Writing is a skill you can never be the “best” at. You will always be able to grow and expand on your writing skills. Once you’ve reached what you believe is your very best, there is still mountains more you can improve upon.
If you’re like me (and almost all writers out there), you likely struggle with insecurity in your writing. Us writers have a tendency to focus on the bad without knowing how to make it better, and this can often cost us our writing motivation.
If you’re ready to learn tips like the famous “show don’t tell” and more, keep reading, or check out the video below!
How to Improve Writing with Tips for Writing a Book
In order to improve your writing skills, you have to commit to writing as much as you can, using different writing exercises, and reading often. You have to form a writing habit in order to do this.
But there is good news about this.
Your writing skills are not stagnant. They change and grow as you do.
Think of it as running. The more you run and train, the better you become. It can be really hard to write a book at first but as you learn new techniques, how to use literary devices, and new methods for making it easier, you become a stronger, better runner.
Writing is exactly the same.
The way you improve your writing skills is by making a commitment to you, your work in progress, and all the people who can benefit from your book.
Being a good beginner writer is about learning the craft of writing and learning specific techniques that make writing good in the first place.
In fact, becoming a good beginner writer is all about reading as much as you can and writing as much as you can. This is what will help you recognize those literary elements you can then replicate and make your own when writing and editing.
Just like I mentioned above, the more you can write, the better you will get, and this makes publishing your book and showing it to the world much easier.
But it’s also about consuming content about becoming a better writer, like podcasts, blog posts, and videos around the craft of writing.
Once you know how people interpret different events, messages, and themes, you can weave them into your book so it has more impact when they’re finished reading.
And for the fiction writers out there, psychology helps you create real and lifelike characters that leave readers itching to turn that page and read more about them and their journey.
Writing Tips Action Step:
In order to accurately research for your book, think about what you want your readers to take away from each chapter, and then the book as a whole.
Then research how real people interpret those specific messages.
If you want readers to feel inspired during a certain part of your book, research “psychology of inspiration” and read how one can build up to feel inspired and even how it affects their outlook in order to better craft the next chapters.
Writing Tip #4 – Write as often as you can
Even if all you’re writing is a paragraph, it’s better than not writing at all.
And if you can’t add on to your book for whatever reason (maybe a lack of an outline?), then write something else.
Here are a few ways you can utilize this writing tip by writing something else:
Spend 15 minutes listening to music that reminds you of your book to get you in the zone
Tell all your friends/family to leave you alone for writing time
As mentioned above, the more you write, the better you get. But you can’t write if you’re constantly checking your phone, email, or watching TV.
Writing Tip #6 – Research storytelling and story structure
This is largely for the fiction writers out there, but all writers can benefit from this writing tip of improving your storytelling.
Storytelling and writing are not the same things.
Writing is the way in which you describe what’s happening within the story. The story itself is a whole other piece of the puzzle – and is arguably the most important piece.
When you have a story idea worth writing, there’s a few things to remember.
Here are our top writing tips for learning the craft of storytelling:
Study comedians – the reason comedy is, well, funny is because comedians know how to tell stories in a way that keep us on the edge of our seat, and then they surprise us, which often initiates the laughter.
Learn from great storytellers – Stephen King is one of the best storytellers of all time. He has a book, On Writing, that touches on this craft. Give it a read for some of the best writing tips you’ll find.
Read as much as you can – Writers learn how to write through reading. The more you read, and the wider variety of genres, the more you’ll naturally pick up on the art of storytelling.
Get feedback on your stories – This is the hardest, but most crucial writing tip to help you improve. You have to understand your weaknesses in order to make them stronger. Ask friends and family for help in order to learn how to make your stories better.
Writing Tips Action Step:
Read books, listen to podcasts, or watch videos about the art of crafting a story.
Another great way to learn the ins and outs of storytelling is to watch great comedians. The reason they can make you laugh is how they craft what they’re saying.
Notice the pauses, when they speed through what they’re saying, and how they deliver that final line.
