res" is a common literary term. It is Latin for “into the middle of things”. It helps get the novel off to an active start. Then you can fill in the back story as you go along.
4. Choose a Point of View That Makes the Most Sense for Your Novel
Some write in the first person (“I”), while others use the third person ("he" or "she"). The narrator can be limited or omniscient (all knowing), giving us information about what is going on with other characters in the book. A third person-limited narrator might not know the whole story, but this can be a good thing for certain genres, such as mystery or horror, with the story unfolding for us as it does for the main protagonist.
5. Use Dialogue to Move the Character and Story Along and Fill In the Back Story
Dialogue can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to drawing a character, advancing plot, suspense, tension and so on. The conversation between characters can also give us a sense of their past and make them more well-rounded and three-dimensional.
6. Show, Don’t Tell
Here we are referring to descriptions of people, places, and emotions, not to dialogue. When you are showing, you are giving details that all add up to the reader drawing a conclusion about what they are reading.
For example, if you describe a person as, "scowling, fists clenched, panting with fury", you won’t need to say, "He was angry". If you say, "The snow was thawing and the first daffodils were just starting to peep through the ground as Amy hurried home to get ready for her Valentine’s date", there is no need to tell us it’s February in the northern hemisphere.
7. Give the Characters Motives
What drives your characters to do what they do? Even a villain will have some reason. Motiveless evil gets pretty dull after a while.
8. Engage the Emotions
Feel the emotion as you write and your readers should feel it as they read. Don’t make it all about plot. Make the characters real people with believable feelings and reasons for all they do.
9. Write What You Know
Don’t make your character a rocket scientist if you flunked science. Don’t write about a painful divorce if you are happily married with three kids, unless you have a friend who is spilling her guts to you every night on the phone about the terrible time she is having.
10. Revise Carefully and Often
Try to make your work as error-free as possible.
Use these tips to ensure that your writing is as good as it can be. Perhaps your novel will become the next bestseller!
Herb is an author, speaker, retired college professor, and retired Army Reserve chaplain living in South Florida.
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