So You Want to Write (Fiction) This Summer

DeskWorkAs we wrote last week, it’s already June, and we have a summer of writing planned for ourselves. Anna is working on a nonfiction book project, and Doug is working on a novel.

So, last week, we perused some of the nonfiction writing guides on our shelves to remind us of obvious principles we take for granted, fundamental motivations for writing, or what it means to work on a big project. See that post HERE.

This week, we do the same thing with a few fiction-writing guidebooks. Things we may already know but need to keep in mind. Fundamental principles. Overarching ideas. Parts and whole. Big projects.

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

Edited by Leder, Heffron, and the Editors of Writer’s Digest 

Remember, you want to do more than get your readers’ attention in your first fifty pages—you want to draw readers into the story. These opening pages are where you first create tension that will drive your readers through to the climax. So if you’ve already opened with an attention-grabbing scene, check back to make sure it also raises the questions that your ending resolves and that the next few scenes enlarge on these questions. —“The Fifty-Page Dash” by David King


Creativity isn’t seeing what no one else sees; it’s seeing what anyone else would see—if only they were looking. Ideas come when we peer at the world through another set of eyes. —“Pump Up Your Creativity” by Steven James

The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction

By Brian Kiteley

The top ten words of 2004 were “incivility, Red State/Blue States, blogosphere, flip-flop/flopping, esrever, Fahrenheit, iPod, IM, liberal, and Eurosceptic.” What can you do with this sort of knowledge? Can you make a gragment of fiction out of this, especially as it relates to some story that takes place during that year? I found the above list on [… Choose the year your novel takes place.] See what happens. You are likely to wind up with a set of echoes from that time, but you may also simply be challenged to play with an unusual and unwieldy set of words that have nothing to do with each other except that they were popular in this one year.


Examine a group of people that are part of a team. […] Show us how these people are tied together—the ridiculous and moving bonds of something other than friendship […]. The idea of this exercise is to study the way people create group relationships—the invisible web of commitments and hierarchies.

Writing the Breakout Novel

By Donald Maass

Probably all of your favorite novels are novels that swept you away, whisked you into their worlds, transported you to other times or places, and held you captive there. This is significant. Being taken somewhere else is a quality of great fiction. I am not talking about writing mere escapism or about sticking to historical settings. The quality I mean is the one of creating a fictional world that exists convincingly, wholly and compellingly apart and unto itself.


Think hard. Be honest with yourself. Are the stakes in your current manuscript as high as they can possibly be? Can you define the stakes right now? Can you point to the exact pages in which the stakes escalate, locking your protagonist into his course of action with less hope of success than before? […] The reason we care about a character in mortal danger is that we care about that character, period. His life has meaning, purpose or value. Life-and-death stakes are empty unless they are tied to underlying human worth.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

By Donald Maass

Complexity in a novel generally is a desirable quality, but how do you manage it? Adding plot layers is one way; enriching your cast of characters is another. One way to achieve that latter effect is not by adding new characters but, paradoxically, by eliminating them; or more accurately put, by combining them. […] Are there roles that can be combined? It may take less work than you think to accomplish it—and it may add more than you can measure to your novel’s sense of complexity.


Indeed, characters with poorly developed inner lives cannot long sustain reader interest. I am not suggesting writing endless passages of gushy exposition (sometimes called interior monologue), like one finds in low-grade romance novels. Rather, I suggest bringing forward on the page a protagonist’s self-regard: that reflection and self-examination that shows us that a character has a compass-true sense of themselves and a grasp of the meaning of what is happening to them at any given moment in the story.

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