These are all techniques you can use on a larger scale when writing your book.
Writing Tip #7 – Always get feedback
This will always be the hardest, but most important part of improving your writing. Of all the writing tips to take and execute, this is the best one.
It’s very difficult to gauge your own writing – because you wrote it.
This is much like trying to tickle yourself. It just doesn’t work because you’re the person doing it and is much more effective when someone else does it.
That’s why the beta reading process is so vital. It’s when you let others read your book in order to gain feedback from people in your intended audience.
That’s what it’s like for your writing. You need an outside set of eyes on your work.
Do you have any predictions about what will happen?
Do you have any feedback I didn’t ask you about?
Writing Tip #8 – Focus on new ways to phrase common visuals
One of the best ways you can strengthen your creativity is by consciously thinking about how you can describe common things in new, interesting ways.
You want to make people see that common item or situation or visual in a brand new light.
The way you can do this is to pause when you’re describing something in your writing and think to yourself, “how else can I explain this to create a stronger emotional impact?”
Here’s an example of this writing tip if you’re still a little confused:
“The sun set behind the trees and the world fell quiet.”
Is this a bad way to describe a sunset and night beginning? No. However, you can easily get more creative about how to illustrate this to readers through words.
“Night yanked the horizon over the sun, silencing the world with its absence.”
This is saying relatively the same thing, but in a way that stops and makes someone appreciate the way in which it was crafted.
Writing Tip #9 – Practice writing in your head
This might sound a bit confusing, so let me elaborate.
When you look at the world, how do you see it? Probably the same way everyone else does.
Here’s an example of how you can practice writing – but only in your own head. This can help you learn how to craft your prose to read in a beautiful, elegant fashion while also being unique and interesting to readers.
Right now, I’m looking out my window into the backyard. It has snow, the trees are bare, and the sky is a muted gray at the horizon, fading to a very faint blue as you look higher up.
This is a very typical visual for winter (especially in Wisconsin).
Now, in order to practice writing without writing, all you have to do is start describing what you see in prose that you would write in your own head.
“Stillness hung in the air thicker than Christmas morning eggnog, the ground covered in a thin sheet of white speckled with brown where the snow failed to make its mark. Bare branches reached toward the absent sun, reluctantly accepting the gray of winter in its place.”
This example is more prose than reality, but this is how you can sharpen those skill by just thinking in this way.
Notice the world around you in the way you would write it in a book.
The more you practice this when you’re on the subway, making dinner, or even watching your family and friends interact, the easier it will be to write those situations in your book.
Think like a writer in order to become a better one.
Writing Tip#10 – Use strong language
This writing tip can completely transform your writing for the better.
It’s the single best way to make your writing more captivating without really adding anything new. You just simply have to replace weak language with stronger, more descriptive writing.
This can take some time to get used to but the more you do it, the easier it will get.
So how do you recognize weak language?
Here are some mistakes to look for in your writing to utilizing this writing tip:
Passive voice –Passive voice is any use of a “to be” past participle. Now, that’s just a fancy way of saying that if you have something was done by something, it’s passive voice. An example of this is: “The chicken was beheaded by the farmer.” That is passive voice, whereas, “The farmer beheaded the chicken.” is active voice.
Weak verbs – These are the basic, non-detailed version of better verbs. An example would be, “She walked to the store.” In this case, “walked” is the weak verb. You can use another form of this verb to create a stronger visual for your reader. Here’s what that would look like: “She strutted to the store.”
Emotion explaining – Using words that are emotions in your writing is a pretty clear indicator you have to show and not tell. Saying, “She was scared,” is telling. You can create a better experience for the reader by showing that she’s scared through body language, dialogue, and description.
We even make it simpler for you with our strong verbs list. It has over 200 strong verbs and includes the common weak verbs you can replace.
Writing Tips Action Step:
Fill out your information for instant access to your strong verbs list of over 300+ verbs to use!
Writing Tip #11 – Just write to write
Forget about your goals. Forget about how anyone else will interpret what you’ve wrote and just write.
