You’re writing fiction, but you’re a new author, and you’re disappointed with your results. Two strategies will help:
- Developing suspense: it’s essential, in the age of TikTok.
- Control: write in scenes, and edit.
New authors tend to overwhelm their plot with backstory; that is, everything that happened before the story starts. Readers don’t care about that. They want entertainment.
As a rule of thumb, consider that although you need to know background info, readers don’t. They just want to get on with the story. With your first draft, you’re telling yourself the story. Of course that includes lots of information and backstory.
Before you hit the Publish button however, all those details and explanations need to go, because they eliminate suspense.
Writing fiction: build suspense
Backstory isn’t only boring, it’s dangerous. It kills suspense, and entertainment relies on suspense.
Look for ways to keep your readers in suspense. They’re wondering: what happens next?
Suspense is anxiety. What makes you anxious? The unknown. Relieve readers’ anxiety (temporarily), and they feel pleasure.
Therefore, if you want to entertain, be miserly with information:
- Your readers want quick hits of dopamine, such as TikTok delivers. To deliver the “pleasure” hormone dopamine, something needs to happen in your story and keep happening.
- Control of your story matters, so you can keep delivering dopamine.
Let’s look the two strategies you need when writing fiction.
1. Essential suspense: stop explaining
One of the most common problems for new fiction authors is explaining. Avoid giving readers too much information, including backstory:
Just tell the story. Readers are smart. They’ll work out what’s happening in your story without your explanations and waffling. Moreover, they want to work things out. The story is yours; the imagination belongs to each reader.
After mentoring authors for years, I know that explanation and backstory woes fade with experience. You need practice in writing fiction—your brain needs to get used to it. Over time, you’ll develop skill in effective storytelling.
For years, I had a sticky note glued to my monitor with STOP EXPLAINING on it.
It’s hard to eliminate explanations, especially when you’re beginning a novel or novella.
I’ve suggested this process to my students; it’s simple, and may help you too, no matter your experience in writing fiction:
- Pre-write. Try some fiction exercises. They save time, not only in writing, but also in editing.
- Tell your story your way, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Think “entertainment”, and remember TikTok. How can you deliver quick hits of entertainment?
2. Control: write in scenes, and edit
Every story has essentials, such as thinking “story” before “plot.”
Primarily, remember to write in scenes. In scenes, the story is live-action, it’s happening now. Tie your scenes together with narrative.
Some suggestions to help:
- Write a quick summary of a scene before you write it. Consider your goal for the scene. Write it down. This helps later, in editing, when you’re trying to remember what you wanted to accomplish in a scene.
- Set Up, Middle, or Ending? I’m not a huge fan of story structure per se. It can kill suspense. That said, remember where you are in the story. In the Set Up (first 25% of the novel), keep the story moving towards the Middle (at 50%.) At the Middle scene, you need a big surprise to reverse the story, with a plot twist. Keep your milestones in mind; prepare for them.
Writing fiction: you CAN deliver great stories (even if you’re a new author)
Keep suspense and control in mind, and always be experimenting. Have fun. 🙂
Need help with fiction writing? Contact me for a consultation, or coaching.
This plotting system works for my students, and it it will work for you. It's the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.