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8 Creative Writing Tips and Techniques
Table of Contents
What is creative writing, forms of creative writing, top 8 creative writing tips, how to get better at creative writing.
Creative writing transcends the realms of technical, business, and academic writing and focuses on elements such as plot, creative development, and narrative structure.
There’s no set formula for creative writing , but there are ways you can improve your writing technique.
If you want to learn more about creative writing , keep reading as we discuss what creative writing is, its various forms, and tips on how to get started.
Creative writing is a style of writing that is focused on expressing the writer’s imagination and creativity.
Creative writing often involves the creation of fictional or nonfictional works that go beyond the formal, professional, and traditional styles of writing. This type of writing allows writers to express themselves in a more personal and original way.
What Do You Do in Creative Writing?
Creative writing gives writers the opportunity to be original and express themselves. It involves the use of literary techniques and devices to tell a story or to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
There are many different forms of creative writing, such as novels, poems, screenplays, and even songs.
The main goal of creative writing is to entertain, inspire, or convey an idea or message to the reader. It is a form of self-expression that allows the writer to explore their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
It can also be a way for writers to explore new ideas, to entertain and inspire readers, and to share their perspectives and experiences with others.
Ultimately, the purpose of creative writing is to connect with the reader on a deep level and to leave a lasting impression.
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Creative writing is an expressive form of writing that takes many forms and styles. Let’s look at a few examples of creative writing forms.
Fiction involves the creation of imaginary characters, settings, and plots. You can write fiction in many different genres, such as mystery, romance, fantasy, and more.
You can also write fiction in any length you want. For example, flash fiction is shorter than 1,000 words, while the average novel is around 90,000 words.
Poetry is a type of creative writing that uses expressive language. Poets use techniques such as rhyme, meter, and figurative language to create meaning and convey emotions and ideas.
Poems come in many different forms. You can try writing a haiku, a sonnet, a free-verse poem, or any other poetic structure that appeals to you.
A screenplay tells a story through the medium of film or television. It includes descriptions of characters, settings, and actions, as well as dialogue and stage directions.
A play is meant to be performed on stage. It includes dialogue, stage directions, and descriptions of characters and settings. Plays can be a powerful way to engage the audience’s emotions and imagination to convey complex themes.
Songs are a musical expression of creative writing . Songs can be written in a variety of genres, such as pop, rock, folk, hip-hop, and more. They can be written to express a wide range of emotions and ideas, from love and heartbreak to social and political issues.
A graphic novel is a type of creative writing that combines text and illustrations to tell a story. It can be a work of fiction or nonfiction and can be written in a variety of genres.
Creative writing is typically associated with fiction, but there are nonfiction works that fall under the creative categories, too. These nonfiction works deal with real events, people, and ideas. Creative nonfiction can take the form of personal essays, memoirs, biographies, or even news articles.
There’s no scientific formula for creative writing . It all comes down to your own self-expression and the limitlessness of your imagination. However, there are a few creative writing techniques you can use in your next writing.
Here are eight ways you can improve your creative writing skills.
1. Find Inspiration
The first step for any creative writing project is to find your inspiration. This can come from a variety of sources, such as your own life experiences, your interests and passions, or even something as simple as a newspaper article or a conversation with a friend.
Take some time to think about what inspires you, and use that as the foundation for your writing.
2. Read Widely
To be a good creative writer, you need to be a good reader. Reading widely exposes you to different styles, genres, and techniques, and it can help you develop your own voice as a writer.
You’ll get to learn from a variety of authors, and you may discover new ways of structuring a story, creating compelling characters, or using language in a way that resonates with readers.
So read widely, and don’t be afraid to try out new genres or authors.
3. Try Freewriting
Freewriting is a writing exercise in which the writer allows their thoughts and inspiration to flow onto the page without any prescribed structure or editorial oversight.
It involves letting the mind wander and following the impulses of your subconscious, allowing you to tap into your creativity and explore new ideas.
While the first time you try freewriting you may end up with mostly unusable material, with practice, it can help you refine your writing style and unleash your creativity.
4. Write Often
The more you write, the better you’ll be. By writing every day, you’ll develop a habit that will make it easier to sit down and write even when you don’t want to.
Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, use that time to jot down some ideas or work on a scene.
5. Use Literary Devices
Literary devices are techniques writers use to add depth, interest, and emotion to their writing. By using these devices, you can create vivid imagery, convey complex ideas, and engage the reader’s emotions in a way that goes beyond simple storytelling.
For example, you can use descriptive language to paint a picture of a character’s appearance, which allows readers to feel like they are truly immersed in the story. Other literary devices include symbols, allegory, emotional language, metaphors, and similes.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro, incorporating these techniques into your writing can help you craft more compelling and engaging stories.
6. Get Feedback
Getting feedback from other people helps you improve your creative writing skills.
Sometimes it feels intimidating to share your work, especially when you’re new to creative writing, but it’s a crucial step to help you progress.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your work and tell you what they think. Alternatively, you can attend a workshop for writers, where you can get more targeted feedback.
You can also join writing communities to meet like-minded creative writers. Spaces such as ProWritingAid’s Community allow writers to come together and support each other in their writing journey. You’ll get access to feedback and constructive criticism on different aspects of your writing, such as plot, character development, setting, and language use.
7. Edit Your Work
The editing process is an essential part of creative writing . Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s important to continue making changes to your work, whether it’s cutting unnecessary words, reworking a scene, or adding details.
Many successful creative writers suggest editing after you’ve finished writing so it doesn’t interrupt your creative flow.
Editing can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it to produce the best work possible. You can use an editing software like ProWritingAid to show you where you can improve your writing.
ProWritingAid goes beyond just correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues by also showing you style improvement suggestions. Plus, if you’re looking to improve your creative writing skills, you can use ProWritingAid to compare your work to your favorite authors.
8. Have Fun
Creative writing is all about originality and self-expression, so above all, have fun with your writing. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and to take things too seriously, but it’s important to remember that writing is supposed to be enjoyable.
So relax, let your creativity flow, and have fun with it.
Creative writing is a form of self-expression that allows you to use your imagination and creativity to share your ideas and thoughts in a unique way.
Venturing into creative writing can be intimidating at first, but remember that you’ll get better with practice.
Take time to read widely, try writing exercises, and gather feedback on your work. Don’t be afraid to join creative writing communities so you can access support in your writing journey.
And above all, remember: there’s no limit to your creativity.
Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.
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Top 10 Best Creative Writing Tips for Beginners
Discover the top 10 best creative writing tips for beginners. We asked Ruth, a talented creative writing teacher, for the best exercises, advice and tips for those who are new to this form of artistic expression. Get help with your non-fiction writing skills and learn how to create artistic prose.
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When it comes to creative writing, it can be very difficult to know where to start and how you can improve your skills. Fortunately, there's loads of exercises to explore which will help you turn your ideas into artistic writing!
One thing to remember is that you don’t need to have a degree in English literature or creative writing to be an exceptional writer! The truth is, anyone with a passion for writing can learn and develop their fiction and non-fiction writing skills. We have put together the top 10 best creative writing tips for beginners to help you through your creative writing journey!
Ruth V Jarvis is a skilled author, editor and script consultant. From inspiring students to helping them learn new skills, Ruth is passionate about sharing her approach to creative writing within her workshops at Articulate.
Articulate is set in the London School of Mosaic studio in Gospel Oak, North West London. When visiting London School of Mosaic you can explore a wide range of artistic skills, from beginners mosaic courses to creative writing with Articulate.
Within this inspiring corner of London, students can develop their skills in writing fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Get the most out of your creative writing within interactive and supportive creative writing workshops with Ruth.
Looking for the best tips and tricks for creative writing success? We partnered up with Ruth to find out her top creative writing tips for beginners!
Top 10 Best Creative Writing Tips for Beginners:
- Find the Best Environment
- Know Your Characters
- Don't be Scared of Drafting
- Keep a Writing Log
- Never Stop Reading
- Explore Your Emotions
- Get Perspective
- Explore Ideas
1. Find the Best Environment
The first of Ruth's top tips is to find the best environment for you. This may be a coffee shop, library, park bench, cafe or in your own home, there is no wrong answers here. Finding the right environment is a personal journey that is well worth exploring!
'There are many ways to start a day's writing, at the heart is making sure you are somewhere you are comfortable and/or offers inspiration. Watching people and taking notes of actions and your environment can be a great spark for a story.'
For many beginners, a workshop may be one of the best places to find inspiration to get started on their creative writing journey!
Sharing ideas, discovering new authors and learning new skills with other creative writing enthusiasts can be an incredibly enriching and energising experience.