Do it for you. Write what you like and what makes you happy.
Don’t think about the future or publishing or where you’re going from here. Just grab that outline, sit down, and write because it’s fun.
Believe it or not, this frees up a lot of mental space and allows you to write without thinking too much, which often helps you write better.
One of the best writing tips I ever received was to always have a side project going on, something you have no intention of ever publishing. This is where your real writing happens.
It’s a place for you to experiment, discover your writing voice, and learn what you truly love to write while still working on your main project and accomplishing those goals.
Writing Tips from Famous Authors
What better way to improve your writing than to practice writing tips from those who have mastered the craft?
Here are our top writing tips from professional writers like Stephen King, JK Rowling, and even Margaret Atwood.
#1 – “Just do it.”
Much like we mentioned above, Margaret Atwood is a huge advocate of diving right in and just writing, despite your fears, insecurities, or lack of direction.
“I think the main thing is: Just do it. Plunge in! Being Canadian, I go swimming in icy cold lakes, and there is always that dithering moment. ‘Am I really going to do this? Won’t it hurt?’
And at some point you just have to flop in there and scream. Once you’re in, keep going. You may have to crumple and toss, but we all do that. Courage! I think that is what’s most required.”
As someone who has made waves with a number of her novels, including the masterpiece that landed her an entire TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale, she is someone you want to take advice from—especially now that Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass is available.
#2 – “You’ve got to work for it.”
Much to every writer’s dismay, books don’t actually write themselves. If there was a special machine we could plug into our brain that would spit out a perfect copy of the story inside our minds, we would all opt for that instead of sitting down and plucking away at the keyboard.
But that’s not a reality (at least not yet).
Someone who knows the value of hard work when it comes to writing is J.K. Rowling. Perhaps you’ve heard of her?
“You’ve got to work. It’s about structure. It’s about discipline. It’s all these deadly things that your school teacher told you you needed…
You need it.”
As hard as it can be, Rowling’s advice is as sound as any. Work for your book. Work hard so others can benefit from the worth you’re holding onto.
#3 – “Write for yourself first.”
Stephen King has an entire memoir-ish that doubles as writing tips simply because writing has been nearly his entire life.
One of the best lessons King says he ever learned was from a newspaper editor he worked for while he was in high school (which he discusses in his memoir/writing book On Writing) and he has maintained that voice in his head throughout each work he writes.
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.
Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
On Writing by Stephen King continues to be a source of inspiration and help for writers everywhere. King has a way of pulling you in and giving you the BS-free advice all writers want – and, in most cases, desperately need.
#4 – “Quantity will make up for quality.”
Ray Bradbury is one of the most quoted authors out there. He shares his methods for writing and how to actually succeed in this industry.
His best advice, in my opinion, comes from his book Zen in the Art of Writing, where he says you have to schedule the time to write – and write daily because quantity will make up for quality.
In fact, quantity is what leads you to quality.
“Michelangelo’s, da Vinci’s, Tintoretto’s billion sketches, the quantitative, prepared them for the qualitative, single sketches further down the line, single portraits, single landscapes of incredible control and beauty.”
In essence, the more you practice writing, the better you’ll become and that makes all the difference when it comes to separating yourself form other writers.
#5 – “Tell the truth.”
Miss Angelou is an inspiration to writers everywhere. She’s a personal favorite of mine and her quotes and advice for both writing and life has always spoken to me on a different level than others.
One of the best writing tips I’ve read of her is the fact that you have to write the truth.
“I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth.
The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’re telling the truth about the human being—what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.”
When you have a truth worth sharing, writing becomes easier, more meaningful, and therefore more impactful for those reading it.
This ties into our writing tip above about writing what you want to read. Focus on telling your truth.
#6 – “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Are you sensing a theme within these writing tips yet?
Even Jodi Picoult agrees that you can’t become a better writer if you never write.
“You can always edit a bad page.
You can’t edit a blank page.”
