5 Fiction Writing Tips

When you browse Amazon and see all of the awesome books available, it’s easy to assume each author was born with the innate talent to write.  While I’m sure talent plays a big part, talent can be only a small percentage of the writing process.

The bigger part of the ability to write fiction comes from learning the skills needed to write.  Something that anyone at any age can learn. I want to go through a few tips to help you with your own writing journey.

Research

A lot of writers assume that because they’re busting out their fiction hat, they can just make stuff up as they go along. For scifi and paranormal works, that might be true, but there are just as many genres that require research. Readers will only suspend believability so far.

Then they get to a point where they’re like, “nuh-uh, dude.” If your research isn’t correct, you’ll get a lot of eye rolling, and sometimes they won’t even finish a book.  Even worse, they’ll leave bad reviews telling others how off your research was which will ultimately hurt your sales.

Like I said, this might not apply to a paranormal book but even then, the story must be somewhat believable, and the elements of the world have to make sense. If you stray too far, you will have to come up with a plausible reason for your wanderings.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too much research.  One of the biggest mistakes an author—new or seasoned—can make during research is getting caught in the time trap. It’s what happens when the author spends hours and hours doing research.

The writer spends so much time researching that it begins to eat into their writing time. While research is an important part of the process, you want to do your best to put your butt in the chair and write something everday.

The reason?  Writing a few hundred words on your story on a daily basis keeps it fresh in your mind and helps keep you motivated. Be sure you don’t allow research to take up too much of your time.

Maybe you keep the time trap of research under control by not researching everything at once.  You don’t have to know everything about everything from the first word. You might only need to know the parts you’re working on at that moment.

If your book is set in the 1800s and you need to know about period clothing, then you can stop to research clothing and then scuttle along in your story.

Another approach to research is to do it all at the end of your process insteadof the beginning. They’ll be writing along and get to a portion of the book that requires research and simply write a note within the manuscript itself. [NTR: Men’s clothing.]

The NTR stands for Need to Research.  Some writers bold or underline those notes but I personally like to wrap them in brackets since those aren’t characters I typically use when writing. It’s easy to do a quick search for a bracket when I go back through a book.

Then you’ll want to take some time to run down to your local library, bookstore, hope online or chat with experts.  If your story features a detective who has to stop in and talk with a coroner, you’ll probably need an expert to take a peek at that scene.

I will say that it’s tempting to use true crime TV shows or shows like Law & Order but some shows take a lot of leeway with the truth. If you write suspense, don’t use the TV as a research source. Real life cases aren’t solved in the same way as TV shows and they definitely aren’t solved within an hour.  Readers will be able to tell the difference between an author who did their homework and someone who just used a show as a guide.

The things you should research include character jobs if you don’t know the complete ins and outs of their profession as well as the town, city, and state they live. Some of this might seem a bit much, but if you set your story in Tampa, Florida (like I tend to do) then your local readers will know if their town is accurately represented.

Which means I can’t go putting a blizzard in the middle of winter because it’s typically in the 80s in December. Use weather sites to check the temperature and weather in your story to make sure your story is feasible.  It’s okay to write what you know, but you must research what you don’t.

Characters – Main and Secondary

When writing, you’ll have two types of characters—main and secondary. Your main characters are those that will carry the story. Depending on the type of story you’re writing, main characters can be a hero and heroine, hero or heroine, people in their lives and villains.

The main characters are your protagonists—the ones you want to root for.  The bad guys are the antagonists, or the people that want to thwart your main characters.

The biggest mistake you can make when crafting fictional heroes and heroines is make them unlikeable. If you’ve got a b!tchtastic, sharp-tongued heroine, you need to establish a reason she acts that way. Otherwise she just comes across as mean. But if you show the reader that she is snarky and cranky because she experienced heartache, then readers understand why she is the way she is.

Making readers understand the character is called empathy. Some readers refer to the lack as, “I just couldn’t connect with the character.”  You have to make the reader sympathize with this b!tchy heroine. They have to root for them.

Let’s look at your hero… Your hero can be a beta hero or an alpha hero. They’re always going to be one or the other whether that was your original intention. Beta heroes are seen as kinder, gentler men. This doesn’t mean that they’re any less masculine than an alpha hero.

These heroes are the “boy next door” men. A good example of a beta man in a move would be Mr. Bigley in Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley.

Alpha heroes are more the strong, silent type. In the 70s and 80s these guys were shown in novels as silent, brooding, and sometimes rude to the heroines. But while alpha heroes are still often silent and brooding, they’ve evolved and no longer treat women disrespectfully. Way back when, the alphas would often refer to the women using a derogatory name. (Blech!)  That doesn’t work in today’s world at all. An example of an evolved alpha hero would be Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

Main characters can’t be perfect and absolutely must have flaws. Readers simply can’t relate to perfect characters. Just as you make mistakes in your life, so should your main characters.

Your main character also needs ot have a background, a history. You might not use everything you know about your character, but it will help flesh out your characters so they’re not made of cardboard and are one dimensional.

You need to know about your character’s childhood, especially if it impacted their adult life and how they interact with others. A woman who grew up in an abusive home may not trust as easily as one who was raised in a good home. Everything that has happened to your character shapes them and it’s what makes them real to readers.

If you’re writing romance, you’ll also have some secondary characters. It’s totally okay to give readers a peek into the lives of those characters, but you have to be careful. You don’t want to overshadow your main characters.