'Your style and stories will be unique, remember no two people are the same, value that and it will help to build your confidence.'
Ruth hosts a 12 week long women's creative writing group with the intention of giving women a space to get inspired, share their creativity and explore new skills.
'I have set up the Women’s Writing Group as a space where no subject is off the table. I hope it will be the start of women accessing confidence in their creative writing practice.'
Want a welcoming and artistic environment to build your creative writing skills? Then join Ruth as well as other like minded students to explore new skills and ignite your inspiration.
The best way to get started with writing is putting pen to paper and just writing! Ruth encourages beginners to incorporate freewriting into their creative writing process.
'Freewriting is a fantastic way to unlock ideas. When we wake in the morning, and there is little to influence us, our creative brain has free reign to express all the mind-boggling things it has been cogitating on whilst we sleep. We do some of our best problem solving when our heads are on the pillow.'
Freewriting is a fun and interesting way to explore fresh ideas. This exercise is sure to help beginners get their creative juices flowing!
3. Know Your Characters
When it comes to creating characters, it's important that you know them inside out! Ruth suggests that beginners get to know every aspect of the characters they are creating, from their desires to their struggles.
'Know your characters well. Put your protagonist into many situations, especially ones you are not going to write about; ask yourself how they would behave, and write short paragraphs. It is essential to understand your cast of characters in order to build nuance in their actions.'
Knowing everything about your character will help you create characters and stories that are relatable, believable and impactful.
'The nuance of behaviours and how they manage relationships is key to believable characters.'
4. Don't be Scared of Drafting
Don't be scared of drafting and drafting again. Ruth encourages those who are new to the creative writing process to embrace drafting.
'Remember, your first draft is just that, a draft! Let it flow; try stuff out. The story will have changed by the end of even a meticulously edited first draft. Looking for perfection can hold back vital energy needed for completing eighty thousand plus words.'
Accepting that your first draft is just a draft relieves some of the pressure! Instead of worrying about your writing being flawless, you can concentrate on your ideas and the overall process of creating exceptional writing.
5. Keep a Writing Log
One useful tip Ruth shares with her students is to make sure they keep an accurate writing log. This will make sure you don't loose sight of the small details within your writing.
'Take down the tiny details for continuity: eye colour, birthdays, the name of a pub or a port from where a boat sailed. It will save you a lot of time. There is nothing more annoying than trawling through two-hundred pages of text to retrieve an answer.'
6. Never Stop Reading
For many beginners, the main reason they started writing in the first place was because they read something that moved them or inspired them.
'Never stop reading! Anything you can get your hands on. If you are writing in a genre like fantasy, crime, or horror, it is good to understand the tropes that the reader expects.'
Ruth suggests that reading will continue to inspire you and inform your work throughout the writing process.
7. Explore Your Emotions
For those who are interested in writing poetry, this tip is for you! Ruth believes poetry is often deeply linked to emotion and has some thought provoking advice for aspiring poets,
'poetry often comes from a deep connection to emotion. When you are inspired- write. Read back as you go to look for metre. Does its tempo convey the mood you are looking for?'
When you are feeling inspired or moved, strike while the iron's hot and write! Embrace your emotions and consider the right metre, rhythm and tempo for your writing.
8. Get Perspective
If writing fiction is your thing, Ruth has an insightful tip that will help you with your creative writing process.
'Don't always assume that you have the right character heading up your cast. It's great to take a balanced look at each one and discover what their angle is on the story. You may decide to look at a story from an investigative point of view of a journalist or police officer, you may switch from the protagonist to the antagonist, anything is possible. Explore and look for the unique angle.'
Ruth outlines how it can be beneficial for aspiring writers to look at their ideas, story and characters from a range of different angles. This allows you to get some perspective, take a step back and find opportunities to change, develop, evolve your writing.
Taking the time to really know your stuff is essential when writing! Ruth believes that research is an aspect of creative writing that should definitely not be ignored.
'Research, research, research. When you have a good idea, looking closely at all that surrounds the story is vital for it to stand up. Look at how the setting and era influence the characters lifestyles. What accents and colloquialisms do your characters use. Authenticity makes for quality non-fiction.'
10. Explore Ideas
Ruth encourages students to have faith in their ideas, no matter how big or small they are!
'No idea is not worth exploring. Give it a go. There are lots of ways a story can be told. Changing a location from the real world to a science fiction perspective or writing in poetry instead of prose are just a few ways a story can take flight. Keep writing your ideas down... You never know when they will come in handy.'
Whether you build upon your original idea of don't include it at all, exploring your ideas is always a beneficial part of the creative writing process.
Workshop with Articulate at London School of Mosaic
Ruth thrives through encouraging, inspiring and teaching students within her creative writing workshops.
She believes anyone with a passion for writing has what it takes to become a writer,
'Creative writing can be taught! Yes there are those that have what seems like a natural edge but nothing beats diligence.'
Whether you want to get into the specifics of how to introduce new techniques, skills and exercises into your creative writing process or you want to get inspiration and share ideas, Ruth is sure to have a workshop for you!
'New writers can often feel quite reticent about sharing their work in a public space; confidence to do so takes time, but that still doesn’t mean they should miss out on the opportunity to get some level of feedback.
Join Ruth and other like minded students in a creative writing workshop where you will have the opportunity to develop your understanding of creative writing techniques, exercises and approaches while also getting valuable feedback and advice.
Need more advice?
Everyone has their own reason for taking up creative writing. Perhaps you are a compelling storyteller and you want to develop your craft, or maybe you find freewriting a helpful form of therapy and beneficial for your mental health . Whatever your motivation is for creative writing, we hope you find these top 10 best creative writing tips for beginners helpful!
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10 Effective Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing
Writing a story is a craft that requires constant tweaks, edits and trial and error by the writer. Here are ten tips to improve your creative writing and save you hours of painful re-writing in the future.
(1) Don’t underestimate your reader
You have a fantastic plot, your characters are realistic, the setting is ideal and you want to make sure that the reader gets every little detail that you have in mind. Great!
The only problem is that you may be tempted to bombard your reader with many intimate details so that they see it exactly as you do. In-depth descriptions can be useful and effective, but don’t overdo it. Keep your writing neat and tight; don’t waste space on long, rambling descriptions about things that aren’t necessary to your story.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if editors received submissions and decided to look past the typos and incorrect formatting because they think it might be a little gem of a story? The fact is that if your manuscript is full of errors or doesn’t follow the required guidelines then it’s going in the trash.
Don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker. If you make a typo, the computer will not warn you if you’ve still spelt a valid word. Your gorgeous heroine meets the bog (boy) of her dreams? The wealthy doctor places his golf ball on his tea (tee)?
(3) Give Your Characters Life
Characters are vital to your story so treat them with care and give them that breath of life that you, the writer, have the power to give. Give them unique characteristics; make them believable by making them have a purpose, motivation and conflicts to resolve.
(4) Use Strong Words
You want your writing to sound decisive, so use words that get the point across. Did Bob’s really big headache cause him a lot of pain or did Bob’s migraine cause excruciating pain? But remember not to overdo it: don’t use words that the reader won’t understand, you want to use strong words, not confusing or extravagant ones.
(5) Show Don’t Tell.
Who hasn’t heard that one before? But it’s a valid point and a useful rule for all writers. Fiction is for entertainment, so entertain your reader! Give them an excuse to escape into the reality that you have created. Let them see, hear, feel, smell, laugh, cry, love and hate. Show your reader the world that you’ve created, don’t just tell them about it.
(6) Check your Commas
While commas can be effective many inexperienced writers tend to sprinkle their sentences with them. When placed incorrectly, commas can chop up your sentences and sometimes even alter the meaning. Brush up on your high-school grammar; your work will improve with that alone.
(7) Grab their Attention from the Start
Opening lines are often referred to as ‘the hook’ because that’s exactly what you want them to be. You get the reader’s attention and reel them in for the rest of the story. Try something powerful to kick-start your story. For example: ‘Mark’s back broke with an audible crack’ or ‘Eliza didn’t realize that she was going blind’ or ‘The bullet that pierced Henry’s back and left him paralyzed was meant for a homeless man’. Each of these lines makes the reader ask ‘why?’ and once they ask that question, the reader will keep on reading until they find the answer.
(8) Give Your Reader a Satisfactory Ending
You can leave the reader speculating or wondering why at the end of your story, but try to resolve as much as you can. If your reader finishes the last sentence and is still asking questions about what happened to who and why, then you still need to tie up the loose ends.