The best of all writing tips is this one. You have to actually write if you want to get better because great writing doesn’t happen on the first try. It happens on the second, fifth, and even tenth.
You first have to write the words in order to make them better.
When you start writing a book, it’s as if everyone around you becomes the expert. They tell you to show don’t tell, start with action, or even embellish your stories to sound “better.”
But how do you know what advice to take…and what do those writing tips even mean in the first place?
We’re here to help you understand showing versus telling and how that will actually help you write better and stronger.
It’s safe to say that the idea of showing not telling is one all writers should pay close attention to.
Show don’t tell in writing is a piece of advice that’s been around for longer than you might realize. Even if it didn’t have a phrase attached to it yet, the best authors out there have been using it for the duration of their careers (and even before, most likely).
In fact, it’s why they’re known as the best writers of all time.
But although these writers knew how to bring their writing to life instinctually, not all of us are so lucky. We have to learn the process of show don’t tell, which can be tricky if you don’t know where to start.
What does show don’t tell mean?
Show don’t tell describes writing in various forms with an emphasis on using and showing actions in order to convey the emotions you want readers to interpret, which creates a better experience for readers, instead of writing exposition to tell what happened.
By showingthe actions and relationships and feelings instead of just telling the reader what happened, the writing comes off deeper, and more meaningful. This creates a much deeper connection and brings readers closer to you (or the main character).
At a first glance, this writing rule could be confused for the best day in Kindergarten when you bring your pet lizard in to show the class.
But in actuality, show don’t tell refers to the way in which you describe the experience you (or your character) went through.
And that makes them feel deeper and stronger about the story. It creates empathy and invests the reader – which is exactly what you need.
Writing your book introduction with an abundance of showing not telling is a powerful way to draw readers in for the duration of your entire book.
But this technique is much easier shown than told (hehe – see what I did there?).
These examples are pretty basic but that’s the best way to gain an understanding of what this looks like. Keep in mind that your sentences may be more complex than these examples, but still full of “tell” words or phrases.
Be on the lookout for the details.
Show Don’t Tell Example #1:
Tell: “I heard footsteps creeping behind me and it made the whole situation scarier.”
Show: “Crunching hit my ears from behind, accelerating the already rampant pounding of my heart.”
Why this showing example is better:
In an instance such as this, you want the reader to feel what you did: the surprise and the sense of urgency, the fear.
Describing the crunching that hit your ears even through the pounding of your heart not only creates a powerful visual, but it also tells the reader the state your body was in during that intense moment. The first example is weak and does little to explain how you actually felt in that moment.
Show Don’t Tell Example #2:
Tell: “She was my best friend. I could tell her almost anything.”
Show: “I met her at the town square, running in for our usual hug that carried on for far too long as we gushed about our lives with smiles lighting our faces.”
Why this showing example is better:
The first example of telling is shorter, but it doesn’t do a great job of really showing the impact you have on each other. Anyone can think of “best friend” and form an overall thought about what that looks like. But this isn’t just “anyone.” This is your best friend. Showing your relationship with one another is vital to forging that deeper connection.
Why should you show don’t tell in writing?
The entire point of showing versus telling in writing is to make a stronger emotional connection with your readers and hook them.
The idea behind this writing technique is to put the reader in your shoes. Make them feel, hear, and sense the situation as you did.
It’s about creating an experience for the reader instead of just a recount of events.
Doing this makes the reader want to root for you. They want to hear your whole story and in turn, they’ll read your whole book.
Why is showing not telling also important for non-fiction?
If you write fiction, you hear this advice all the time. However, all of you non-fiction writers out there, this piece of writing advice might be new to you.
Show don’t tell isn’t always the first thing a non-fiction writer thinks of when it comes to adding more intrigue to your story.
But it is the most vital for pulling your reader in and not only hooking them, but keeping them with you throughout the duration of your book.
Many fiction writers hear this writing advice often because it’s one of the best ways to make real people feel deeply for fictional characters.
