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If you want to be a novelist, but you’re not sure where to start, there’s plenty of advice available for new writers. However, it’s hard to know which tips or tricks will work when all you want to do is get that first draft completed.
We hear you, and we’ve compiled a list of tips for novelists, which will give you a great foundation to work with so you can cut through the noise and focus on testing these out and finding what works best for you.
In this article, we’ll give you our eight best tips for novelists.
Top 8 Fiction Writing Tips
Whether you’ve read step-by-step guides on novel writing or you’re just starting out on your writing journey, these tips should help you achieve your goal of finishing your novel.
Tip 1: Look for Inspiration Everywhere
Writing good fiction starts with a great idea, but you’ll need some inspiration for that. Inspiration is something that many writers struggle with. Fortunately, the world is full of ways to prompt your creative mind to produce some fresh ideas for stories.
All real-life experiences, subjects, and stories are full of potential sparks of inspiration.
You could find the perfect setting for your story by going for a long walk. If you overhear a heated conversation between two people in a shop, maybe they could be characters in your novel. What are they arguing about? Could that be the theme of your story?
If people watching and long walks aren’t for you, try using your own life experiences to generate some new story ideas. When you draw from your own memories, it adds a layer of authenticity and can make the characters more three dimensional.
As long as you have a trusty notebook—physical or digital—you can capture that moment of inspiration and have it when you need it most.
Tip 2: Try to Get Through Your To-Be-Read List
Reading is one of the fundamental requirements of a writer. By reading books from the same genre you’re writing in, you’ll develop your vocabulary without even trying. This can improve your writing speed, as you’ll have so many more words to draw from.
You can also get an idea of what readers expect from a novel. This is an underestimated writing skill of great novelists. If you’re aware of what your audience is looking for in your novel, you can cater to that and captivate their attention.
Bonus tip: check out the reviews on book listings online. You can get a great idea of what readers expect from certain genres or plots when they leave their thoughts in a review. Book clubs are also a great place to learn this.
You don’t need to stick with novels when you’re reading; you can check out poems and short stories too. These can be a great source of inspiration and show you different ways to tell a great story.
Tip 3: Learn the Basic Elements of Fiction Writing
There are so many great books and courses available that will explain the basic elements of fiction writing. If you start with the fundamentals in mind, you might save yourself some time when you get to editing your novel.
All novels need a cast of main characters, a setting, and a plot. Before you start writing, you should have an idea of what these details are. Within each of these parts, there are many other elements that make up a good story plan.
The next most important element is the theme of the novel. Don’t underestimate how much it helps to know this before you start putting words on that blank page. The theme guides the actions and the characters through the story, and a strong theme will attract readers to your book.
Don’t forget to plan the point of view of your story. Whether you choose first person, second person, or third person, you’ll need to stick with it throughout the novel. Alternatively, you can switch it up in different chapters, but it’s best to avoid switching it up within the same chapter.
Tip 4: Arm Yourself With Templates and Outlines
There are so many helpful story structures or novel outlines you can use for planning and writing your novel. They can also ensure you’re hitting reader’s expectations from novels with templates for different genres.
You don’t need to use a template or outline before you start writing; you can use one at any stage of the drafting and editing process. Some examples you can consider include Save the Cat!, the Hero’s Journey, and the Snowflake Method.
Some outlines might not be suitable for your story. Once you’ve picked an outline, start plotting out your narrative points against it to see if the rising action and falling action work for your story.
Another thing outlines can help with is writing scenes. If you’re not familiar with the internal structures of scenes, how many scenes to use, and how to build tension in a scene, an outline should explain this for you.
Tip 5: Develop Your Writing Habit
This one is important because it’ll help you achieve the goal of a finished novel at a rate that works for you. Many published authors recommend writing a certain amount of words every day. It will keep your creative mind trained and writing should become easier.
However, if writing every day isn’t going to fit your lifestyle, there’s no point trying to force it. It’s better to adapt and make a writing schedule that fits with all the other demands and important elements of your life.
Another important factor that will help you develop your writing habit is the environment you write in. One of the best feelings when writing regularly is being in a flow. The chances of reaching that are sometimes reduced if your environment is distracting and doesn’t allow you to focus.