(9) Sober up
Think of writing as going out to a bar: you go out, the lighting is dim, it’s noisy, maybe you drink too much but you meet a person who’s attractive, witty, shares the same interests as you and you’re smitten by them. A few days later you meet for coffee: are they as good looking or charming as you remember?
This can happen with writing. You become intoxicated with the feeling of success and think that you have written an award-winning piece. The question is, once you’ve sobered up, is it as good as you thought it was? Put your manuscript away and try not to think about it for a couple days. Then take it out and read it with a clear, open mind. Read it through once from beginning to end, then break it up into sections, then read it sentence by sentence. Is it as good as you remembered? If so, then well done! But the odds are that if you were too excited about finally wrapping it up, then you’ll find some points to revise.
(10) Challenge Yourself
Are you trying too hard to write in a specific genre or style? Do you only write short stories or novels or poems or movie scripts? Give that creative muscle a workout and try something different. It will be a refreshing exercise for your mind and you might be surprised by the result. If you don’t succeed then you have still learnt a valuable lesson.
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Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started
Creative writing: You can take classes in it, you can earn a degree in it, but the only things you really need to do it are your creative thinking and writing tools. Creative writing is the act of putting your imagination on a page. It’s artistic expression in words; it’s writing without the constraints that come with other kinds of writing like persuasive or expository.
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What is creative writing?
Creative writing is writing meant to evoke emotion in a reader by communicating a theme. In storytelling (including literature, movies, graphic novels, creative nonfiction, and many video games), the theme is the central meaning the work communicates.
Take the movie (and the novel upon which it’s based) Jaws , for instance. The story is about a shark that terrorizes a beach community and the men tasked with killing the shark. But the film’s themes include humanity’s desire to control nature, tradition vs. innovation, and how potential profit can drive people in power to make dangerous, even fatal, decisions.
A theme isn’t the only factor that defines creative writing. Here are other components usually found in creative writing:
- Connecting, or at least attempting to connect, with the reader’s emotions
- Writing from a specific point of view
- A narrative structure can be complex or simple and serves to shape how the reader interacts with the content.
- Using imaginative and/or descriptive language
Creative writing typically uses literary devices like metaphors and foreshadowing to build a narrative and express the theme, but this isn’t a requirement. Neither is dialogue, though you’ll find it used in most works of fiction. Creative writing doesn’t have to be fictional, either. Dramatized presentations of true stories, memoirs, and observational humor pieces are all types of creative writing.
What isn’t creative writing?
In contrast, research papers aren’t creative writing. Neither are analytical essays, persuasive essays , or other kinds of academic writing . Similarly, personal and professional communications aren’t considered creative writing—so your emails, social media posts, and official company statements are all firmly in the realm of non-creative writing. These kinds of writing convey messages, but they don’t express themes. Their goals are to inform and educate, and in some cases collect information from, readers. But even though they can evoke emotion in readers, that isn’t their primary goal.
But what about things like blog posts? Or personal essays? These are broad categories, and specific pieces in these categories can be considered creative writing if they meet the criteria listed above. This blog post, for example, is not a piece of creative writing as it aims to inform, but a blog post that walks its reader through a first-person narrative of an event could be deemed creative writing.
Types of creative writing
Creative writing comes in many forms. These are the most common:
Novels originated in the eighteenth century . Today, when people think of books, most think of novels.
A novel is a fictional story that’s generally told in 60,000 to 100,000 words, though they can be as short as 40,000 words or go beyond 100,000.
Stories that are too short to be novels, but can’t accurately be called short stories, are often referred to as novellas. Generally, a story between 10,000 and 40,000 words is considered a novella. You might also run into the term “ novelette ,” which is used to refer to stories that clock in between 7,500 and 19,000 words.
Short stories are fictional stories that fall generally between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Like novels, they tell complete stories and have at least one character, some sort of conflict, and at least one theme.
When a story is less than 1,000 words, it’s categorized as a work of flash fiction.
Poetry can be hard to define because as a genre, it’s so open-ended. A poem doesn’t have to be any specific length. It doesn’t have to rhyme. There are many different kinds of poems from cultures all over the world, like sonnets, haikus, sestinas, blank verse, limericks, and free verse.
The rules of poetry are generally flexible . . . unless you’re writing a specific type of poem, like a haiku , that has specific rules around the number of lines or structure. But while a poem isn’t required to conform to a specific length or formatting, or use perfect grammar , it does need to evoke its reader’s emotions, come from a specific point of view, and express a theme.
And when you set a poem to music, you’ve got a song.
Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays
Plays are meant to be performed on stage. Screenplays are meant to be made into films, and TV scripts are meant to be made into television programs. Scripts for videos produced for other platforms fit into this category as well.
Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays have a lot in common with novels and short stories. They tell stories that evoke emotion and express themes. The difference is that they’re meant to be performed rather than read and as such, they tend to rely much more on dialogue because they don’t have the luxury of lengthy descriptive passages. But scriptwriters have more than just dialogue to work with; writing a play or script also involves writing stage or scene directions.
Each type of script has its own specific formatting requirements.
Creative nonfiction covers all the kinds of creative writing that aren’t fiction. Here are some examples:
- Personal essays: A personal essay is a true story told through a narrative framework. Often, recollections of events are interspersed with insights about those events and your personal interpretations and feelings about them in this kind of essay.
- Literary journalism: Think of literary journalism as journalism enhanced by creative writing techniques. These are the kinds of stories often published in outlets like The New Yorker and Salon. Literary journalism pieces report on factual events but do so in a way that makes them feel like personal essays and short stories.
- Memoirs: Memoirs are to personal essays what novels are to short stories. In other words, a memoir is a book-length collection of personal memories, often centering around a specific story, that often works opinions, epiphanies, and emotional insights into the narrative.
- Autobiographies: An autobiography is a book you write about yourself and your life. Often, autobiographies highlight key events and may focus on one particular aspect of the author’s life, like her role as a tech innovator or his career as a professional athlete. Autobiographies are often similar in style to memoirs, but instead of being a collection of memories anchored to specific events, they tend to tell the author’s entire life story in a linear narrative.
- Humor writing: Humor writing comes in many forms, like standup comedy routines, political cartoons, and humorous essays.
- Lyric essays: In a lyric essay, the writer breaks conventional grammar and stylistic rules when writing about a concept, event, place, or feeling. In this way, lyric essays are like essay-length poems. The reason they’re considered essays, and not long poems, is that they generally provide more direct analysis of the subject matter than a poem would.
Tips for writing creatively
Give yourself time and space for creative writing.
It’s hard to write a poem during your lunch break or work on your memoir between calls. Don’t make writing more difficult for yourself by trying to squeeze it into your day. Instead, block off time to focus solely on creative writing, ideally in a distraction-free environment like your bedroom or a coffee shop.
>>Read More: How to Create Your Very Own Writing Retreat
Get to know yourself as a writer
The more you write, the more in tune you’ll become with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You’ll identify the kinds of characters, scenes, language, and pieces you like writing best and determine where you struggle the most. Understanding what kind of writer you are can help you decide which kinds of projects to pursue.
Once you know which kinds of writing you struggle with, do those kinds of writing. If you only focus on what you’re good at, you’ll never grow as a writer. Challenge yourself to write in a different genre or try a completely new type of writing. For example, if you’re a short story writer, give poetry or personal essays a try.
Need help getting started? Give one (or all!) of these 20 fun writing prompts a try .
Learn from other writers
There are lots of resources out there about creative writing. Read and watch them. If there’s a particular writer whose work you enjoy, seek out interviews with them and personal essays they’ve written about their creative processes.
>>Read More: How to Be a Master Storyteller—Tips from 5 Experts
Don’t limit yourself to big-name writers, either. Get involved in online forums, social media groups, and if possible, in-person groups for creative writers. By doing this, you’re positioning yourself to learn from writers from all different walks of life . . . and help other writers, too.
I wrote something. Where do I go from here?
Give yourself a pat on the back: You did it! You finished a piece of creative writing—something many attempt, but not quite as many achieve.
What comes next is up to you. You can share it with your friends and family, but you don’t have to. You can post it online or bring it to an in-person writing group for constructive critique. You can even submit it to a literary journal or an agent to potentially have it published, but if you decide to take this route, we recommend working with an editor first to make it as polished as possible.
Some writers are initially hesitant to share their work with others because they’re afraid their work will be stolen. Although this is a possibility, keep in mind that you automatically hold the copyright for any piece you write. If you’d like, you can apply for copyright protection to give yourself additional legal protection against plagiarizers, but this is by no means a requirement.