When it comes to writing a story about your life and something you went through, the idea is the same. By showing and not telling, you’ll be able to guide them through your real-life situation as an experience and not just some book they’re reading while the kids are yelling at their video games and the oven alarm is blaring in the distance.
If you can show don’t tell the right way, the reader won’t even notice those distractions.
How to Show Don’t Tell in Writing
So now you know what it is and why it’s important, but how the heck do you actually do it? The process of taking a single story and crafting it to create more emotion can be difficult.
Thankfully, we have some of the best tips for showing not telling in writing.
#1 – Get rid of all basic sensory words
Phrases like, “I heard,” “I felt,” and “I smelled,” are all very weak. These are “telling” words and phrases (also commonly referred to as “filters”) that force the reader further away from you and your experience.
That’s exactly what you want to avoid.
Instead, you need to pull them into your world and into your psyche the very moment you were encountering the situation.
Step 1: Read through your writing and circle every telling word you can find. Anything that explains one of the 5 senses.
Step 2: Then write down specifics for each. If you heard someone creeping up behind you, how did you hear it? Was it crunching on gravel? Was it the shuffling of shoes against carpet?
Once you have these, rewrite those sections by explaining how the senses manifested to you and not just what you sensed (detailed below in the next writing exercise).
#2 – Don’t use “emotion explaining” words
This might be a bit tricky and you certainly don’t have to follow this one 100% of the time, but if you can get this right, it’ll make showing versus telling so much easier to grasp.
Think of any word to describe an emotion. I’ll help you out a little:
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
These are all great words to describe how someone felt. However, they’re also very weak, unexciting ways to do so.
If you need your readers to understand how excited you were at any given time, show them. Don’t just tell them, “I was so excited!”
Show them the sweat beading your forehead as you raced to your destination. Show them the lifting of your cheeks as your lips parted way for an uncontrollable smile.
Show Don’t Tell Exercise #2:
Skim through your writing and circle every word that’s an emotion.
Then, for every emotion-explaining word you find, write down physical reactions of feeling that way.
Once you have a small list for each circled word, use it to craft a couple sentences to describe (and show!) just what that looked like.
You can see the difference alone between these two paragraphs. By replacing all of the “telling” words and phrases, it develops into an experience for the reader and not just a retelling of what happened.
A person’s actions are really a gateway to their mind and how they feel.
You can tell if another person has a crush on someone just by paying attention to the way their body adjusts when in that person’s presence, right?
Showing versus telling in writing is exactly that. You want to show the reader what is happening and allow them to form a conclusion about how you or others in your story felt based on what they look like.
In all honesty, a lot of this one is about having faith that your audience can put two and two together.
Oftentimes, we tend to over explain in an effort to make something obvious when really, the emotion is in the guesswork; it’s in allowing someone to draw their own conclusions. That over-explaining is what comes across as “telly” and not as emotionally compelling.
And honestly? It’s also pretty boring and flat.
If you do a great job of showing what you want readers to see, they’ll understand how someone feels – and they’ll even feel that way themselves.
That’s the power of showing not telling.
#4 – Use strong verbs
Showing itself can be extremely impactful, but using strong language and verbs in specific situations is even more powerful for adding depth to your story.
The way you make someone else actually feel how you did as you were going through the experience is to make sure the words you’re using directly reflect the emotions.
This can be a difficult task for those who aren’t sure what “strong language” looks likes, but I’ll make it easier for you.
Show Don’t Tell Exercise #3:
Think of a situation you want to explain in your book (or maybe something you already have written out).
Now imagine what feeling you want to convey through that scene. What do you want your readers to take away from that specific moment in your story? List those emotions so you can see all of them.
Take that list and start writing ways in which you can bring those emotions to life. What do those things mean for you? How would these emotions manifest during that specific time?
Now take those stronger verbs and words that depict a deeper emotion and craft your sentence or paragraph with those to reflect how you truly felt.
How does this sentence make you feel? Do you feel comfort, relaxation, and a sense that I love being there?
That was the purpose.
It’s about taking one specific idea or vibe or feeling and using what you know to transform it into something that’s showing not telling.
