Whether you’ve been struck with a moment of inspiration or you’ve carried a story inside you for years, you’re here because you want to start writing fiction. From developing flesh-and-bone characters to worlds as real as our own, good fiction is hard to produce, and getting the first words onto the blank page can be daunting.
Daunting, but not impossible. Although writing good fiction takes time, with a few fiction writing tips and your first sentences written, you’ll find that it’s much easier to get your words on the page.
Let’s break down fiction to its essential elements. We’ll investigate the individual components of fiction writing—and how, when they sit down to write, writers turn words into worlds.
Introduction to Fiction Writing: The Six Elements of Fiction
Before we delve into any writing tips, let’s review the essentials of creative writing in fiction. Whether you’re writing flash fiction, short stories, or epic trilogies, most fiction stories require these six components:
- Plot: the “what happens” of your story
- Characters: whose lives are we watching?
- Setting: the world that the story is set in
- Point of View: from whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
- Theme: the “deeper meaning” of the story, or what the story represents
- Style: how you use words to tell the story
It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are intertwined. You can’t build the setting without writing it through a certain point of view; you can’t develop important themes with arbitrary characters, etc. We’ll get into the relationship between these elements later, but for now, let’s explore how to use each element to write your story.
1. Fiction Writing Tip: Developing Fictional Plots
If you don’t know where to start your story, but you have a few story ideas, then start with the conflict. Some novels take their time to introduce characters or explain the world of the piece, but if the conflict that drives the story doesn’t show up within the first 15 pages, then the story loses direction quickly.
That’s not to say you have to be explicit about the conflict. In Harry Potter, Voldemort isn’t introduced as the main antagonist until later in the first book; the series’ conflict begins with the Dursley family hiding Harry from his magical talents. Let the conflict unfold naturally in the story, but start with the story’s impetus, then go from there.
2. Fiction Writing Tip: Creating Characters
Think far back to 9th grade English, and you might remember the basic types of story conflicts: man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. self. The conflicts that occur within stories happen to its characters – there can be no story without its people. Sometimes, your story needs to start there: in the middle of a conversation, a disrupted routine, or simply with what makes your characters special.
3. Fiction Writing Tip: Give Life to Living Worlds
Whether your story is set on Earth or a land far, far away, your setting lives in the same way your characters do. In the same way that we read to get inside the heads of other people, we also read to escape to a world outside of our own. Consider starting the story with what makes your world live: a pulsing city, the whispered susurrus of orchards, hills that roil with unsolved mysteries, etc. Tell us where the conflict is happening, and the story will follow.
4. Fiction Writing Tip: Play With Narration
Maybe you’re stuck starting your story because you’re trying to write it in the wrong person. There are four POVs that authors work with:
- First person – the story is told from the “I” perspective, and that “I” is usually a protagonist or close to the protagonist.
- Second person – the story is told from the “you” perspective. This point of view is rare, but when done effectively, it can create an eeriness or a personalized piece.
- Third person limited – the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator usually writes from the perspective of one or two characters.
- Third person omniscient – the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator knows what is happening in each character’s heads and in the world at large.
If you can’t find the right words to begin your piece, consider switching up the pronouns you use and the perspective you write from. You might find that the story flows onto the page from a different point of view.
5. Fiction Writing Tip: Use the Story to Investigate Themes
Generally, the themes of the story aren’t explored until after the aforementioned elements are established, and writers don’t always know the themes of their own work until after the work is written. Still, it might help to consider the broader implications of the story you want to write. How does the conflict or story extend into a bigger picture?
Let’s revisit Harry Potter’s opening scenes. When we revisit the Dursleys preventing Harry from knowing about his true nature, several themes are established: the meaning of family, the importance of identity, and the idea of fate can all be explored here. Themes are often a post hoc consideration, but it doesn’t hurt to consider the message of your story from the start.
6. Fiction Writing Tip: Experiment With Words
Style is the last of the six fiction elements, but certainly as important as the others. The words you use to tell your story, the way you structure your sentences, how you alternate between characters, and the sounds of the words you use all contribute to the mood of the work itself.
If you’re struggling to get past the first sentence, try rewriting it. Write it in 10 words or write it in 200 words; write a single word sentence; experiment with metaphors, alliteration, or onomatopoeia. Then, once you’ve found the right words, build from there, and let your first sentence guide the style and mood of the narrative.
Fiction Writing for Beginners: Time to Write A Story!
To write a story or even write a book, fiction writers need these tools first and foremost. Although there’s no comprehensive guide on how to write fiction for beginners, working with these elements will help your story bloom.
All six elements synergize to make a work of fiction, and like most works of art, the sum of these elements is greater than the individual parts. Still, you might find that you struggle with one of these elements, like maybe you’re great at writing characters but not very good with exploring setting. If this is the case, then use your strengths: use characters to explore the setting, or use style to explore themes, etc.
Getting the first draft written is the hardest part, but it deserves to be written. Once you’ve got a working draft of a story or novel and you need an extra set of eyes, the writers.com community is here to give feedback: take a look at our fiction courses, and check out our talented writing community.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Upcoming Fiction Writing Courses
Overcome Writing Anxiety: Boost Your Storytelling Confidence in Four Short Weeks!
with Giulietta Nardone
June 1st, 2022
"Who are you to want to write?" Someone great, that's who! Politely ask Mr. or Ms. Fear to step aside while you sign up for this fun, freeing and functional adventure.
Accessing Your Writer’s Voice
with Gloria Kempton
June 8th, 2022
Voice: What is it and how do you find yours? Instructor Gloria Kempton offers feedback on assignments in this 3-week online class.
Intro to Fiction Writing
with Donna Levin
June 15th, 2022
What makes a good fiction story? Learn how to write compelling stories in this eight-week intro to fiction course, with Donna Levin.
Kickstart Your Novel
with Dana De Greff
June 23rd, 2022
Writing a novel requires planning, strategy, and an understanding of the fundamentals of fiction. Start your novel the right way in this 6 week course, with Dana De Greff.
Observing What’s Vivid in Prose and Poetry
with Marc Olmsted
June 29th, 2022
Learn how to spotlight beauty through fresh, vivid, and surprising language, in this four week mindfulness writing course.
Starting to Write
with Gloria Kempton
July 13th, 2022
For those who want to kick start their writing into high gear.
Crafting a Story or Novel Chapter Using Forward-Moving Tension
with Sandra Novack
July 20th, 2022
How do writers tell stories with tension, action, and emotion? Learn how to write forward-moving tension in this 4 week fiction course.
Writing the Short Story
with Rosemary Tantra Bensko
July 27th, 2022
Create new work with fresh language, universal themes, sustained mystery and memorable characters. Stimulate your imagination.
Growing Smaller: The Art of Micro- and Short Fiction
with Tina Barry
August 3rd, 2022
Less is more. Learn the ropes of flash and micro-fiction in this 4-week course and hone the art of the short-short story.
Flash Fiction: Writing the Short-Short Story
with Barbara Henning
September 7th, 2022
Write 1–3-page flash fiction in this online course with Barbara Henning, drawing on classic, poetic & experimental elements. Read the form’s masters.
The Watching Eye/Thinking Mind: Writing Flash Fiction
with Barbara Henning
January 18th, 2023
Poet and Novelist, Barbara Henning offers this ten-week online workshop, writing tiny fictions while experimenting with first and third person points of view and analyzing how point of view affects the craft of fiction writing. There is no pre-requisite. Barbara will offer practical instruction and assignments, suggestions for revision, as well as lectures and and articles.
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