Seven Tips to Writing Fiction

1. Don’t try to fit into a category

Everyone loves categories. Crime, Chick-Lit, Erotica, Literary, Psychological…..the list is endless. And sometimes genres go through a really popular phase and everyone seems to want to jump on the bandwagon. But the truth is that if you want to write you should write the book that’s inside you. The book you really want to write. Just let the story unfold and afterwards, someone else can categorise it if they want. However for you, as the writer, it’s simply your book. So don’t try to shape it to suit a particular market. Write with your heart.

2. Put something down on paper (or at least on the screen)

I can’t tell you how many brilliant books I write in my head before sitting down to write one in reality. It’s always much easier in your head – your prose is better, your characters are sharper – you’re a total genius! The hard part of writing isn’t thinking up the plot or the characters, it’s bringing them to life on the page. It’s sitting in front of your laptop, tapping at the keys. You will never be a writer until you move from your head to your fingertips.

3. Believe in your characters

You will be spending a lot of time with them – they will be closer to you than your family and friends. So you need to believe in them. To know what makes them tick. You want to know all about them, stuff that doesn’t ever appear in the finished book. You have to care about what happens to them. Because if you don’t, the reader certainly won’t.

4. It doesn’t have to be perfect first time

Every writer is looking for the perfect first line. The perfect opening paragraph. The perfect Chapter 1. But it won’t happen when you start your story. You’re only feeling your way, getting to know the people you’re writing about. You can’t get bogged down in Chapter 1, but lots of aspiring writers do, and then get depressed because it isn’t good enough. They put the manuscript away and give up. The best thing is to keep putting the story down and then, when you’re more comfortable with it, you can go back and revise it. Many, many authors rewrite the beginning of the novel after the first draft. Ernest Hemmingway had 49 endings to A Farewell to Arms. When you type ‘The End’, you’re still only halfway there.

5. It’s fiction!

I’m often asked if I base my characters on real people and the situations in my books on real events. The answer to that is no. I write fiction. I make things up for a living! Sometimes, though, something I see, or read, or hear will trigger the idea for a novel. Just because an actual event might do that, it doesn’t mean that I’m obliged to recreate the exact circumstances of that event. If your story is inspired by an accident, for example, you don’t have to have the same outcomes as the accident you witnessed. In fact, nothing about it has to be the same. You’re a creative writer, not a reporter. So be creative.

6. Keep the reader interested

People don’t buy books to be bored. If someone has done me the honour of spending some of their hard-earned cash on one of my books, the least I can do is make it worth their while. I know that there are books in which it’s all about the language and the writing, and that readers can be transported by that. But for most of us, a good story and characters you care about are what counts.

7. Know what time your inspiration strikes

And try to make that the same time every day. In other words, have a routine. Set aside time for your writing just as you would with any other activity you do. Even if you don’t feel like it, spend some time on your work every day. There are lots of times I don’t feel like it – not that I don’t feel like creating (see point 2 above), but actually getting to work, shaping the story, typing it out – that’s hard, hard work. Most books are between 80,000-150,000 words. They don’t appear by magic, as much as most writers wish they would. So you’ve got to stick with it if you ever want to see your book actually finished.



Keep in touch with the world of Sheila O’Flanagan. Sign up here to receive regular updates and exclusive content.

The data controller is Hachette Headline Publishing Group. Read about how we'll protect and use data in our privacy policyYou can unsubscribe at any time via the link in any email we send you.