Whether you're new to crafting fiction or consider yourself an expert, brushing up on storytelling basics is a great way to keep your writing amazing!
So, here's my entire Fiction blog series, in one huge blog post :)
1. Fiction Series: Character Basics
Creating characters isn't an easy task. The days of picking a one-dimensional stereotype and being able to craft a narrative around them are long gone (if they ever existed). With millions of books available, your characters need to resonate with your audience and feel so real people forget they're fictional! ...
Here are five things not to forget when creating your characters: 1. Physical Appearance Although you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, a characters' appearance is usually the first impression a reader gets, and it tells a lot about the character. The basics, like hair, skin and eye colour are all important, but readers will want to know about little things that make your character unique. This might be a scar, or a certain item of clothing they always wear. It could even be their level of grooming - a well put together character will create a different image than a dirty one. What does this unique aspect show the audience about the character? Remember, don't be too over-descriptive. If the scar on their left knee from the time they fell off a skateboard isn't relevant to the story, it's not worth boring your readers with.
It can be helpful to reiterate appearance occasionally to strengthen the image in the readers' mind, but don't underestimate them! Too much description will bore the reader and possibly stop them from reading on.
Now you know what they look like, you have to know who they are as a person. A hotheaded character will act very differently to a meek one. Personality should drive the story in many ways, as it will change how the main character interacts with the conflicts that occur.
You should attempt to avoid one-dimensional stereotyped characters, and instead create characters that feel like real people. Tropes like the strong hero man and mean popular girl are extremely tired, and people are no longer interested in reading them. Make sure your characters are unique and relatable to your audience.
And remember the rule 'show don't tell'. Try to avoid describing the character's personality with phrases like "He was very shy". Instead, show the reader that your character is shy through their actions. A character's personality should be obvious through their body language and dialogue.
Where does the character's personality come from?
You have to know your character's entire life story and how it impacts them today, even if your audience never finds out. Answer questions like:
Where are they from?
Did they grow up in a city or small town?
What is their family dynamic like?
Have they dealt with oppression?
Have they dealt with trauma?
And with these answers, go back to the character's personality, and make sure it all adds up. This is a great way to create a realistic character!
Your main character's desires will be one of the strongest drivers of your story. What is it that they want or need that creates conflict or makes them participate in the conflict?
Some characters just do good because they're good people, but others need a motive. Consider famous characters like Katniss Everdeen - she was never interested in saving the world, she only wanted to protect her family. She wasn't a hero and had no desire to be one, but was still thrown into the conflict. This made for a very interesting character arc!
Make sure your character has a purpose and reason for every action they take throughout your book. Even if they are the perfect hero, you have to know what made them that way.
5. Strengths and Weaknesses
Now, this is one of the most interesting aspects of your character. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how do these affect the plot?
A good balance of strengths and weaknesses is important for any character to have. A one-dimensional, perfect superhero character isn't going to interest readers, because they're too powerful and therefore the conflict doesn't matter. Alternatively, a character who is too weak (physically or mentally!) will bore readers because they don't have anything to add.
Consider your own strengths and weaknesses, and how they've affected your life. A character should be just as driven and impacted by theirs!
Need more? Check out my Character Building Worksheet, available on Etsy.
2. Fiction Series: Worldbuilding Basics
Whether your story is set in a small town or a complex fantasy realm, you need to map out your 'world' before you start writing your novel. Why? Because readers want the story to feel real! They want to get lost in your fictional world. ...
Here are five worldbuilding tips for your next novel:
Where is your story set?
If your story is set in the 'real' world, you'll need to plan out the area your character lives in (or the area most of your story takes place in). If your story is set in a fictional world, you'll need to go even deeper.
Your readers will want to know things like:
What country is the story set in?
Where in that country?
What are the buildings like?
Is it a lower or upper class area?
How do people travel, and what do people do for fun?
You also want to consider nature and terrain, and how they affect the world. Is it a dry desert, or a tropical island? A story in either of these settings will be vastly different.
