Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing | NY Book Editors

Hey writer, let’s talk about how to improve your fiction. Here’s a supersized list of tips that you can start implementing right away:

  • Write what you know. Incorporate experiences and characters from your past to add depth to your fiction. You’ll immediately be more connected to the content and your reader will feel that.
  • Write about what you don't know. Some of the best writing comes from deep research. Choose a topic that you don’t know much about and then commit to research so that you may write a stronger story.
  • Read more. The best writers are avid readers.
  • Write every day, whether you feel like it or not. Good writing isn’t an accident. It comes from the daily discipline of sitting down and writing. Yes, you’ll get sick of writing, but eventually, you’ll fall in love with it. Break through to that other side where you must write every single day.
  • Read other genres. Don’t just stick to your own genre. Here’s why: The Importance of Reading Other Genres.
  • Outline your stories before you start writing. If you know where you’re headed, you may be able to avoid writer’s block.
  • Write from the seat of your pants, especially if you're accustomed to outlining. Writing without the safety net of an outline can unshackle your creativity.
  • Find the theme in your story. Every novel has a theme. It’s your job to find out what it is and then make it even more defined and polished in your upcoming drafts. Themes help readers connect with the story and find meaning from it. Check out these tips for choosing the perfect theme for your story.
  • Introduce your main characters and their story with the first act of your novel (there are three acts in total). Meeting your characters early on will give your readers a chance to emotionally invest in their stories.
  • Interview your main characters so that you have a good grasp of their backstory. Learn more about how to create a backstory here.
  • Give your protagonist a flaw. Your readers cannot relate to a perfect, goody-two-shoes main character.
  • Give your antagonist a virtue. A fully evil villain is boring and two-dimensional. Everyone has at least one admirable trait, such as loyalty, honesty, or bravery.
  • In fact, make your villain likable in some way. Here’s how: Tips to develop a sympathetic villain.
  • Give vague descriptions of your characters to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks. It’s okay to share hair color, body build, and general features, but if you’re getting into tooth color, you may be going too far.
  • Kill off a character unexpectedly. It’s even better if you weren’t planning to kill the character. Here’s how to kill your darlings.
Improve Your Fiction
Improve Your Fiction
  • Research your book’s topic, even if you know a lot about it.
  • Don't give the reader too much information about your story’s topic because it will cause your pace to slow down. Only give them what they need to make sense of what’s happening.
  • Edit your dialogue down to the bare minimum. Avoid greetings, fillers, and salutations.
  • Avoid any dialogue tags except for “said.” Here are some other mistakes to avoid when writing dialogue.
  • Find your unique writer’s voice — it’s not as difficult as you may think. It just requires a commitment to authenticity. For more information on finding your writer’s voice, check out this post.
  • Adopt the three-act novel approach. In the first act, introduce plot and character. In the second act, develop both your characters and the plot. In the third act, tie up loose ends.
Want to improve your fiction? Find your unique writer’s voice. Here’s how to do that (and extra writing tips):
  • Adopt the three-act novel approach. In this first act, introduce plot and character. In the second act, develop both your characters and the plot. In the third act, tie up loose ends.
  • Use writing prompts to work your way out of writer's block.
  • Write for your readers not for success.
  • Avoid adverbs whenever possible. Adverbs tell and don't show because they draw a conclusion. Here are a few examples of adverbs: Sweetly, beautifully, hatefully, and suddenly.
  • Avoid using dialects or phonetic spelling. It takes the reader out of the moment.
  • Cut it if you, as a reader, would skip it.
  • Start each chapter as close to the action as possible.
  • End each chapter with unanswered questions (i.e. in a cliffhanger) to keep them your reader engaged.
  • Give yourself a daily writing goal. Aim for at least 1,000 words or a maximum of one whole chapter.
  • Celebrate milestones. If you accomplish your writing goal, give yourself a small reward — like a chocolate chip cookie.
  • Use simple sentences to make your prose easier to read.
  • Take breaks. Even if you schedule a two-hour writing block, don’t attempt to write for two hours straight. Write for 25 minutes on and then take a five-minute break to get fresh air, do a few push-ups, or grab a cup of coffee.
  • Join a writing group so that you can get support from your peers. Here are 11 top writing communities you should join and why.
  • Think forward to creating a series. Is it possible to turn your current book into a series? (By the way, series grow your fanbase and make more money.)
  • Write a lot of drafts. Write at least three drafts. The first draft is to get everything written down and out of your head. The second draft is to rearrange the first draft and create a stronger story. The third draft is to make your story shine.
  • Take your time to build the world. Know how your world works (including its society, government, and religion) so that you create a more immersive and realistic world. Here are tips on how to build a fantasy world (but these tips can work with any novel, including historical fiction).
  • Play with different points of view to find out which is right for your novel and your writing style in general. This post is all about point of view, including a look at each and help for which one you should use.
  • Free write every day before you start on your novel to get your juices flowing.
  • Experiment to find the best time to write, whether that’s before bed, in the early hours of the morning, or in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Only include scenes that move your story forward. Delete everything else because it will slow your story.
  • Use power verbs that show action. Verbs are always better than adverbs.
  • Sign up for our email list. I know this is a shameless plug but we offer a lot of helpful tips to sharpen your writing skills. (Sign up is at the bottom of the post and as a thanks, you’ll get the exclusive resource that accompanies this post.)
  • Raise the emotional stakes in every single scene to keep your reader invested. Here’s how to grip your readers by raising the stakes in your novel.
  • Get a professional editor. That’s us. We offer two types of editing, one that critiques your overall story and one that does a detailed line by line edit. Learn more about our editorial services here: Critique Vs. Comprehensive Edit: Which Should You Choose?
  • Challenge every word. If a word isn't moving the story forward, it shouldn't be there.
  • Get an actual thesaurus to avoid being online. (To minimize distractions, it’s best to write offline when you can). Which thesaurus? Opt for the gold standard: The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. (Hint: Get this large print one and your eyes will thank you.)
  • Learn new words to expand your writing vocabulary.
  • Remove some of your dialogue tags. Too many “saids” in a row becomes monotonous. Instead, use action to infer who's speaking. Here's an example: “I'm ready to go.” Liesel tossed the rock into the pond.
  • Read passages aloud. It helps with phrasing, pacing, and figuring out what's next.
  • Open your novel with action, philosophy, or a dramatic statement that makes the reader question everything. Here's more on how to successfully open your story.
  • Use a dictation app to “write” your first draft while doing a chore, such as washing dishes or hiking. You can speak faster than you write/type, and you may find it easier to dictate your novel.
  • Take care that your supporting characters are fresh and unique. Use this guide to create engaging secondary characters.
  • Sandwich descriptive prose between moments of action to keep the pace from slowing.
  • Foreshadow an upcoming event at the end of your first few chapters to keep your reader hooked early on. Here's how to foreshadow like a pro.
  • Treat each chapter as a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end. Learn more tips on how to write a chapter here.
  • Write a short story. Here's how writing short stories can help you become a better novelist.

Over to You

Our readers leave the best tips. What has been your favorite way to improve your fiction writing? Share with us in the comments below.

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