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Grammarly can’t help you be more creative, but we can help you hone your writing so your creativity shines as brightly as possible. Once you’ve written your piece, Grammarly can catch any mistakes you made and suggest strong word choices that accurately express your message.
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Effective writing advice for aspiring writers
Creative Writing 101
Rather than only giving information or inciting the reader to make an action beneficial to the writer, creative writing is written to entertain or educate someone, to spread awareness about something or someone, or to express one’s thoughts.
There are two kinds of creative writing: good and bad, effective and ineffective. Bad, ineffective creative writing cannot make any impression on the reader. It won’t achieve its purpose.
So whether you’re a novelist, a poet, a short-story writer, an essayist, a biographer or an aspiring beginner, you want to improve your craft. The question is: how?
When you write great fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, amazing things can happen. Readers can’t put it down. The work you wrote becomes a bestseller. It becomes famous. But you have to reach to that level… first .
The best way to increase your proficiency in creative writing is to write, write compulsively, but it doesn’t mean write whatever you want. There are certain things you should know first… it helps to start with the right foot.
So here you have it, a beginners’ guide from Writers’ Treasure :
- An Introduction to Creative Writing
- How to Get Started in Creative Writing in Just Three Steps
- Creative Writing vs. Technical Writing
- Fiction Writing 101: The Elements of Stories
- Poetry Writing: Forms and Terms Galore
- Creative Non-Fiction: What is it?
- Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Creative Writing
- Common Mistakes Made by Creative Writers
For novelists: do you want to write compelling opening chapters?
Are you an aspiring novelist? Will your novel see the light of day? For that, you will need to make the first chapter of your story as compelling as possible. Otherwise, readers won’t even pick up your novel. That chapter can be the make-or-break point that decides whether your novel is published or not. It’s because good editors know how you write from the first three pages… or sometimes even from the opening lines.
To solve this problem, I created a five-part tutorial on Writing Compelling Opening Chapters . It outlines why you need to write a compelling opening chapter, my personal favourite way of beginning it, what should be told and shown in it, general dos and don’ts, and what you need to do after having written it. Check it out for more.
Need more writing tips?
Sometimes you reach that stage when you outgrow the beginner stage of writing but feel that you’re not yet an expert. If I just described you, no worries– Writers’ Treasure’s writing tips are here. Whether you want to make your writing more readable, more irresistible, more professional, we’ve got you covered. So check out our writing tips , and be on your way to fast track your success.
I offer writing, editing and proofreading , as well as website creation services. I’ve been in this field for seven years, and I know the tools of the trade. I’ve seen the directions where the writing industry is going, the changes, the new platforms. Get your work done through me, and get fast and efficient service. Get a quote .
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When You Write
Essential Creative Writing Tips and Techniques
Creative writing has no written formula and no immutable laws, you just need a good imagination and good writing skills.
And you’re good to go!
Creative writing presents us with fewer tethers than other forms of writing. This means that we have more liberty when we want to express our imagination artistically.
With all this freedom, defining and serving creative writing techniques is a bit hard, and some tips are frowned upon as they seem to infringe upon the liberties of some creative writers.
Still, some writers need guidance.
So, I have taken it upon myself to be this guide and dish out much-needed tips and discuss some creative writing techniques.
If you’ve been looking for guidance and insight, here’s a no-frills article full of practical tips on creative writing for you.
What Is Creative Writing?
Creative writing is writing that uses imagination , creativity, and mastery of the art of writing to evoke emotion in a reader.
It could be a fictional story, a nonfiction piece, or movie script, a play, a poem, et cetera. Creative writing oftentimes springs up from experimentation and good, imaginative use of knowledge and ideas.
One of the things that make creative writing different from other forms of writing is the underlying message or theme. Unlike other forms of writing, creative writing sometimes hides a message under the entertaining, saddening, or horrifying part of the written content.
Other archetypal elements of creative writing include creating an emotional connection with the reader (and sometimes evoking a response), having a deliberate point of view, using a narrative structure, and use of imaginative and descriptive language.
What Isn’t Creative Writing?
Whatever lacks the elements I just listed isn’t creative writing. Written pieces such as company reports, statements, and other professional communications aren’t regarded as creative writing.
Similarly, personal documents and communications such as emails, social media content, and personal communications all fit in the non-creative writing category.
In addition to that, research papers and pieces that are in the “Academic Writing” category do not qualify as creative writing.
Most often the type of content that I have listed is devoid of deliberate themes. Often, these types of pieces have goals similar to those prevalent in creative writing, but they’re presented differently.
But—as a reminder to myself or you, the reader—I would like to say that they’re blurred boundaries in some forms of content. For example, we can’t outrightly classify content such as blog posts as creative writing non-creative. Blog content belongs to a broader category that is as flexible as creative writing itself.
Therefore, you would have to analyze the elements of each blog post to see if they fit a particular category.
Forms of Creative Writing
Given the freedom that creative writing gets, it is just right that it takes many forms.
Here are some of the forms of creative writing:
This is one of the most popular forms of creative writing. Novels are also the first thing people think about when it comes to books (apart from academicians who are religiously into textbooks).
Novels are extended fictional works in prose that usually (or always?) come in the form of a story.
Most of them are in the range of 50,000 to 150,000 words, but some are told in less than 50,000 and others extend beyond 150,000.
Pieces that are too short to qualify as novels and too long to qualify as short stories automatically qualify as novellas and novelettes.
Novellas often fall in the range of 10,000-40,000 words, while novelettes generally have a word count of 7,500-19,000 words.
Word count boundaries are usually varied—and they are oftentimes at the discretion of the publisher or competition organizers.
Short stories as the name suggests are on the other end (the shorter word count end) of the fiction word count spectrum.
Short stories generally fall between 2,500 and 7,500 words but sometimes extend to 10,000 words.
Unlike novels, short stories tell stories with fewer characters, details, and backstories, among other deficiencies.
Then there are other forms of short fiction told in 1,000 words, and they’re called flash fiction and micro-fiction.
The unrestricted and spontaneous nature of poetry embodies the artistic multifariousness of creative writing.
Poetry is as emotional as it is rebellious—and word counts and rhyming rarely matter for poems, i.e., those in the free verse category.
There are different types of poems such as sonnets, haikus, sestinas, limericks, and free verses.
The spontaneous nature of poetry does connote lawlessness. The thing is, the different types of poetry originated from different cultures around the world and many come with rules.
However, for most of these types of poetry, the rules are adaptable. A few types such as haikus have specific rules on the number of lines or structure.
Plus, just because there aren’t many rules governing the structure, content, and length of poetry it doesn’t mean that you can brush aside the use of perfect grammar, the importance of POV, the need for a theme, and the need to evoke the reader’s emotions.
TV scripts, stage play scripts, and screenplays
This category comprises stage plays and scripts for films, television programs, and other types of video content.
A majority of content in this category has a lot in common with novels and short stories. Although different scripts have different formatting requirements, they carry a message or central theme and try to appeal to their audience’s emotions.
In a way, these scripts depart from the highly descriptive nature of novels and short stories. There’s much more dialogue in scripts with a bit of stage or scene directions in stage plays screenplays.
Creative writing doesn’t always have to be works of fiction, some nonfiction also qualifies as creative writing.
Here are some of the works that can be called creative nonfiction:
- Lyric essays
- Humor Writing
- Literary Journalism
Tips and Techniques for Creative Writing
1. read widely and learn from other writers.
You can improve by focusing on looking at your writing only. If you want to be a good creative writer, you have to read.
When you read other people’s work, you discover other writing styles and get inspired in the process.
There are lots of reading resources on creative writing out there. You can find books, essays, blog articles, and video content covering different aspects of creative writing.
Some works will comprise fiction and nonfiction pieces (novels, short stories, poetry, lyrical essays. Et cetera) while others seek to cover interviews and personal essays that talk about the authors’ creative processes.
2. Benefit from Your Imagination
A wild imagination represents superiority for creative writers, especially fiction writers.
This is the only time you’re allowed to play god!
By using a crazy imagination you can conceive an exciting story, build a unique world, and come up with convincing, never-imagined-before characters.
Heck! You can even create your own language!
Be as imaginative as you can be, even going into a trance, and create a creative piece using your own rules!
3. Focus on Understanding and Improving Yourself as a Writer
You cannot improve something you don’t fully understand; therefore, you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a writer to become a better writer.
I wrote an article on this, explaining some general strengths and weaknesses that writers have. As a creative writer, you have to identify problem areas such as bad sense of rhythm, dodgy flow, lack of creativity, et cetera.