2. Time Period When is your story set, and how does this affect the plot and characters? In a real-world story, this will have a big impact as we know society has changed so much throughout human history, even just in the last 100 years. Every period in our history has its own culture, fashion and language. It's also important to look at where your plot fits into the history of your world - especially if the world is fictional. Is it set after a war that changed society? Have the people only recently developed technology? How does the world's past impact its present, and what will happen in the future?
The society within your world might be just like real life, or it might be totally alien. Either way, you need to know how your characters interact with, and are impacted by, culture.
If you want to write a realistic world, you need to know the special customs of the people, how the government works, and why things are the way they are.
You should consider:
And anything else that helps flesh out the world!
4. Issues and Dangers The problems your world faces might be the driving conflict of your story, or may just enhance it. These issues and dangers can be anything from monsters, to dangerous terrain, to corrupt governments. Don't give your world a lot of issues and dangers just because you want to, if they won't affect the story. If there are monsters living in the mountains by your fictional city, are they a threat? Has your MC dealt with them before? Will they actually appear in the story? If not, they probably aren't worth mentioning. However, dangers in the world can be a great sub-plot. The MC might need to navigate through an ocean filled with mermaids to reach their goal. In this case, it's a great addition!
5. Where does your MC fit in? Now, this is the most important part. You have your complex world ready, and probably know your plot and characters, but how does it all come together? Your main character needs to have a purpose in the world you've built. Maybe they're going to rebel against a dystopian society, maybe they've just moved to a new city and have to navigate it, or maybe they're saving their small town from danger. Remember, you don't need to tell readers everything about your world. While it's important that you know it inside-out, your readers will become bored with long descriptions of things that aren't relevant. Stick to introducing parts of your world as needed! What will your character do to change the world, or what will happen in the world to change the character?
Need more? Check out my Worldbuilding Worksheet, available on Etsy.
3. Fiction Series: Plot Basics
Having an idea for a novel can be exciting, but plotting makes things complicated! You might already have your world and characters perfected, but just don't know how to get your story from A to B. So, how do you plot a best-seller? ...
Why does your story need to be told?
At this point of planning your novel, you probably have a good idea of what you want to say through your story. Maybe there's a theme or message you hope to portray, or a character you want to introduce to the world. Maybe it's a fictional world you've loved inventing or a story you've never seen before.
Whatever the reason for your story is, you need to ask some initial questions to get an idea of your plot, such as:
What is your main conflict, and why will it interest readers?
What drives your main character?
Where does your main character fit into your world?
How will your character develop throughout the story?
What has already been done in your genre, and how can you make your story unique?
What are readers of your genre asking for?
Now you have these answers, consider how you might put these aspects into a story with a beginning, middle and end. Beginning The first part of your novel is all about introducing your characters and conflict. This is where a reader will decide if they'll continue or not - if they aren't intrigued now, they might put the book down! When planning the beginning of your story, you want to consider how you'll give readers the information they need to understand the story. Will you use flashbacks to explain what background readers need to know? Or will you weave the information into the story, slowly revealing things through conversations and conflicts? The beginning has to both create mystery and answer questions. Start the first page with action - a scene that tells readers the stakes of the story and who the main character is. Within the first 10 pages, have the reader hooked. They should already feel a connection to the main character, and any worldbuilding that needs to be described for understanding should be told. Middle By the middle of your story, at least one minor conflict should have happened, so now the story is in full gear. Your characters will begin developing, chasing after their wants/needs, and new information and plot twists will occur to progress the story.
Consider how will you make this middle section - the biggest chunk of your story - lead to the ending.
For some authors, this is a journey the MC needs to take to confront the villain. For others, it could be getting through the school year and finally taking that big exam. Maybe it's the MC getting to know their love interest, so they can finally declare their love for each other at the end.
Whatever it is, the journey must be interesting and purposeful, and include several minor conflicts to keep the reader engaged.
Now you're at the end of your novel, ready for the big conflict to occur and the subsequent resolution.
