As someone who enjoys creative writing, I spend a lot of time considering how to improve my work. Here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the last few years;
1. If you think you’ve done enough world building, you likely haven’t
The process of world building is a long one – inventing an entire universe and constructing the characters in it and the societal and physics-related rules it adheres to isn’t exactly a five-minute job, or even a five-hour job. These things take time, and that’s OK – and remember, not everything has to be mentioned in the first chapter, world development is also a cool plot to explore!
Personally, alongside world building, I view characterisation as the most important aspect of fiction writing – your story is only as strong as the one telling or living it (depending on your narrative choices). Wanting your protagonist to naturally amazing at everything – especially if they are an archetypal ‘chosen one’ – is a very easy trap to fall into but having three-dimensional, flawed characters is what brings life to fiction. However, even with flawed characters, a writer can easily fall into yet another trap; character development driven by the plot – it’s just lazy writing! Give your characters their own reasons and will to overcome their flaws, don’t just do it because the plot demands it. Your readers need to be able to emphasise with your protagonist, though, so be careful not to give them too many flaws in case they become altogether unlikable or annoying.
3. Read read read read read read…..
To write well, you have to read well, and to read well, you have to write well. Recognising other authors’ techniques will help you to develop your idea of what limitations (or lack thereof) there are for the contents of a specific genre or theme you want to write about. For example, I typically write within the genre of magical realism, so I usually read books from within that genre. This isn’t to say don’t read books that aren’t linked to what you write; of course, reading fiction of all sorts will help you develop your own narrative style, which is essential for creative writing.
4. Write write write write write write…..
Try to write something everyday. It doesn’t have to be long – it doesn’t even need to be a complete work; even if it’s just one line, you will be developing your narrative style, and grammar techniques.
As someone who typically enjoys writing in a close third person narrative, I find creating convincing character dialogue to be one of the more difficult aspects of writing. It is very important, in stories with two or more speaking characters, that their “voices” are not the same – you don’t talk the exact same way as your friends, so why would your characters be any different? Give them individual tones, habits and phrases to make their dialogue stand out, as in longer conversations hearing the same “voice” over and over can become very confusing. Moreover, you can imply a lot about a character’s background from their lexical choices; perhaps one speaks in eloquent sentences, utilising a variety of lexical characteristics to portray nobility (or something of the like), and maybe the other can’t care less about fancy schmancy words.
6. Keep a notebook for ideas
Having a small notebook and a pen with you can be extremely useful for noting down things to develop your writing while out and about; if you see someone with a cool haircut/style that you want one of your characters to have, you can just note it down to add in when you get home. A notebook is also useful for cataloging new ideas – ever have a great idea while out and then forget it when you get home? Same, all the time – at least, until I started bringing a notebook with me. It’s also a great way to test out or visualise character designs, as you can quickly sketch them on a clean page.
Simultaneously my favourite thing about writing and my least, getting feedback from someone can be quite nerve-wracking – especially if it’s a close friend and you don’t want to be embarrassed. However, while feedback can highlight issues with your writing, it can also point out where you have succeeded; this allows you to recognise what you have done well, and the areas in which you can improve, which are both very important for…
8. The Editing Process
Ahhh, yes, the editing process. Congratulations; you’ve bled out your soul onto a page or screen, and your first draft is finally finished; now the hardest and most time-consuming part begins – editing *sad party streamer sounds*. The editing process is what separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of writing quality; I am not afraid to admit that all of the first drafts I have ever written were terrible, and that the final product is usually vastly different. A piece of fiction – prose or poetry – is never truly finished, you just chose to stop editing it. Editing allows a writer to develop their plot, in terms of both timeline and set-up, and also allows for reworking of other, previously mentioned aspects such as characterisation and world building.
(This one could be linked to feedback, I suppose, but I need ten points for the alliteration in the title to work so deal with it.)
While hearing feedback on your own work is useful, providing feedback on someone else’s work is arguably more so. Meeting with other writers, such as your friends, and reading through their work will train your mind to recognise successful and less successful writing techniques, and so the overall quality of your own writing may increase. If none of your friends enjoy writing, singing up to an online writing community can be very useful, as you can both send your work to people for review, and have some be sent to you in return.
10. Research, and showing it in your writing
Yes, I know, fictional writing isn’t usually associated with extensive research. However, this is a common misconception. In order to be able to write convincingly about events in a universe you yourself have created, the events in the universe must make sense. For example, for my creative writing AS coursework I wrote about fairies living in the Amazon rainforest, living alongside the local flora and fauna and having to deal with the oncoming threat of deforestation. This took a lot of research, into both methods of deforestation and the ecosystems of the Amazon, but it supported my world building and thus made the universe more acceptable for the reader. However, there’s a trap! When you begin to do extensive research into a topic, you begin to want to show it off in your writing… don’t!!! It detracts from the audience’s suspension of belief, and – if continual – can spoil an otherwise brilliant narrative.
So, there you have it. Ten tips and tricks for fanciful fiction. Thanks for reading, and good luck!