As a creative writer, there are things you must have in your armory, such as a rich and relevant vocabulary, organized writing, and a unique writing style (which also happens to be the next tip on the list).
4. Develop or Discover a Unique Writing Style
Creative writers are better off seeking inspiration from other creative writers while trying to follow their path.
In short: study other writers, but develop your writing style. Take a look at all the best, and you’ll discover that most of them developed a unique style.
So, have your writing style. And, it should fit the niche you want to specialize in—if it’s horror, a befitting style. You could also focus on developing vibrant writing full of eccentric characters.
Likewise, you could become a writer who always writes in a specific POV.
5. Create Space for Creative Writing and Stick to a routine
Writing routinely and total focus are tremendously important for creative writers. If you’re a spontaneous writer who scarcely writes and only writes whenever they feel like it, you’re bound to fail as a writer!
You need to have a schedule and some working space. The ideas might come spontaneously and anywhere, but it’s hard to write without proper planning and a distraction-free setting.
It’s unproductive trying to squeeze writing into your day.
When you start writing routinely, in a ‘comfortable’ place, creative writing becomes natural. Even when you’re out of ideas experiencing writer’s block, you have to practice the habit of writing stuff daily—just write some fluff if you’re bored.
6. Know your audience
“Why do you write?”
The most popular answer to the question is, “because I love it!”
But if the question was rephrased and we asked “why do you publish your works?” the previous answer would be ‘half true.’
You write because it’s the love of your life and you publish for your audience. So, creative writing isn’t always about you, but your fans too.
You have to know what your readers are like. Even when you haven’t published a single piece, it’s easy to research readers’ interests using web-based analytics resources.
Armed with this knowledge, you can craft a piece that strikes a chord with your target audience, with a high potential of becoming a bestseller.
7. Always Start and End Strong
Our English teacher constantly reminded us that when she was going through our essays, she started with the introduction and summary before moving to the body.
“They’re the most important parts of your essay.” She’d always say.
Later, I found out that this applied to almost every form of writing.
Your readers want your piece to either start with a bang or catch their attention. Once the reader feels underwhelmed, they won’t read all the way through.
Strong endings are just as important, but it doesn’t mean that you always have to end on a happy note. You can close on a sad note or give them a cliffhanger.
As long as you effectively use your imagination and the end doesn’t turn out to be a clichéd one.
The Best Books on Creative Writing
- 1. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
- 2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- 3. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- 4. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
Writing—whatever form it takes—isn’t a simple chore, but as hard as it is, it is also fun!
The goal is always to become a better writer and learn different techniques that will make our content impactful.
Every writer should fear stagnation and continue learning. Utilize today’s easy access to resources, read, ask for help, and let your wild imagination run loose.
While there’s no fixed formula in creative writing, tips from experienced writers will help you improve in some areas.
So, always be inquisitive and reach out to other writers.
Crafting an original work of fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction takes time, practice, and persistence.
Crafting compelling game stories: a guide to video game writing, how to write a murder mystery: figuring out whodunit, good story starters for your next bestseller, 100 fluff prompts that will inspire creativity.
Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.
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7 creative writing tips that no one else will give you.
Creative writing tutor and professional critique provider Dr Lynda Nash presents 7 tips she wishes she'd been told before writing her first novel
Quick links on this page:
- 7 creative writing tips no one else will give you, by Dr Lynda Nash
- Lynda Nash' s biography
Introduction by Chris Fielden
I first 'met' Lynda in the virtual sense about 10 or 15 years ago, when I won a short story competition she was judging. As part of my prize, Lynda provided one of the most thoughtful and detailed writing critiques I'd ever received.
Since then, we have become good friends and, for the last few years, she has worked closely with me on the writing services I offer on my website, providing critiques, editing and formatting services to clients all over the world.
The more you critique other people's writing, the more you realise that 99.99% of beginners make the same mistakes. I'm no exception. I made all (and more) of them when I started out.
This is where the 'rules' of writing come from: those repeated pearls of wisdom like 'show don't tell', 'avoid clichés', 'ensure your story contains conflict', 'don't start a story with backstory' etc. Looking back at the first professional critique I received on my work, most of these classics are in there. Since then, I've mentioned all of them repeatedly in critiques I've provided and in the writing courses I produce.
Lynda and I were discussing this recently and she offered to write a post for my website that covers some of the most common errors we see writers making. But rather than just listing 'rules' we all need to abide by, which has been done a gazillion times before, she suggested writing about the most important pieces of advice a beginner needs to know – the things she wished someone had explained to her in detail prior to starting her first book.
I thought that was a great idea. So, below you will find those 7 pieces of advice (or 'blunders', as Lynda calls them), all explained clearly with links to further reading around each subject matter. I hope you enjoy Lynda's post.
As always, comments are welcome. You can find the comments form at the bottom of this page.
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7 Creative Writing Advice Tips No One Else Will Give You, by Lynda Nash
Introduction – we don't always know what we need to know.
No one writes the perfect story the first time they pick up a pen. As with any craft, there are techniques and tricks to be learnt – and mistakes to be made as we put them into practise. There is a wealth of helpful information online and in print, but unless you know what you need to learn it can seem overwhelming: we don’t always know what we need to know.
When I looked back over my years of writing, I realised there are several things I wish I’d known before putting fingers to keyboard. A lot of time and deleted wordage would have been saved if I’d known what I needed to know.
Each writer’s voice and style may be unique but the mistakes beginners make aren’t. It is almost a rite of passage that we should wade through a mire of inconsistent viewpoints, reams of backstory and inconsequential dialogue – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this article I will endeavour to address the stumbling blocks that litter the beginner writer’s journey, and hopefully leave the road a little clearer to navigate.
Seven things I wish someone had told me:
- Writing without a clear point of view is like hiking without a map so never start off without one.
- No one cares about your character’s backstory.
- What happens to your characters isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s nothing at stake.
- Telling is NOT bad – but showing often is.
- Dialogue comes out of narrative. (Actually, someone did tell me this.)
- It’s okay to get it wrong.
- There are no rules in Creative Writing.
Common Beginner Blunder No.1: Point of View (POV)
It’s a biggie this one, because everything else in a story depends on it. Point of view: the root of all evil. Misunderstood by every beginner writer ever. To be fair, most beginners can get to grips with first person (even though the narrators usually sound like the author) but it’s third person that trips up most people. Especially third person omniscient. Omniscient narration seems to be the catch-all phrase for unclear point of view and head hopping. 'I’m using an omniscient narrator' translates as 'I don’t really have a clue about point of view so I’m using what I think is the easiest.'
My first foray into writing resulted in a gigantic tome that included every idea I’d had to date. I sent an extract to the Academi (now Literature Wales ) for assessment and waited eagerly for the report. When it came, I was disappointed. It wasn’t that I expected unbridled praise for my great literary work, I just hadn’t expected it to mention only one thing.
I wanted feedback on plot, character and setting, but what I got was information on point of view options and the instruction to try 'close-in third person', which was all well and good but I had no idea why . Why was it so important to change the POV ? Why did it matter? What had I done wrong?
Though I feel sorry for the unfortunate person who read my abominable first musings (written in what I now know was badly executed omniscient narration), what I wish they’d told me was this:
A point of view is an opinion, the way you think about a subject. A person’s perspective on events. Point of view comes from the Latin word punctum visus , which literally means 'point sight', suggesting it’s where you point your sight. The German word is gesichtpunkt , which translates as 'face point' or where your face is pointed. Each POV comes with its own conventions but omniscient is the most difficult to handle.
Because an omniscient narrator knows everything it can be tricky for the writer to know what to include in the story and what not to include. When starting to write, close-in third or first person are the easier options because they come with more restrictions. (Yes, that does sound like a contradiction in terms).
Every story has a teller. Narrators put their own spin on events whether they mean to or not. Not all narrators are reliable and perspectives differ, which is why novels with multiple POVs can work well. Without a 'face point' a narrative will lack focus and the reader will be unclear whose story is being told and who they should root for. Without a clear point of view a writer can end up trying to tell everyone’s story and will include details that are irrelevant. A narrower focus makes the story easier to write.
When you look through the eyes of one character you see only what they see, and what they see is subject to their mood, education, background, age and personality. For example: a pessimistic character could stand in a field of flowers yet only acknowledge the one with the snapped stem. An optimistic character could stand on a rubbish dump, ignore the waste but notice the sapling that’s sprouting from the trash.
There are three questions a writer should ask before beginning a story:
- Whose story is it?
- Who is going to tell it?
- How are they going to tell it?
