Writing a great fiction novel may seem daunting. It does take dedication and hard work on your part, but there are things you can follow to make the process easier.
Here are some simple rules that can help you write a great fiction story.
Show, don’t tell.
Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition.
Showing transports the reader into the story, which allows them to fully experience the characters’ actions and emotions. The author wants to show what is happening through images and action, rather than just simply telling what is happening in narration.
Telling: He was nervous.
Showing: He tapped his fingers on the tabletop.
Author and editor Sol Stein says that “what a character sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes can be shown through actions rather than described. And feelings, of course, are best shown through actions.”
Create three-dimensional characters.
Three-dimensional characters are complex, with fully developed fictional lives. They seem like real people with flaws and failings. This makes the readers identify with them and care about what happens to them.
Without three-dimensional characters, the story will fall flat. Here are five ways to create three-dimensional characters:
- Allow for “out of character” characterization. Don’t limit your characters to a certain set of behaviors; instead, be open to unexpected character traits.
- Give them a sense of grace, destiny, or belief. Allow your character to have a greater purpose in life. In real life, most people are searching for truth and purpose in their own lives, allow your character to have the same sensibility.
- Pair conflicting emotions. When it comes to emotions, people are naturally conflicted. Try making this a reality to your characters.
- Use a character’s physical appearance as an expression of inner feelings. Using physical characteristics to reflect inner emotions will allow your readers a glimpse of a character’s mental state in a more subtle manner. This way you don’t overuse internal dialogue or omniscient narration.
- Draw from your own experiences. Three-dimensional characters are believable. Using your own experiences places your character firmly in reality.
Choose a point of view.
Author and editor Sol Stein defines point of view as “the character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or story is written.” The narrative point of view defines how the story is told. Without a consistent point of view, the story will lack focus and difficult to follow. Decide which point of view is best for your story and stick to it.
Here are the different kinds of point of view:
- First person—the narrator and protagonist are the same
- Second person—the story is told to “you,” very rare and hard to pull off
- Third person—an ‘off-page’ narrator relates a story about your characters
- Mixed—combines first-and third-person passages
Give your characters motivations.
Character motivation is the “why” behind a character’s actions—that is, why does a character behave the way they do?
At the heart of character is his or her motivations. Giving your characters motivations is necessary if you want to write believable and compelling characters. Without credible motivations, your characters will read like string puppets. Bring them to life and give them real, understandable reasons for their actions.
Write what you know.
Writing about a subject that you are familiar is a good starting point for both when writing a story. This means finding aspects of your story and characters that you deeply relate to. It is about writing something that we have experienced on an emotional level and have been transformed by the experience.
We may not know anything about being a clever detective, or a medieval knight, or time traveler; but our emotions are universal, so if we are able to capture them, it can be used to bring our characters to life. This is writing what we know.
There are many more writing rules or guidelines to writing a great fiction story. These are just some of them. But remember that there are no ironclad rules or an exact roadmap to bestseller greatness. It all boils down what works for each individual writer.
Master Class. “16 Writing Tips for Fiction Writers.” Last modified August 27, 2021. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/writing-tips-for-fiction-writers.
Wayne, Teddy. “Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.” Last modified June 6, 2013.www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/eight-rules-for-writing-fiction.
Yang, Hannah. “How to Write a Fiction Book: 10 Steps You Can’t Miss!” Last modified December 28, 2022. https://prowritingaid.com/how-to-write-a-fiction-book.