Tips for writing compelling tales

What is real and not real at the same time? The answer is: fiction, a literary work produced by the imagination. Fiction is a good way to explore topics and issues in society, or to illuminate your reader without giving them a lecture or a list of bullet points. It’s a way to make your soul grow and connect with others.


You might be afraid to start a story, to even try it. But do. Do start.

In general, a story should open answering these questions:

  1. Whose story is it? (protagonist) Unlike a non-fiction essay, a protagonist is not neutral. A protagonist will have a bias and will elicit feelings.

2. What’s happening and what will happen next? (plot)

3. What’s at stake? (trouble/conflict)

I’ve already written about plot formation here. .

Here’s your assignment:

Write an opening including all of the above. Put your heart on the page. Risk being sentimental. Don’t be just an observer. Have an action. Have a setting detail. Add an object. It’s your first scene! You’re on your way to writing your first novel.

Believe it or not, having a few restrictions can help you focus your ideas.

I picked up these tips from writing conferences, books about fiction writing, and from teaching short story writing. Hopefully, they will help you write a compelling story. You can always break the rules, but consider these:

  1. Have authority. Know what you are talking about. You may remember taking a quiz about what do you seek most in a mate”? Maybe you said fun. Wrong answer. You need trust. Your readers have to trust you. You need to be trustworthy, to know what you are talking about, and have AUTHORity. When I taught short story writing it was quickly obvious when students had authority or not. One wrote about a town where he’d never been or even researched. When he changed his story to be set in his hometown, it became more detailed and real. Another wrote about a hapless Mexican drug dealer. The story came across as hateful and fake. He wasn’t Mexican or a drug dealer. He changed it to a hapless college student trying to sell drugs. It became more believable.

2. Write what you know, especially what you know emotionally, or what you want to explore. This will help your story be relatable. What about being human can you tell about and relate to?

3. Avoid big reveals at the end for the purpose of shock—story should reveal itself through the unfolding conflict. See plot.

4. Ask if you can help people learn something new, see things in a new way. 

5. Once you have a chapter, make it readable.

Are tenses simple and consistent?

            Good They sat in the classroom. (past) or They sit in the classroom. (present) I sit in the classroom. (First person present)

            Too complicated They were sitting in the classroom.

Is the action efficient? Make sure every action is needed.

            Good: The professor sat down and took a knife from her purse.

            Too complicated: The professor walked in the room.  She took off her coat. She sat in a chair. She unzipped her purse. She reached in. She took out a knife.

Take out junk words and over used gestures, telling words, such as these:

            So, Very, Then, And, Just, Really, Few, Only, Caused, Myself, Exactly, That, Like, Bit.

            Smiled, grinned, smirked, sneered, clenched jaw, giggled, chuckled, peered, squinted, raised brows, gazed, glanced, wondered, noticed, shrugged, bit lip, shook head, tapped fingers.

6. Not all readers like flashback. Don’t be compelled to use it.

7. Be specific.

Instead of walking your dog, walk your pug shedding like a snowstorm or your Bernese who sits down when she sees a person a block away and waits for them to pass.

Keep in mind that even though fiction is not real, it should seem real. It should also entertain.

This post has run long. I hope it’s been helpful. I can’t wait to see what you write!

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