For example: It could be character X’s story (whose), told by character Y (who) in retrospect (how). When you make this choice first and foremost, the story should then flow on nicely from there – and if it doesn’t, then perhaps that particular POV didn’t quite fit so simply try again until you hit on one that does.
"That is the strangest thing about the world: how it looks so different from every point of view." (Lauren Oliver , author of Liesl & Po ).
The Different Points of View
- First person (I). The character is in the story, relating his or her experiences directly.
- Second person (you).
- Third person (close-in) subjective or limited (he or she). Narrated from the perspective of one character only.
- Third person objective (he or she). From the perspective of a neutral narrator (i.e. the author).
- Third person omniscient (he or she). The narrator has full access to the thoughts and experiences of all characters in the story. The narrator is a person in their own right and has their own voice, agenda and biases.
Point of view – or psychic distance as it is often called – is a big subject but there are many straightforward guides in books and online and I strongly recommend reading some of these.
Here are some links to further information:
- The Write Practice: Point of View: Third Person Omniscient vs. Third Person Limited vs. First Person
- Jane Friedman: Basics of Point of View for Fiction Writers
- Emma Darwin's This Itch of Writing: Psychic Distance: what it is and how to use it
Common Beginner Blunder No.2: Backstory
Backstory is simply a history or background created for a fictional character that tells what events led up to the main story or plot. For instance:
Character X met character Y on a fishing trip in Antarctica. They fell in love while filleting cod and got married a month later. Character X’s mother wasn’t pleased at this short courtship. She thought character Y was irresponsible and unreliable. Character X was blindsided by charm and muscle and when character Y ran off to Iceland with a catalogue model, X gave up everything – including family – and trekked across the globe to fight for love.
I’m making this up as I go along and it could go on for pages and pages and pages… but when does the story start?
It’s great for an author to know their characters’ histories but not so great to subject the reader to them. It’s a writer’s job to hook the reader and reel them in but a sure way of losing that reader is to bog them down with backstory. "But it’s all so interesting," we writers cry. Writers are like doting parents.
Most of my gigantic tome was backstory. Like most beginners, I thought that without this information readers wouldn’t understand the story. They wouldn’t understand what motivated my characters. That readers weren’t clever enough and needed help.
Actually, readers don’t need to know as much as we think they do, so resist the urge to explain. Slip in hints of background information if and when needed and leave room for the reader to work things out for themselves. Readers are a clever bunch.
The forward story is more important than the backstory. As a rule of thumb, begin a story as near to the end as possible, but if you need to get the backstory off your chest then write it first and cut it later.
Here is a quote from Australian author (and motorbike enthusiast) Sandy Vaile: "Treat backstory like a pungent spice. I say this to encourage you to picture a jalapeno pepper that can set your mouth on fire, every time you even think about adding backstory... What you need is subtlety."
Sometimes backstory tries to masquerade as forward story but can be spotted a mile off because it lacks tension. This happens, then that happens, then something else happens. In fact, a whole lot of things happen to character X yet the reader is still waiting for the story to begin. The reason for this is that with backstory there is nothing at stake.
Characters in short stories don’t need a lot of history but if you do have to insert some backstory the information in this Writer's Digest post ' How to Weave Backstory Into Your Novel Seamlessly ' will be useful.
Common Beginner Blunder No.3: Stakes (AKA Conflict)
I wrote a story called 'The Green Bone'. It was on yellow paper and I was chuffed to bits and showed everyone. I was six. I had no clue about story structure. I thought my story was the most exciting thing I’d ever read. It went like this:
Mrs Brown’s dog was hungry so she went to the butcher and he gave her a green bone. She was on her way home and she stopped to talk to Mrs White. I’ve got a green bone for my dog, she said. How lovely, said Mrs White…
Or something like that. Yes, things happened in the story, but also nothing happened. This is the paradox. Perhaps it would be better to say things happened but nothing worth getting excited about. There was no risk of Mrs Brown falling down a manhole on her way home from the butchers and the dog dying from starvation or savaging the neighbour’s cat. There was nothing at stake. There was no conflict.
By conflict, we don’t mean fisticuffs or duelling at dawn or characters smashing plates over each other’s heads. Conflict is a clash between two opposing forces – either internal or external – that creates the narrative thread for a story. It’s the problem that sets the plot in motion.
Conflict creates stakes and stakes create tension. If a character has nothing to lose, why should the reader care?
Let’s say character X falls into a well, twists an ankle and has to climb up a ladder to get out… that may sound exciting, but actually it isn’t – it’s just fact: this happened, that happened and then that happened.
Like a character’s history this is a situation but not a story i.e., there is no conflict. But if character X is running home from a dance class with medication for his sick sister, falls into a well, breaks a leg and has to phone the emergency services because there is no ladder… now you have the reader’s attention. Attention creates tension. Will character X get out of the well in time to administer the medicine that will save his sister’s life? Will his leg have to be amputated? Will he waltz again (and win the girl he left on the dance floor)? Now the reader is worried. Now the reader will care.
Okay, stories don’t have to be overly dramatic to be exciting – sometimes just the hint of conflict is enough to make the reader keep reading.
Here is a quote from Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel by Cheryl St. John: "Conflict must be personalized to the character."
Oh, we’re back to point of view again…
You can learn more about stakes and conflict by reading ' 25 Things to Know About Your Story's Stakes ' on the Terrible Minds website.
Common Beginner Blunder No.4: Show Don’t Tell
Show don’t tell is one of the most (over) used phrases in creative writing classes and the one that is the most misunderstood. It is also the cause of pages and pages of extraneous writing because beginners think telling is bad and endeavour to show everything as it would appear on a television screen.
Anton Chechov said: "Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass."
This is like saying: "Don’t tell me character X is cold. Show them shivering in the snow." That’s all well and good and can result in some lovely poetic prose, but sometimes a character is just simply cold. No embellishment is needed.
Over-showing happens when a writer is trying hard to stick to the 'rules'. But in creative writing there are no rules – if it works it works and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.
Back to my gigantic tome. I’d read about showing and telling and in a bid to master the technique I showed every movement, every flutter of eyelashes, every grimace, every opening and closing of doors. It might take three pages for character X to grab his coat, say goodbye to his friends and leave the room.
Many beginners use dialogue to 'show' but that just results in strained and drawn-out conversations. Gigantic Tome had those too – which is why it was gigantic. Film director Tom Rickman said: "Dialogue works the least well when it's telling you what's going on."
Show don’t tell should be banished to room 101 and I wrote an article on the subject for the University of Chichester short story forum .
What to show and what to tell is closely linked with character voice… and voice depends on whose perspective you are writing from. I told you point of view was important.
Common Beginner Blunder No.5: Dialogue
Dialogue is fun to write and is the only time you can have voices in your head without fear of madness. But because we are so influenced by television and film, we see dialogue exchanges as we would on screen. "Hello." "Nice to meet you." "Would you like a cup of tea?" "With milk and sugar?" "I’ll put the kettle on."
Yes, these niceties happen in real life, and on screen this kind of conversation takes a few seconds, but in print they can take up most of a page. Meanwhile, the reader is itching to get on with the story: for someone to say something that forwards the plot.
In my search for feedback on Gigantic Tome I joined a writing forum and posted an extract. A very nice (anonymous) gentleman read my work and sent me a reply. I’ve forgotten all of his comments except this one: "Dialogue comes out of narrative."
Those five words became my mantra. Instead of writing long streams of dialogue and trying to fill in narrative around them – like trying to put flesh on a skeleton – I began to think narrative first and was surprised to find that dialogue sprang naturally from the action. This changed the face of my writing completely. Thank you, anonymous gentleman.
I once had a student whose stories all looked like this:
Narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative narrative.
"Dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue."
Characters acted. Then they spoke. Then they acted. Then they spoke again. There was no interplay. The dialogue didn’t come out of the narrative – it was external from it. Try as I might to get him to integrate narrative and dialogue, he just could not break the pattern.
Back in the day, in a bid to get students to write more fleshed out stories, tutors often instructed them to visualise a scene as if watching it on a screen. I too was guilty of doing this. It’s not that the method was wrong – it just didn’t take into account the hold that television has over us. What should have produced a detailed narrative actually produced writing that was neither script nor story but a hybrid. A 'scory', which I hope never becomes a genre in its own right.
For those writers who love dialogue and have trouble integrating, maybe it’s time to switch to scriptwriting. If you want to write fully rounded short stories then read, read, read, the good the bad and the ugly. Perhaps Gigantic Tome would have worked better as a script…?
You can learn more about this subject matter by reading ' How to Balance Action Narrative and Dialogue in Your Novel ' by Writer's Digest. The information here also applies to short stories.