A good rule of thumb is that your secondary characters are there to enhance your main character. They’re not meant to have their own story within the book. You can drop hints about them so readers want their stories which can then pave the way for them to have their own book.

Writing about villains can also be tricky. You don’t want your readers to root more for your villain than for the hero or heroine. That said, villains are human, too. A villain can be a cold-blooded murderer and still take his daughter to play at the park.

It’s a mistake to write a villain as having no human side at all. A good example of a well-written villain is Hannibal Lecter. If your character is someone who breaks the law, then you have to write the characters in such a way that readers still root for them.

You can see examples of this in the Fast and Furious movies. While the characters clearly broke the law, they put family first and often fought against the evils done by the villains.

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

Every main character in your novel must have a goal, motivation and conflict. The goal is what your character is after. This is what he or she wants. The more intense the goal, the greater the motivation.

If you have a character who needs money fast in order to be able to save her parents’ home from going into foreclosure, she may act in ways that she wouldn’t normally act. She’s motivated by her love for her parents.

A goal is what the character wants, and motivation answers the “why” behind the goal. That “why” must be a strong reason. Having a character’s motivation be to buy a soda because he’s thirsty isn’t a strong goal or motivation.

It needs to be something that could potentially cost your character if he doesn’t get that goal. Think of Harry Potter and his goal of stopping Voldemort. The lives of those he loved were at stake if he didn’t succeed.

Harry Potter’s goal was to stop Voldemort. His “why” was to save those he loved. Readers could empathize and root for Harry for several reasons. The first because he was shown in the beginning to be an orphan boy who wasn’t treated well by the family members he had remaining.

Right away, readers felt sorry for him and rooted for his life to get better. They could root for him because people understand the desire to save the people they love.

Conflict is the reason that the character doesn’t immediately get that goal. Remember that the moment your character gets his or her goal, the conflict ends. This is one of the biggest reasons stories run out of steam in the middle of the book. The author allowed the characters to reach their goals. Goals can be several smaller goals that feed into a main goal, but there should always be that strong motivation.

For example, if you have a reporter who’s down on his luck, is facing a possible job loss, and really needs a big story to get back on his feet and keep his job, you can have that be his main goal.

He wants to be the one reporting that big story. His motivation could be because the station is looking to get rid of one reporter and he needs to keep his job because he’s caring for an ill loved one and he needs that paycheck to do it.

His main goal is to make sure he keeps his job. Along the way, you can introduce smaller goals. He has to convince the producer that he’s the one to cover the story rather than the ace reporter who gets to do every good story.

Next, he has to find a way to make contact with witnesses who can tell him more about the big story. These are all small goals he accomplishes on his way to the big goal.

It’s helpful in a story to have small goals leading up to bigger ones. Once your character achieves his or her goal, your story ends. This is why you need to stretch the goal the length of the story.

Tropes in Romantic Fiction

If you plan on writing romance, the most important thing you need to know is that romances are based on tropes. If you’ve ever heard someone say that romance fiction follows a formula, this is what they’re talking about.

A trope is a situation that you see occur over and over in different romance books. These are tried and true situations that the hero and heroine find themselves in.

You can have more than one trope in a romance novel. Some of the popular tropes include two friends who grew up together suddenly find themselves looking at each other in a new light.

Sparks fly and romance ensues. Then there’s the opposite. Two people who can’t stand the sight of each other find love. This is the “enemies falling in love” trope.

Agreeing to a fake engagement or a marriage of convenience are also popular tropes you’ll find in romance novels. Couples who were pushed apart for some reason finding their way back to each other is another trope.

So is having an unplanned pregnancy or one character blackmailing another and they end up falling in love. Types of occupations can also be a trope—such as firefighters, military, police officers, or bodyguards.

Because the characters in these occupations are viewed as heroes or protectors, books with these tropes in them tend to sell well. Again, if you plan to write a trope involving an occupation that you don’t know much about, you’re going to want to research.

Many people within the occupation will gladly answer questions for a writer. But don’t seek expert advice for questions where the answer is easily available by doing an online search. Do your homework before approaching an expert.

Opening and Ending Hooks

Hooks are designed to make a reader want to keep reading. Your novel should never start with a boring or a blah line. For example, “The month was December” isn’t a good opening hook.

But changing that to, “December was the month my life fell apart” is a better one because now you’ve opened the door to questions in the reader’s mind—the “what happened to this character” question.

Opening hooks should be written in a way to jolt the reader—to grab attention. It can be humorous, shocking or “ugly-cry” sad. But it should make your reader not want to let go of the book.

Ending hooks come at the end of a chapter. These are designed to cause your readers to have to continue reading to find out what happens. Never open or end your chapters with your characters falling asleep – not unless the reader knows that’s the worst possible thing for your character to do because the reader knows someone is hiding in the basement.

There are various types of opening and closing hooks. You want to keep these true to your story. If your story is funny, then your opening and ending hooks should be as well. If your book is a suspense, then you want your opening and ending hooks to be suspenseful as well.

There are all sorts of skills you need to learn as a fiction writer. Over time, you’ll notice that you’ve mastered some and still need to work on polishing others. Practice improves your finished product—it just takes time and effort to make those ultimate changes.


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Celia Kyle

Celia Kyle is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of paranormal and science fiction romance, as well as non-fiction for authors.

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