Your writing environment doesn’t need to be an entire room or place where you have to completely rearrange/redecorate. The best option for most writers is somewhere comfortable and relaxing so you can sit and write in peace.
Some writers like to listen to music and others like complete silence. Experiment with different environments and see what works best for you.
Tip 6: Enjoy the First Draft—That One’s Just for You
While you might intend to share your story with others later, the first person to read it is you. This is arguably the most important point any writer should remember.
When writing, it can be very easy to let yourself get bogged down in line edits as you go. It’s important to remember that editing is for after. You might think you’re saving time by editing as you go, but it’s also going to take longer to finish your draft.
The first draft is for your eyes only. It’s allowed to be a mess. You’re literally making it up as you go along. Try not to focus on the small mistakes or bits where you couldn’t remember the right word; there’s software out there that can help with that later.
Writing should be a fun and enjoyable experience. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be your way of expressing the idea in your mind and getting it down on paper.
Tip 7: Plan Your Editing Strategy
If you’ve made it through to the end of your first draft, well done! You did it! Now, how are you going to edit? This is the next big decision of the novelist.
Most writers like to leave the manuscript for a month before beginning the editing process. It’s like baking a cake. You measured out all the ingredients, then you mixed them together and baked it. Now you’ve got to let it cool before you can make it perfect with the icing.
Once you’re ready to edit, it’s a good idea to figure out how many draft versions you’re intending to write. You can create a new draft version for each small change, or you can choose to only change the version when you’re working on a different type of edit.
Many writers decide to start with a structural edit—an edit of the overall structure of your novel—to identify any areas where the plot or characters might need a bit more development. Then they might check the context and factual details to ensure the story makes sense, depending on the setting.
Line edits are a subject of debate for some writers. Typos and sentence rewrites are a vitally important part of editing. Do you want to do it at the beginning of your editing process or at the end, after you’ve made other changes?
Editing is different for every writer, and every novel poses different challenges. Remember, you’re not aiming for perfection. There will be a point where it is good enough to let go and share it with others.
Tip 8: Join Other Writers and Creatives
Writing can be a lonely craft. Sure, you have your main character to chat to, but that might be frowned upon. Luckily, you can join a writing group where you can meet others with a flair for creating fictional worlds and characters.
A writing group can be a great place for bouncing ideas off people and testing your story. If you’ve got writer’s block, they will completely understand and offer advice on how to move through it to achieve your goals.
Some writing groups hold critiquing sessions or work together to resolve issues they’re having with their stories. You don’t need to take everyone’s advice, but it’ll help you get used to sharing your own writing with others.
Any Rules for Fiction Writing You Should Know?
There are plenty of rules to familiarize yourself with when writing novels. These include the universal rules such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and the classic “show don’t tell” rule.
Showing means using sensory descriptions to let the reader feel the scene with the characters. Whereas telling is giving the reader basic details about what happened and the way the characters felt. Showing is better because it gives the reader a better experience.
If you want to get to know the rules of fiction writing, there are books available that explain everything. Here are some recommendations:
Collins Complete Writing Guide by Graham King
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
On Writing by Stephen King
How ProWritingAid Can Help Fiction Writers
ProWritingAid has become a must-have software for fiction writing as it helps writers stick to the rules mentioned previously, and it provides built-in learning resources. It’s a great option for fiction writers who want to self-edit their work.
You can either use the Realtime checker for line edits, or take a deep edit using the 20+ reports. Each report has a helpful article explaining what the report does and how it will help improve your writing.
Some reports that are a great place to start for novelists include the grammar, style, readability, sticky, and echoes reports. Using these reports will give you a great base to work from and tighten up your writing before you focus on even more specific elements, like dialogue tags.
When you’ve read your story a hundred times, it helps to have a second pair of eyes for editing, and ProWritingAid ticks that box. It doesn’t replace a human editor, but it’s a massive time-saver.
Another bonus of ProWritingAid is the writing community and the events. You can join other writers in the community and learn from industry experts at the events. Lots of the information is transferable, so you can sign up to any event and learn something new about writing.
Conclusion on Fiction Writing Tips
There you have it—eight fiction writing tips and some more information about the rules fiction writers need to be aware of.
Remember, you can always learn more about fiction writing, and there’s a huge community of writers who love to share their tips and advice. Writing is something you do alone, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely craft!