We told you to cut sensing words in tip #1, and that’s true, but with this comes the fact that you still have to describe what your character is feeling and sensing.
Showing versus telling is largely about allowing your readers to interpret what your characters are going through without just telling them.
This often means using all the senses you can to depict a scene.
Instead of saying, “She hated it there.” you can use her senses to show the readers that emotion.
For example: writing with showing like this “The faint scent of stale cigarette smoke met her nostrils, pulling her face into a familiar grimace.” allows your readers to understand that she finds where she is distasteful, without having to just say so.
#6 – Practice showing not telling every day
To master the tip of show don’t tell in writing, it takes time and practice to get it right. There’s a fine line of using showing versus telling in your writing.
With regular practice (by writing every day, we suggest), you’ll learn when to use telling and when to use showing in order to give the reader the best reading experience they have.
You can even practice by reading other books and your own writing. Recognizing areas of showing can help you do it more in your own works.
You’ll try to decide whether you’re emotionally, financially, and physically ready to take the plunge. But until you become a parent, you’ll never know how amazing, enriching, and challenging your life could be.
Once you become a parent, you know that your life will never be the same.
By it’s very nature, writing is an introspective, thoughtful activity. The process of writing a book will force you to turn your thoughts inward. Through writing, you’ll gain perspective about what really matters to you.
Writing a book will also teach you about the unique value of your own willpower.
The simple act of committing to a writing project, and seeing it through, will measure the depths of your discipline. Writing a book can be a powerful way to get in touch with your thoughts, values, and motivations.
Plus, writing is cheaper than therapy!
#3 – You’ll have created a professional-quality, ready-to-sell book.
It used to be that only writers with a publishing deal or those who paid for vanity publication ever got to see their books in print. Those days have changed.
Thanks to the rise of self-publishing, any person with a story to tell can become a published author and sell their book. Self-publishing is now affordable, easy to implement, and requires only basic computer skills.
If you can type your book on your keyboard, you can figure out how to self-publish. As your own publisher, you call the shots. You’re the CEO of your own destiny.
Even better, you get to retain more of the royalties if you self-publish. What’s not to like?
Even better, you get to retain more of the royalties if you self-publish. What’s not to like?
#4 – You’ll pocket a healthy chunk of change.
The brilliant ideas you have kicking around in your head aren’t earning you any money. Only once you commit those ideas to paper and hit publish will you earn income from your thoughts.
Your book can earn you a stream of passive income simply by existing.
And then there’s the future—audiobooks, courses based on your book, and speaking gigs! And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can make money off your self-published book—but you need to write it first.
#5 – You’ll let Amazon do the heavy lifting.
Amazon self-publishing is easier than ever. Amazon makes it intuitive and straightforward for authors to upload and sell their books.
They’ve also made it easy for readers to find and buy your book. It’s a win-win.
That’s not to say that you can set up an Amazon page and let it flap in the breeze untended. In order to sell your book, you’ll need to do some marketing and PR.
The good news is that Amazon gives you the tools and resources you need to succeed.
#6 – Our time here is finite.
Nobody’s getting out of this life alive. Our time here is finite. It’s our choice how we want to spend our time. If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, don’t wait for a life crisis to force your hand.
The time is now.
You have a chance to share your words, thoughts, and passions with the world. Don’t let that chance slip through your fingers.
#7 – You’ll reignite a passion.
Each one of us has a passion for something—whether that’s rock-climbing, organic cooking, or comedic storytelling.
What’s your passion? You already know the answer to that question.
Here’s our next question: When’s the last time you stoked that passion? If that answer is, “you can’t remember” or, “it’s been years,” then you’ve got some work to do.
You owe it to yourself to explore your passion and write a book. We promise that when you’re writing about something you love, it won’t feel like work.
That’s a heady statistic. By writing a book, you set yourself apart from the masses.
Even if your book is fiction or a memoir, the fact that you’re now an author lends an air of authority to your professional endeavors.
