In many ways, writing fiction is much easier than writing nonfiction. When you’re writing nonfiction, you need to know exactly WHAT you’re writing. With fiction on the other hand, you can noodle along successfully right through a short story, or even a complete novel, just by writing one scene after another.
I’ve received several questions from writers who get stuck when writing fiction. I advised them to write short stories, until they feel more comfortable with fiction. Each story will teach you something, and will give you confidence. Moreover, you can publish your short stories quickly, so that you get feedback from readers.
1. Choose a Genre You Read With Pleasure.
Fiction readers read according to genre: category. I love Westerns, for example. Give me a story with a cowboy and a horse, and I’ll read it. I also enjoy historical romance, particularly anything set in the early medieval period.
Currently, the most popular fiction genre is New Adult. Writers like H.M. Ward make incredible amounts of money with NA:
“A book in the top ten sells around 5–10K copies per day. Let’s take the average and give the book some wiggle room and say it’s selling 7K copies a day @ $2.99. In 7 days you’ll have made (net, not gross) over $100,000. ”
Unfortunately I can’t read NA books with any pleasure, so although I’ve been asked to ghostwrite them, I refused. It’s very, very hard to write in a genre you can’t read.
2. Decide You’ll Write a Series: Create a Theme.
Once you’ve chosen a genre, decide that you’ll write a series. You need a way to “theme” your series, that is, tie it together. Common themes are the members of a family, or a small town.
3. Aim to Complete a Story a Week.
When you write a series of short stories, it’s a way of sneaking up on writing at novel length. If you can, aim to write a short story a week. This might not be possible for you if you’re new to writing fiction. You’ll need to write several short stories before you start to feel comfortable.
As soon as possible – once you feel as if you can write fiction successfully – create a publication schedule. Your aim is to complete your stories, and publish them. That’s your only goal: to complete stories, and publish them.
You don’t have any say in whether or not people buy your stories. Several of my students have found that they gained no traction at all, until they’d published 20 stories. That may seem like a lot, but if you write consistently, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your stories mount up.
If you find yourself thinking: “But what if my stories don’t sell at all?” Counter that with: “But what if they DO?”:-) Keep writing.
4. Limit the Number of Characters in Each Story.
You don’t have the space in a short story for a cast of thousands. At most, you have space for two or three main characters. So if you’re writing without an outline, and your characters start multiplying, stop creating characters. Focus on the ones you have.
We’ve discussed finding readymade plots.
Fairy tales provide readymade plots. Cinderella appears in many guises: consider the movie Pretty Woman, for example.
5. Think in Scenes: Plan Your Scenes Before You Start Writing.
We’ve discussed writing in scenes:
Assuming that your average scene length is 1500 words:
7 scenes for a short story: 10,000 words
In the same article, we talked about planning a short story:
Let’s imagine you’re writing a short story. It’s a mystery; someone dies, and someone else (your sleuth) discovers whodunnit. Knowing you have seven scenes is useful; it helps you to plot and shape your story.
For example, in the first couple of scenes, the body’s discovered. For the next few scenes, your sleuth is exploring various red herrings, and discovering clues. Your final scene is the big reveal; the climax. Your sleuth discovers and reveals who the murderer is, and your story is over.
You’ve created the bare bones of a story in a couple of minutes, by choosing what you’ll write (short story), and your genre (mystery). Since you know the number of scenes, and what has to happen, you’ve gone from wondering what you’ll write, to plotting your story.
For example, you might write: “Donna knew someone had been in the apartment as soon as she opened the door.”
When a sentence like that pops into your head, you’re rolling. You’ve got a main character, Donna, who has an apartment. Who was in the apartment? Was she burgled? Is she being stalked? Keep writing. 🙂
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