Fiction Writing: Handy Hints

Any closet novelists, short story writers, script-writers or prose poets out there?
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Fiction Writing: Handy Hints

Post by cameron » Wed May 31, 2006 1:03 pm


One of the most important considerations for the novelist or short story writer is viewpoint. Viewpoint is the technical term for: "whose eyes do we see the story through?"

The four classic viewpoints are:

1) First Person Singular. This is the "I" type novel. Possibly the easiest way of writing a novel, but the main drawback is that we can only know what the "I" character knows.

2)Third Person (several viewpoint characters). This is the most common method used. Characters are seen objectively as "he" or "she" with the author going inside the head of some of them. In this way, we know what some of the chracters are thinking.

3) Third Person (one viewpoint character). Same as above but you only get inside the head of one character. Similar limitations as First Person Singular.

4) Narrator Method. The story is told by a character rather than the author e.g. Wuthering Heights. Limited by what the narrator knows or sees. Not omniscient.

Show Don’t Tell

We commonly talk about “telling” a story, but the best way of telling a story is actually to “show” it. This means that you should try to set up scenes where the reader can see your characters operating in real time, observing their actions, hearing what they say and experiencing life through their eyes.


Where does your story/novel take place? Is it an urban environment or a rural environment? Is it at home or abroad? Is it set in the present, the past or the future? Is it the real world or an imaginary world? Obviously the setting will determine, to a large extent, the type of story that you can tell.


Who is your main character? Are they male or female, young or old, rich or poor, straight or gay, black or white? What is their problem? Who are your supporting characters and how do they relate to the main character?


Samuel Beckett took the plot out of fiction, but for most writers it is an essential component. Plot is what moves your story along. A useful guide is: if a scene does not move the story forward, then take it out.


Remember to use direct speech; it makes your story/novel more immediate. Some experts suggest that 30% of your work should be dialogue. However, remember, that ordinary conversation is often full of uninteresting speech; you need to trim this out and make sure that your dialogue is arresting and relevant.

Elmore Leonard, the veteran crime writer, always maintained that you should stick with the simple "he said" and "she said" technique and not seek (fancy) alternatives such as "exclaimed" or "pronounced". He also advocated that you should never qualify "he said/she said" with an adverb - e.g. "he said conspiratorially" - as this would smack of authorial intervention. Good advice, I think.


Most stories revolve around conflict, so make sure you have some. William Golding once said that: “Happy is a blank book.”

Have a Good Start

Many readers/editors will only read the first page of a story/novel, so make sure that you grab their attention straight away. It’s no good having the interesting bit tucked away in chapter 5.

Be original

Try not to copy other books you’ve read. Seek out something fresh and new; possibly something you know a lot about. However, try not to make it too autobiographical.

Anyway, good luck.


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