You can now add “author” to your CV, LinkedIn, and professional website.
In short: No matter what you write a book about, becoming a published author boosts your professional authority.
You’ll have accomplished something few other people have.
Our preemptive greeting: Welcome to the Author Club!
We guarantee you’ll like the rarified air up here.
#9 – You’ll tackle a new challenge.
Life has so many obligations—taxes, school pick-up, miles on the treadmill—it can be easy to fall into a daily rut. Writing a book is leaving your comfort zone.
Trying something unfamiliar can be scary—we get it. But, that’s precisely why it’s exciting.
The only way you grow as a person is by forcing yourself to leave your comfort zone. Time to jump off the cliff—write a book and become an author this year.
You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll gain by pushing the limits of your own self-imposed boundaries.
#10 – You’ll gain more knowledge.
Writing a book requires research. No matter what topic you’re writing about, you’re going to have to research new concepts and topics.
By opening the door to new ideas, you’ll educate yourself on a broad array of ideas. You’ll be invigorated by how much you learn while you’re writing, and emerge much brighter for having done so.
And when you’re done, you can assert yourself as an expert in your field. Your book can then open the door for speaking engagements, conference presentations, and other professional networking opportunities.
#11 – You’ll stop making excuses and just do it.
We know, we know, you’ve been mulling over the idea of writing a book for months (years?) now. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article.
How long are you going to give yourself permission to keep quashing your dreams?
It’s time to commit and just do it.
#12 – Because you can!
And you will! No more excuses. You can’t afford to put off writing a book any longer. All that counts is that you get your first word on paper, and then a word after that.
Before you know it, you’ll have a completed first draft. Think about how amazing you’ll feel? Don’t put it off another day. Write your book today. This is the year for you to finally become an author.
Are you FINALLY ready to take action?
The only difference between an author and anyone else is the fact that they wrote the book. They started.
1000 words single-spaced is about 1 page in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or equivalent software. 1000 words in a book is about 3 pages.
One thing to keep in mind with how many pages is 1000 words is that it depends on the text, its size, and the spacing you’re using.
For example, if you write 1000 words on a page in Google Docs, but maintain double spacing, that would be about two pages. However, if your text is smaller than 12 and you use a different spacing variation, it may only be one to one and a half pages.
Here’s how you can make 1000 words be more than two pages:
Increase the font size by .5 or 1 point
Increase the line spacing
Change the size of all the punctuation to be larger
Ultimately, you can expect there to be roughly 300 words per page in a book you write as a whole. Because dialogue requires paragraph breaks, there will be fewer words than if you have a few pages of full paragraphs instead of dialogue.
On average, there are about 300 words per page in a book. This number can vary depending on if you’re writing dialogue or how short each paragraph is.
How to Find How Many Words are in Your Novel So Far
Knowing where to look to locate your word count will help you determine how long your book is actually going to be once it’s finished and you publish it (which you’ll learn to do in the next step).
Finding your book’s word count depends on which writing software you’re using to write it.
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Keep in mind that this is not a perfect way to calculate the number of pages your book will be. However, this rough estimation can help you understand the approximate length of your book.
How many words in a novel?
How many words in a novel vary depending on genre, audience, and the story itself but in general, the average words in a novel is between 60,000 and 90,000 words for most genres.
The amount of words in your novel does matter. Depending on your genre, having too many or too little can not only hurt your book sales, but also cause fewer 5-star reviews (which also hurts your sales).
This is how many words to have in a novel for each genre.
#1 – How many words in a memoir?
On average, when writing a memoir should not exceed 90,000 words and that is a stretch when it comes to memoir word count.
We recommend memoirs be between 45,000 to 80,000 words in order to maintain intrigue and reduce intimidation. This means your memoir will average between 150 and 265 pages.
When readers see that a memoir exceeds 300 pages, it sets up a red flag in their mind. Even if they’re interested in the memoir, a very lengthy memoir is often indicative of something reminiscent of an autobiography (which is basically a timeline of life events) versus a personal life telling with a theme or message.
