Our guide to fiction writing
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to fiction writing

First published date February 11 2014 Amended date February 11 2014

Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms known to man and – true or untrue – who doesn't love a great story? The ability to tell and write great stories is a talent to explore and foster. If you are interested in writing fiction then a fiction course is a fantastic way to get the tips that you need as a beginner, learn useful writing exercises to help move your writing or to develop your style and technique if you are someone who has already embarked on putting pen to paper. Fiction writing isn't factual, which means ultimate freedom; your only limit really is your own imagination. Fiction isn't limited to writing novels either, there's also the whole world of screenplays, theatre and radio plays to explore (whether you're wanting to write a film or a new hit comedy sitcom). There are many genres of novel to uncover too, crime, comedy, romance, teenage, children. A course will help you to develop your style suitable to your audience so that you have them gripped from the very first page.


Our five top writing tips

1. Create awesome characters

Have you ever heard someone describe a character as being three-dimensional? Well it makes sense; the more a character lives on the page the more the reader can imagine and believe in the characters that you're writing.  Readers and audiences want to know how tall she is, why she doesn't bother to do her hair on a Saturday and whether she's the type of woman to marry for love or for money. Writing in as much detail as you can about a character, even if it doesn't make it in to the final edit will help you to create a sense of what is motivating your characters and their behaviour.


2. Choose whether you are writing in first person, second person or someone else entirely

Establishing and maintaining a point of view for the reader is really important when writing long prose. Who is telling the story? If it's a first person narrative then the story really belongs to that character, they own it and it's their destiny. Second person, she, they, he etc. allows the reader to survey all the action without seeing it through one person's eyes. Alternatively, perhaps the omniscient is the way to go, an other worldly viewer...


3. Write about things that you know about and things you know nothing about at all

Ok, so we doubt that J K Rowling went to Wizard School, but she did indeed go to school. Writing from a basis of what you know and from understood experiences helps a reader to enter the world that you asking them to believe in.  So, if you want to write about space and you've not yet had a chance to board the rocket ship think about where you've been that felt alien to you, what were those emotions that you felt, how did you make sense of that place?


4. Set the scene and show the reader around a bit

Are you showing the reader what's happening or telling them? Sounds a little bit of a peculiar question but it makes a lot of sense. Showing the reader what is happening through dialogue or description can really lift your writing off of the page. Showing suggests that you are making it tangible, that the description is clear and able to be interpreted. Telling is a little more closed; it's a recounted, regurgitated tale. Both can work, depending on the type of story you’re writing.


5.  Take as many breaks as you need!

Writers block can be frustrating. Have a cup of tea. Walk around. Find something interesting to look at outside – even if for a short amount of time your neighbours’ fence can become that thing. Writing can be exhausting, but keep going, get as much on paper as possible and edit later. Revisit old things that you've written, you'll notice different things about the prose after a day, a week, a year...even six!


Getting published

So you've finished your masterpiece and now what? A fiction course will help you explore the options available to you from self-publishing through to how the industry works. What's important to remember is that this process can take a really short amount of time or a really really long time, it depends on whom your working with and the market at the time. Approaching publishers and agents knowing what you want is at the top of the list and then being ready to accept and receive feedback. Everyone will have something to say about what you've written (good and bad) and that's a massive part of a publishing process so be prepared to take some things on the chin and have a bottle of champagne ready for that all important deal sign! Optimism and being a finisher will be key to getting your writing out there.


What some of the greats have to say about writing fiction...

‘Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, 
but still attached to life at all four corners.’  Virginia Woolf


‘The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn't.’ Iain M. Banks


‘Fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairytale artist.’ Hunter S. Thompson


By Sarah Butcher