The Basics of Writing Fiction

Updated: Apr 22


I have been writing fiction novels for 13 years. If you know me you know I've always had a love for writing. After I graduated from the University of Cincinnati, I decided to write my first novel, "We Come in Peace".

Writing my first novel was an experience all in itself. I began learning a great deal of information about the literary world. Recently, I realized that I need to pass on this information to new authors. I see many authors being taken advantage of out there and my articles are designed to help new and experienced authors evade some of the problems I had in the beginning.

I write fiction stories because I love the creative process. This article is designed to help my fellow fiction writers. Even if you're not a fiction writer now, you may be someday, so I hope this help.

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 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 (setup), middle (confrontation) and end (solution) of the book. I call this the three acts of my story. Using this method 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. Personally, I rarely use this method but most writers find it useful.

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.

Personally, I almost always use third person point-of-view. I love telling the story using this method because I feel it provides more information to the reader and keeps the story interesting. I also feel it allows me to set up surprises at the end of the story. If you've read my books you know I always have a surprise ending.

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 developing 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

Show, don’t tell refers 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 he/she is having.

10. Revise Carefully

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!