Storytelling Tips for Fiction Writers

Tell good stories.


The more I read, listen to and watch things other people have written, the more I am inspired to write my own things – and write about writing things. This blog wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for all the extra time I spend doing things that, on the surface, seem like major time-wasters. Thanks, Marvel.

It’s October! November is closing in, which means it’s time to talk fiction. Are you ready? Here are some of my favorite storytelling tips for fiction writers.

Create characters that are exaggerations of people you know

This is my favorite thing to do, so I do it as often as possible. Readers want characters that make them say, “Oh yeah, I definitely know somebody like that.” Why exaggerate their attributes? Because that’s what makes it fiction. People don’t always want to read stories with characters that are exactly like the people they have to put up with every day. Storytelling can reflect real life even more effectively when that know-it-all from biology class turns up in a novel and, instead of that passive aggressive way he tries to one-up the smartest girl in school, tries to get her expelled for making him look bad in front of the class. The latter makes for a much more interesting and dramatic narrative.

Unravel the past little by little, but never tell the whole backstory

Readers want to know everything about the events that led up to the present, which is exactly why you shouldn’t give them what they want. Not all of it, and certainly not right away. Everyone has a past, but sometimes not telling your readers what they want to hear is what keeps them interested in the beginning. I’m watching Luke Cage right now … we learn in the first episode that our beloved MC did jail time for something. What? We don’t know. Mystery! Then we get some background on that later. As far as I’ve gotten, we still don’t know what he did. It’s not the whole story, but it’s critical to the plot. And if we already knew what happened, the story would have less momentum. Reveal your backstory in fragments. And always keep at least a few of them to yourself for all eternity. Muahaha!

Go where your characters go

Obviously not very practical advice if you’re writing a novel set in space, right? Still. Something I’ve found helpful, when I’m having a hard time immersing myself into a scene enough to write decent dialogue, is to go to the place my characters are and try writing there. A kitchen. A coffee shop. A college campus. One of my favorite scenes from the book I finished writing last year took place on a train. Guess where I was when I wrote that scene? Yep – on a train, commuting to work. Put yourself in your characters’ place – literally. When it’s possible, when you’re feeling stuck. It helps. It forces you to picture the events in the story as they happen, which helps everything flow together as you’re writing it.

Strive for the “nooooooo” reaction

I do not react audibly to TV shows, movies or books very often. But, when I’m watching or reading something really good, there is always usually a point where I, out loud, will “Nooooooooo” my way into irreversible despair. Something happened. A character I like is in trouble. Someone betrayed someone else. Doesn’t matter. You have to build rapport (“nooooo”) with your readers before you can leave them emotionally wrecked. If they’re not invested in the characters or events, your plot twists won’t have any effect on them. You want to be able to picture their “noooooo” reaction. Make them hate you. Don’t forget to make them love you again later, though.

Everything I know about fiction writing, I’ve learned by reading and watching just as much as I have by actually sitting down to write. Think of your favorite book, show or movie. How do they use these techniques to win you over? The comments section is open if you have a good example to share. :)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Steve Sands/GC Images.

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