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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:

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.

There are no rules in creative writing

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.

Question Mark on an island

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:

  1. Writing without a clear point of view is like hiking without a map so never start off without one.
  2. No one cares about your character’s backstory.
  3. What happens to your characters isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s nothing at stake.
  4. Telling is NOT bad – but showing often is.
  5. Dialogue comes out of narrative. (Actually, someone did tell me this.)
  6. It’s okay to get it wrong.
  7. 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.'

1st Person or 3rd Person Point of View

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:

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?

Backstory

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.

Stakes and 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."

Show Don't Tell

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."

Dialogue Balloons Bubbles

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."

"Dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue."

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."

"Dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue."

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."

"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.

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.

Wrong or incorrect red cross

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 no rules in creative writing

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.

Conclusion

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.

Creative Writing Rules

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."

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Lynda Nash's Biography

Lynda Nash

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.

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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.

Writing Services

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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Your comments:

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.

Thanks.

Chris Fielden
Thank you for your message, Kartar, very much appreciated.