Common Beginner Blunder No.6: Getting It Wrong
It was the ultra-positive inspirational writer Richard Carlson who said: "Don’t sweat the small stuff." A great adage for everyday life and in writing terms it can be interpreted as: "Don’t worry about the words."
When I read my first 'how to write' book, I came away less than inspired and more frozen with fear. I remember thinking it would be an impossible task to implement all the 'rules'. I didn’t write for weeks. Nowhere in the book, or any other book I’ve read since, does it mention getting it wrong.
It’s worth repeating what I said earlier: there are no rules in creative writing. Just techniques. And these techniques are not set in stone, but fluctuate depending on point of view (again), genre and structure.
Writing techniques are not something you can master in one go, and are best learnt by writing – which is ironic if the very mention of techniques stops you in your tracks. If the fear of getting it wrong stunts your creativity then get it wrong on purpose. During one particularly bad bout of writer’s paralysis, I wrote:
There’s No Such Thing as Writers’ Block
I’m going to write crap today. Total and utter shit. I’m not going to worry about linking sentences with commas or bad spelling or poor sentence structure. I’m going, to punctuate. Where ever: I like.
Today I am going to write as bad as I can because no one is going to read it except me. And when I get famous and the public want to see my earlier work I will frame this and hang it in a prestigious gallery under the title 'The best of times; the worst of times.' People will pay homage to the writer for being so honest. Not everyone writes a best-seller the first time round.
I felt better after giving myself permission to use less than standard grammar, unconventional punctuation and vocabulary that didn’t suit my voice. I allowed myself to get it wrong and that freedom helped me get it right. To coin a cliché: don’t try to run before you can walk. Writing should never be a chore and mistakes shouldn’t be a stick to beat ourselves with. Think of it this way… writing is not like building a house where one brick out of place might bring down a whole wall. Writing is quite like sculpting or painting – both of which take time.
If you find yourself unable to 'spoil' that pristine page or second-guessing every word you write, then cover your computer screen with a towel or better still use pen and paper and write quickly. Don’t let self-doubt or your internal editor get a chance to force their negativity upon you. I call this ' writing in the dark '.
It was Mark Twain that said: "Dance like nobody's watching." Perhaps he should have said: "Write like nobody’s reading."
Write for yourself. The first draft is always for the writer. In subsequent drafts, you can think about the reader. And it’s always beneficial to leave a break between drafts so when you revisit the story you can do so with fresh eyes.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed and unable to write I would advise you to do two things: read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and watch this video.
In fact, save it and view it regularly. And have fun.
You can learn more about this topic by reading my post ' Overcoming Bumps Blocks and Barricades ' on the University of Chichester short story forum.
Common Beginner Blunder No.7: Rules Are Meant to Be Broken…
Number seven in this list is not a blunder but a reiteration. There are no rules in creative writing. Authors are their own bosses; the masters of their own fictional universes. And all the great masters use techniques and tricks.
We may be the rulers but characters are king. Force a character to do something 'out of character' just to necessitate the plot and the result is a story that sounds unnatural and contrived. The techniques are there for a reason.
Point of view, for instance, is a technique – a convention, not a rule, and if you want to break with convention and use a retrospective omniscient first-person objective narrator then feel free… but there is a caveat: make sure you are successful – do it badly and you’ll simply look like a hack. No one will give you points for trying (except maybe your writing tutor). Conversely, no one will slap your wrist for trying either and if you don’t try you won’t know if your efforts will be successful or not. If it works, it works. And when it works we can celebrate.
You can learn more about rule breaking by reading ' Writing Rules You Can and Should Break ' on Publishers Weekly.
There are many unconventional stories that wouldn’t exist had the author been afraid to break the (invisible) rules. Here is a link to some of them on Bustle, in their resource entitled ' 11 Strange & Unconventional Short Stories You Can Read On Your Phone For Free '.
Of course, you don’t have to be 'experimental'. Sticking with conventional story writing is perfectly okay.
Back to those pesky rules techniques… Use them. All of them. Or some of them. Perhaps you’ll want to tweak one or two to suit your subject matter or your character’s voice.
When we start out on our writerly journey, techniques can seem confusing and unnecessary. It isn’t until we learn and progress and compare our latest work to something we penned weeks, months or years earlier that it hits us: by implementing those techniques our writing has improved.
Writers want readers – we need them – even those who say they write only for themselves have a secret desire to be read by others. We must treat our readers with respect. Their time is precious so we owe them our best. That is probably the only rule there is.
As a side note, dialogue is the one place where techniques (and grammar rules) don’t apply. Between those quotation marks can exist dodgy similes, run-on sentences, and as many adverbs and adjectives as you like. Perhaps this is why many writers put dialogue before narrative. But do stay true to your characters, or it’ll seem like an author error.
What happened to Gigantic Tome ?
It’s saved in a file within a file somewhere on an external hard drive and I revisit it when feeling nostalgic, which is less and less these days. Part of me – the doting parent part – thinks the story could still work…but that’s as far as it goes. I’ve no intention of redrafting it. It should really be thrown in room 101 with 'show don’t tell'. I’ve moved on because that’s what writers do. We practise, we improve, we experiment and we change, and that’s all good.
Like author Henry Miller said: "Writing is its own reward."
Lynda Nash's Biography
Lynda Nash was born and brought up in the Rhymney Valley, South Wales where she taught GCSE English Language and Creative Writing for twelve years and ran workshops for children. She has a BA, MPhil and PhD in Creative and Professional Writing and is pedantic about present participles and sentences that include 'As'. She prefers writing that 'doesn’t explain itself'.
Lynda's poetry and prose have been published in magazines and periodicals, and she is the author of Not as Pointless as You Think (humorous short fiction), Ashes of a Valleys Childhood (poetry about growing up in the valleys) and the picture book Danny Down the Drainpipe .
Lynda now works as a freelance critique provider, editor and ghost writer via Christopher Fielden's Writing Services . When she isn’t doing that, you’ll find her behind her sewing machine turning poems into textile art or writing the second draft of a novella.
Big Thanks To Lynda
I'd like to thank Lynda for this no-nonsense post, crammed to the proverbial hilt with sound advice. I'm going to use this opportunity to plug the writing services offered on my site, because Lynda is one of the critical reading team. Each team member has a wealth of experience and can really help writers develop their skills, giving them a better chance of publication.
If you enjoyed Lynda's post, you may also like a post written by Dr John Yeoman, titled: Do You Make These 7 Big Mistakes When Entering Story Contests?
Do you have some writing experiences you'd like to share with my readers? If so, please review my submissions guidelines and get in touch .
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Clare M This is now my favourite 'cut out and keep' guide! Thank you - so many pearls cast before me, I must try not to be too much of a swine :)
Chris Fielden Awesome, thanks Clare - glad to hear you liked the post :-)
Steph M Thanks Chris. Lynda's tips were very useful and thought provoking. I enjoyed reading them, especially as I'm on my last edit for the folklore collection now and deciding which stories make the cut and which don't.
Chris Fielden Fabulous, thanks Steph. Good luck with the collection, will look forward to getting a copy when it's finished :-)
Lynda N Hi Clare, Steph thanks for your comments - I'm glad you found my 'tips' helpful. Happy writing.
Alex P I will have to disagree with 'Blunder 3' - you do not need to have stakes in a story. That is typical Hollywood style writing, very formulaic. For example in Anton Chekhov's stories (and you ironically mentioned him) there are absolutely zero stakes, yet they are considered some of the best stories ever written in literature. There was one well known story of his, where a poor cab driver tries to tell his customers about how his son died, but they didn't care. And that's pretty much it.
The dialogue-narrative is a very common structure with many writers, though I am curious of how you would put it differently. Could you provide an example of a successful implementation of dialogue? Because many of us who write stories struggle with that.
Chris Fielden Thanks for your comment Alex, much appreciated.
I understand your thoughts about Chekov. There are exceptions to every 'rule' in creative writing, hence Lynda's comment that there are no 'rules'. I would add that Lynda's advice is based on current best practice in the publishing industry today. Also, in the Chekov example you gave, are there really no stakes? Or does the cab driver risk losing something if no one listens to him? His mind or his dignity perhaps. I haven't read the story, so this is a question, not a statement.
Anyway, I will let Lynda respond to this as I'm sure she can shed some more light on the subject. I shall also let Lynda know about your request for a good example of dialogue usage. I'll let you know when she responds.
All the best :-)
Lynda N Hi Alex, thanks for your questions regarding stakes and dialogue, which I will now endeavour to answer.
