Writing Fiction: 3 Strategies To Keep You Writing

Frustrated? When you’re writing fiction, frustration is a given: you’ll often become annoyed.

Please expect that. Every project is different, regardless of what you’re writing.

Last week, an author told me she was ready to give up. She’d started a series, and although the first book sold well, the second wasn’t moving at all. Moreover, the third novel was a disappointment. “There’s something wrong with the main characters,” she said. “They’re not real to me.”

I suggested patience.

When you’re writing fiction, patience matters

Patience is underrated. It’s an essential attribute for stressed authors. Everyone has projects which become annoying for a time.

Currently, I’m writing a short story, and progress is slow; although I’m trying to rein it in, the story won’t cooperate.

Mostly I breeze through short stories. One idea, one main character with a problem; done. I was ready to quit this story because it’s growing. Instead of being done and dusted at 5,000 words, it’s closing in on 8,000, and no end in sight. I may need to face the fact that it’s a novel; I’m cramming too much into too little space.

But, I keep writing anyway. And I try for patience.

Let’s look at some strategies to help if you’re struggling.

Start with the characters.

1. Focus on your characters, “grow” them as much as you can

For many authors, especially new authors, plotting is easier than characterization. Unfortunately, this makes for “thin” novels. That’s OK. Your novels will sell despite that. But if you’d like your books to survive and win readers year after year, aim to develop your characters.

On a sales level, you’ll sell more books. On a personal level, you’ll be proud of them.

2. Test your ideas: first person, or third?

When I coach authors, they always have books they can’t finish. The way they’re trying to tell a story doesn’t work. A change of point of view (POV) can be powerful.

Not sure which POV is which?

Points of view:

First person: I ignored the bundle of rags in the carpark until I got closer and saw bloodstains. And a shoe, with a foot in it.

Second person: You’re late again, so you ignore the bundle of rags…

Third person: Late again, Jenny thought, pressing the button on her car’s key fob. She ignored the bundle of rags until she drew closer…

Third person POV is most common because it allows an author more freedom.

It comes in several flavors; the most common in commercial fiction is third person limited (the narrator stays in one character’s head, but may switch to another’s.) Older novels written a century ago tend to use third person omniscient, as Jane Austen did. (Readers get insights into other characters, from each character’s point of view.)

Second person is odd; it addresses the reader directly, with “you.” I’ve never been a fan of second person, until Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. It took me several chapters before I realized that the novel’s written in second person:

… by my age I ought to know. You don’t get on by being original. You don’t get on by being bright. You don’t get on by being strong. You get on by being a subtle crook; somehow he thinks that’s what Norris is…

If you’re unhappy with your fiction, try transposing the POV. If you’re using first person, try it in third, or even in second. You may be pleased with the effect of the change.

3. Warm up so that you can write with confidence

Warm up! (I hate exclamation marks, so when I use one, you know I’m serious.) It’s challenging to drop into a creative mind state, that’s why it’s a good idea to write your fiction as soon as you wake up—you’re closer to a dream state.

You can use exercises or writing prompts to warm up.

With a novel, I create mind maps. A quick map of the previous scene, then a fresh map for the next. This takes a minute or two, and puts me back into the “feel” of the novel or story.

When you’re writing fiction, remember you’re telling stories

It’s hard to convert the wonderful ideas in your head onto the page. Moreover, fiction tends to morph while you’re writing. You can become so stressed and frustrated, you forget it’s just a story.

Try telling yourself the story. Relax. Close your eyes, and imagine; then start writing.

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