Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story

From One Writer to Another: 5 Tips for Writing Better Fiction Faster

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'Book' photo (c) 2012, Sam Howzit - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Today’s post is another in the From One Writer to Another series. So far, I’ve written advice for newbie writers to get started and the truth about blogging. This week, I am sharing what I’ve learned about writing fiction in the past couple of years.

I think writing fiction is much more difficult than writing nonfiction. You need to create characters, timelines, settings, and details within an overarching narrative. And then, you need to make sure it works, meaning there are no plot holes or discrepancies in the details.

My first piece of advice for fiction writers is to read for pleasure. Pick up a book and read every day. But, don’t dissect every sentence or chapter. Instead, read the book for the story and enjoy it. When you finish a book, think about what you liked and disliked about the story. Doing this will help you become a better storyteller, which helps you writer better fiction. On a side note, I now write short book reviews for every book I read on Goodreads and post the reviews every month. The book review process takes very little time, but really has centered my focus on what I like in a story.

My second piece of advice is to outline your story before you start writing. When I say outline, I don’t mean write out every single thing which will happen in your novel or short story. I do mean write a rough outline of the major plot points and conflicts. This allows room for creativity as you write without getting stuck in the tenth chapter because you wrote yourself into a corner. I started off as a pantser, but have moved on to outlining, which is a more efficient method of writing.

My third piece of advice is to use character timelines. If you are writing a novel, I am sure you have a complex storyline with many characters. The timelines between these characters must add up and make sense. So I use timelines for the major characters to help sort through ages, dates for major story events, and backstory. It has helped me tremendously.

When you are writing, put yourself in the story. Visualize the scene and the characters and write what you see. I can see my protagonist in my novel, Rachel, and her reactions to tough moments because I remember my reaction and others’ reactions to tough moments. Put yourself in the story and write.

Finally, carry a small notebook with you (or use an app) to take notes about life everyday. If you meet an interesting person, write a small note about what made he or she interesting. Story ideas and new characters pop into my head often when I am not sitting at my computer writing. If I didn’t write them down when they came to me, the ideas might get lost in the shuffle. Watch the world. Observe. Take notes.

Honestly, I wish someone told me these five pieces of advice (especially 2 &3) before I started writing my first novel. I probably would have finished the project six months earlier!

What advice do you have for fiction writers?

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5 thoughts on “From One Writer to Another: 5 Tips for Writing Better Fiction Faster

  1. Pingback: Kristen Otte | From One Writer to Another – Some Thoughts on Self-Publishing

  2. I like your advice about paying attention to real people (whether you keep a notepad or just mentally sort it). Many stories I read by less-experienced writers are full of cyphers. They are characters who serve a purpose to the plot but are otherwise blanks with no motivation other than to follow the writer’s instructions. All it takes, sometimes, is a minor detail to make a side character real.

    As for item #2 on your list, it’s good advice for new writers so they get a feel for story structure. I think, once we reach an intermediate level, it’s up to the individual writer what works best. I became a much better writer when I stopped outlining, and many of the world’s most successful and revered writers are pantsers. I’m sure it depends on the genre as well. For example, I can’t see writing a mystery without an outline.

    • One day I hope to be at a place where I can pants my way through a novel! But I’m a long way from that point (and I think most new writers are). Part of my problem is sometimes I go a week without writing and need help picking up where I left off.

      • You don’t consider yourself a new writer, I hope. Your prose is super clean and professional. On point, what you’re saying about juggling real life and writing makes sense so that you can get back to where you were after a break. I havent’ worked on my novel for several months and am juggling four plotlines. We’ll see what kin dof disaster I have on my hands when I pick it back up!

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