10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer
By: John Ling
Writing fiction can be a daunting process, especially if you’re new to the game and staring at a blank page. Where do you begin? How do you create a good story? What’s the best way to avoid hitting a dead end?
These questions can really cement your doubts and weigh you down. But it’s important to remember that crafting a narrative isn’t an exact science. What works well for one writer may not work for another. We are, after all, individuals. We have different personalities; different viewpoints. And, more often than not, it’s that individuality that influences what we write, as well as how we write.
That said, I’ve picked up more than a few strategies over the years. For the most part, I’ve refined them through trial and error, and they’ve guided me in my own writing, keeping me sane and allowing me to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in fiction.
I’ve condensed and distilled these strategies into 10 practical rules. They’re foolproof and can be applied to any genre. So think of them as signposts. Hopefully they’ll point you in the right direction and help you as much as they have helped me.
1. Your character must always want something desperately, if only a glass of water.
2. He will confront the thing he fears in order to achieve the thing he wants.
3. All compelling stories are stories about conflict. Conflict is the distance between wanting something and achieving it. It can be as simple as your character wanting a glass of water while stumbling through a parched desert.
4. Where possible, write your story in limited first-person or limited third-person. Try not to venture into second-person or omniscient viewpoints unless you have a very good reason to.
5. Leave out everything you can. Relish forward momentum. The leaner and meaner your story is, the better.
6. Never have a chapter where something isn’t happening. Illustrate whatever you want, but do it through action, conflict and stakes.
7. Have as many characters as possible in a state of change—or at least desiring one.
8. You can achieve dramatic tension by having one character say or do something that creates a problem for another character. In this way, your plot is constantly plaited into itself. Here’s a cheery scenario: place a peace activist in a room with a soldier who has just returned from a tour in Afghanistan. Even if they don’t claw the living daylights out of each other, the conversation is sure to be interesting.
9. If you are in limbo, take the time to study and understand the classic three-act structure. In Act One, a boy discovers that something is poisoning his village and ventures into the outside world to find a cure. In Act Two, the boy recruits allies, confronts enemies and engages in life-changing challenges. In Act Three, wiser and stronger from his quest, the boy returns to his village with a cure. Now, you don’t need to be a slave to the three-act structure, but understanding it will help you resolve many, many problems.
10. Avoid bogging your narrative down with unnecessary visual descriptions. Rather, rely on what author John Barth calls ‘triangulation’—drawing attention to other senses such as touch, smell and sound. It makes for storytelling that’s well-rounded and organic.
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Genre - Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13