Chekov's 'Misery', which is a great story to analyse, follows the three-act structure: what does the character want, what is stopping them from getting it, and how do they eventually solve the problem? The three-act structure may seem formulaic but most of the time we don't even notice it's there. It's this kind of subtle writing that I find the most interesting. These stories have depth and don't give up all their secrets easily. What's at stake in 'Misery' is Iona the cab driver's mental health and wellbeing. He is trying to alleviate his grief but his efforts are thwarted because no one will listen. In the end he finds comfort close to home, which is ironic because that's where all his heartache stems from.
Stakes can be emotional or physical, internal or external. They don't have to be overly dramatic but there is always something a character wants and always a reason they need it. Stories without stakes are more vignettes. There are many different types of short fiction and here I'm referring to stories in the more 'conventional' sense.
The amount of dialogue differs from story to story. 'Misery' has a fair amount but it's fitting because the story itself is about communication. ' For Esmé – with Love and Squalor ' by J. D. Salinger has a lot of narrative exposition and is a good example of dialogue coming out of narrative. There is no right or wrong but often when writers put dialogue before narrative the reader will feel 'ungrounded'. It's a balancing act :) Hope that helps. Keep writing!
Alex P Hi Chris. Thanks for responding, it is good to know what the publishing trends are today. Unfortunately, it seems that only stories which follow a certain formula (setting -> conflict -> resolution) get published, as I noticed this trend in modern books.
As for Chekhov's short story, the cab driver didn't have anything to lose, as by the end of his shift he starts telling his horse about his son, because no one else would listen. The whole point of this story was how 'small people' of society are often ignored.
Chekhov is actually well known for writing stories where, well, nothing happens. In 'The Lady with the Small Dog' a married couple have an affair and they go back to their respective spouses. There is another story which solely revolved around little children playing in a nursery and it ends with them going to bed. Chekhov didn't focus on plots, he analyzed personalities.
Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for the Godot' is entirely based on two men waiting for someone called Godot.
Like you said in your last point, there are no rules in writing. Like any great pieces of art or science, they were all created by people who dared to experiment and tried to be different, shunning the usual trends.
Looking forward to future updates.
Chris Fielden Hi Alex. Thank you for your reply.
Please see Lynda’s response above (I think your comments may have crossed in the ether). In it, she points out that in ‘Misery’ (the Chekov story in question) there are stakes and the story does follow a three act structure. It’s subtle, but present. I guess this illustrates the quality of Chekov’s writing – the reader doesn’t notice the conflict and structure is there. Stakes in a story don’t have to be in your face like an action film and the main plot points don’t have to happen on a specific page in the script. But you need something in a story to make a reader care about the main character. That’s the point I guess.
But yes, I agree with you, experimenting is important. If no one dared to be different, nothing new would ever come along. At least with the increasing numbers of indie publishers who will consider work that isn’t mainstream, experimental works have a chance of being printed :-)
Lynda N Hi Alex. In stories where 'seemingly' nothing happens an awful lot is going on between the lines. The real story is in the subtext and not what is happening on the surface. These are tales that make the reader work a bit harder to discover the meaning. In Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants', a couple are talking while they wait for a train but the piece is thick with undercurrent. The man wants different things to the woman and she has the most to lose. There is always conflict but we don't always notice it.
Allen A Hi Chris and Lynda. Thanks very much for this. The article contains a lot of good advice and recognisable content. I particularly liked the guy who wrote narrative narrative narrative narrative then dialogue dialogue and never the two serving the same purpose. Fascinating.
Re 'Show Don’t Tell' – I once wrote a scathing review of a professionally published novel in which the heroine took four pages to come downstairs from the bathroom to the kitchen. And no, it wasn’t a horror – no monsters on the stairs, no possible intruder waiting with a knife.
The other factor I find that is prevalent in beginner stories is the rushed ending. Eight or ninety percent build-up and background then bam it’s all done.
Chris Fielden Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Allen, much appreciated. That's a very good point about story endings too. I feel another guest post coming on... :-)
Lynda N Hi Allen, thanks for your comments. Your girl coming downstairs for four pages made me laugh. Perhaps the author should revisit it and turn it into a horror :)
Allen A Hi Lynda, thanks for your reply.
Your part about people over-believing the 'Show Don’t Tell' maxim struck me as I often receive work to critique where unnecessary scenes and conversations are played out in full. You know the sort of thing, Susie gets off the tube and goes to the coffee shop, hello, hello what would you like, I was going to say a latte but I see you’ve got a special offer on cappuccinos and biscotti… There you go, says the barista. Hands full, she wandered up to her office…
Like I said earlier, very impressed by the depth and coverage in your article.
HR K Thank you, Chris and Lynda, it's great to be reminded of the techniques for writing well. I'm currently editing my second book and 'rules' help me focus my attention and spot those sections that need either more or less.
Your comments on show don't tell are interesting. I find it a troublesome rule, exactly for the reasons you mention, yet it is often quoted, especially in critiques from other writers.
Most of all, I like rule No 7 - rules are meant to be broken. If you break the rules, the trick is to do it well. I personally think rules are only a guide, and you've explained that well.
Thank you again for an interesting article.
Chris Fielden Thank you, HR, glad you enjoyed Lynda's post. I hope the editing of your second book is going well :-) All the best.
Adrian H This post is fantastic, and these tips are essential! And that's making me furious, as I just wrote 83,000 words of a novel. I wished I'd read this first!!
Chris Fielden Thanks Adrian. Maybe Lynda should add another rule - Blunder 8: Not reading this post before writing a novel LOL. I guess you're now in the luxurious position of being able to edit your 83,000 words with her advice in mind :-)
Adrian H Thanks, Chris, I feel I've achieved something by using my 'commuter time' to bang out a novel. Naturally, writing around 300 or 400 words a day, it's a bit disjointed, so there will be a lot of revision. This blog was very useful. 'Point of view' is something I was particularly interested in and I am making full use of the links that Lynda included.
I've got a couple of main characters, and swap 'point of view' halfway through, just to see the same picture through very different eyes, then sometimes swap back again towards the end of the book. Anyway, in a couple of years I'll let you know how it went!
Looks like you've been pretty busy, and hardworking, as ever...
I'm guessing that your bookshop plans are on hold - or (sadly) shelved completely (pun intended!)?
Hope you're doing OK, all the best.
Chris Fielden Ah the joys of point of view… easy to deal with when you know how. It’s the ‘knowing how’ that takes a bit of time to learn, that’s all.
Great to hear you’re using commuter time so effectively. I’d be tempted to learn from that and emulate you, but my commute down the stairs isn’t long enough to get much done :-)
Yes, I have a habit of sticking my fingers into too many proverbial pies… The bookshop pie is waiting to go in the oven. Despite your beautiful pun, it isn’t shelved. We still plan to cook that pie, fingers crossed later this year. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
All the best and good luck with your novel editing.
Adrian H Thanks, Chris, and good luck with the pie shop/ book shop project. (Mmm... 'Pies and Books' - that sounds like a combination!)
I'll take a breather from the novel to put something together for the greatest writing competition in the universe, with the undisputed prize of prizes...!
Chris Fielden Thanks Adrian. Pies and books… what a combo :-)
I w ill look forward to receiving your entry when it’s ready.
Kartar S Thanks Chris. It is creative itself to learn from an authentic site. This enables me to claim that most of the stories published do not follow such tips. These tips if adhered to would make those stories more interesting.
Yes, it is a rare post, uncommon for the social media.
Those engage in writing should follow the advice, losing a bit of ego, I mean.
Chris Fielden Thank you for your message, Kartar, very much appreciated.
Nate If I'm searching online for a solution to a problem, whatever it may be, 9 times out of 10 after reading maybe the first paragraph of the website I've landed on... I would get utterly bored or frustrated and leave to go and find the next website. In this case as a total beginner to creative writing, I absorbed everything in this post. No fluff, no crap, no filler, no plagiarism... just answers to what I've been trying to find for ages.
Chris Fielden You're welcome, thank you Nate. Glad to hear you found Lynda's post helpful :-)
Brian M I have used Chris's critique services and have benefitted from a fruitful partnership with Lynda. Chris is indefatigable in his desire to provide opportunities for people with a desire to write. Lynda's kindly critique has helped me to decide that Drabble writing is my preferred choice. We are lucky that such support is available for us.
Chris Fielden Thank you for the kind words, Brain. Very much appreciated. I shall use them as a testimonial on the critique services page. I hope that's OK :) All the very best to you.
Brian M Of course it is.
Chris Fielden Thank you Brian :)
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