Does your MC win the battle? Do they find happiness? Or is it a tragic ending, where they die in the end or lose someone they love?
It's almost always best to have a wrapped-up, satisfying end for your characters. The reader will want to feel good after reading your book, and not like they've missed out on something, or read an entire novel just for the conflict to remain unsolved. (Unless, of course, you plan to write a series.)
You'll also need to consider if an epilogue is needed. Many authors add this final bonus chapter at the end to show their characters after the conflict is resolved - how are they dealing with their changed lives?
Within your major plot that carries the beginning, middle and end of your story, you'll have several sub-plots that keep your audience engage, building throughout the story.
Your sub-plots could be a bit of romance, an underlying mystery that needs solving, a task that the MC needs to complete, or any other plotline that is separate from the main story, but is still relevant.
Sub-plots are great for keeping your readers engaged through the middle section of your book, as they'll create the smaller conflicts and climaxes.
What little stories might you weave into your novel?
Need more? Check out my Novel Outlining Worksheet, available on Etsy.
4. Fiction Series: Style & POV Basics
An authors' writing style, mixed with their characters' voices and the tone of the story, creates a unique voice for every book. But developing your style can be difficult and confusing - will you write formally with lots of description, or casually with a focus on snappy dialogue?
Here are 5 ways to sharpen your style and POV: 1. Point of View (POV) There are three points of view you can choose to write your story in: first, second or third. First person writes directly as the character and their thoughts. (I, we, my) Second person writes as if the reader is the character. (you, your) Third person writes about the character, and has several of its own subcategories. (she, they, her) So, how do you choose a POV? Usually, you'll have a preferred POV to write in that resonates with you the most. But sometimes you'll notice that there's a way to write your book that just makes more sense with the narrative. Any choice can work well, but you have to be an expert at using it, and make sure you ALWAYS stay consistent.
Is your book written in past, present, or future tense?
This is one a lot of new authors struggle with, but getting your tenses right is vital so you don't confuse the reader.
In general, past tense goes best with third person, and present tense goes best with first person. You'll very rarely see second person or future tense used at all!
First/Present: "I drink from the glass, needing the hydration"
First/Past: "I drank from the glass; I needed the hydration"
Third/Present: "She drinks from the glass, needing the hydration"
Third/Past: "She drank from the glass; she needed the hydration"
Choose a tense that works well with your storytelling and the voice you want to create.
Is your book going to be written formally or casually? Is it witty or serious?
These are very important questions to ask yourself as you develop your voice. Your tone is based not only on your character and the way they might communicate, but should focus on your audience and a voice that will resonate with them.
An old man will talk very differently to a young girl, and this should show in the narration. However, if your audience is children, they may not understand the voice of the old man, and you'll have to have him narrate in a tone that children will understand.
4. Unreliable Narration
Can you trust the voice that's telling the story?
Unreliable narration, particularly through first person, is a great way to have your character lie to the reader. Maybe there's something they know about a crime that is only revealed at the end, or maybe you see the story from two perspectives, and they differ enough you know one is deceitful.
But it doesn't have to be so ominous. Unreliable narration could be as simple as writing from the perspective of a very unobservant character who often misses things. Alternatively, it could be a character who overthinks everything, causing them to jump to incorrect conclusions.
Unreliable narration is always fun to write, but make sure you have the skill to do it well, or you may just end up annoying your readers.
Dialogue is one of the most important elements of fiction. Although it has set rules (that I recommend you learn), there are still different styles you can use.
Each of your characters should have their own voice and opinions, to the point where a reader should be able to tell who's talking without being told. Dialogue must always feel real and have purpose. You can read your work aloud to see if it sounds like something a person would really say.
However, you need to decide how - and how often - you'll use aspects like dialogue tags. At present, publishers prefer a lack of dialogue tags and over description, preferring that your quotes speak for themselves. Too much description can distract the reader from simply getting through the dialogue themselves.
But your style might call for description. Maybe your characters need to be distinguished, or speak differently to what we're used to. In these cases, more descriptive dialogue is fine.
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