Exceptions for memoir word count:
You’re famous or well-known. Anyone who already has an audience can get away with a longer memoir simply because people have already shown interest in your life. They’re more likely to want more rather than less.
Your memoir contains multiple lessons or messages. If your memoir is in several parts or you have a few messages to get across, you can write a longer memoir. Keep in mind, however, that it may be more beneficial to write two memoirs instead of one massive one.
It’s your first draft word count only. It’s okay if your first draft is over 90,000 words. Oftentimes, professional editing will cut down the unnecessary information so your memoir is the appropriate word count.
Average book length for a memoir: 45,000 – 80,000
#2 – How many words in a self-help book?
Any self-help or motivational nonfiction book should be between 30,000 and 70,000 words
This means your book will be between 100 and 230 pages in total.
Those looking for help through a book in this genre don’t want a massive novel to go through just to read what they need. For that reason, if you have a motivational or self-help book idea, keep it at a lower word count will actually help you more.
For example, our own Student Success Strategist, Lisa Zelenak, wrote this book called Find Your Thing. It’s a self-help book detailing how to escape monotony in your early 20s and do work that actually matters.
Find Your Thing is about 30,000 words and, with formatting, 178 pages long.
The reason this book does well is because it is not a super lengthly novel. With a self-help book, your audience wants to learn something and they want to learn it sooner rather than later.
Average self-help book length: 30,000 – 70,000 words
#3 – How many words in a fantasy novel?
The average fantasy novel should have between 50,000 and 150,000 words. However, the true word count depends on the category in which you’re writing.
If you’re writing a young adult fantasy novel, you should keep your word count below 90,000 words or 300 book pages.
This is due to the audience you’re reaching preferring that length.
If you’re writing an adult fantasy novel or an epic fantasy novel (like Game of Thrones), your word count can skew higher at 90,000 – 200,000 words.
Not all fantasy novels are epic fantasy novels. Epic fantasy is a sub-genre beneath fantasy and encompasses very long journey-specific plots. Authors who write in this style are George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and the late J.R.R. Tolkien.
Average book length for fantasy novels: 50,000 – 150,000 words
#4 – How many words in a science fiction book?
Science fiction books typically have between 50,000 and 150,000 words, like fantasy novels. This puts them at between 170 – 500 pages.
This specific genre has a lot of flexibility with word and page count due to the variety of plot types and story arcs.
Here are some popular sci-fi novels and their word counts:
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 50,895 words
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – 100,609 words
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 46,118 words
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – 69,000 words
The Stand by Stephen King – 500,000 words
The Martian by Andy Weir – 104,588 words
As you can see, word count for science fiction books vary widely. However, we do not suggest writing a novel of 500,000 words unless you as established as Stephen King is.
Average science fiction book length: 50,000 – 150,000 words
#5 – How many words in a romance novel?
Romance novels often run between 50,000 and 90,000 words on average.
Romance is a unique genre because the plot is all about two characters and their adventure with one another. For that reason, writing a long, lengthy book just about their romance can become a problem for the readers.
This is why romance books tend to be below 90,000 words.
The more you write, the more you run the risk of losing your reader’s attention and motivation to keep reading.
A popular romance novel that’s a great example of keeping your story shorter rather than longer is The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
This book only has 52,000 words and has become one of the most recognizable romances of our time.
Average romance book length: 50,000 – 90,000 words
#6 – How many words in a mystery novel?
Mystery novels do best if they’re written between 40,000 and 80,000 words.
Writing more than 80,000 words can become difficult, as you have to ensure your readers don’t know the answer behind the mystery.
As with anything, the more you say, the easier it is to decipher the clues underneath, which is what you don’t want when it comes to a mystery novel.
Average mystery book length: 40,000 – 80,000 words
#7 – How many words in a horror novel?
Horror is much like mystery in the sense that you don’t want to drag these novels on too long. Therefore, we advise writers to stick between 40,000 to 80,000 words for horror novels.
As an example, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is 42,211 words long.
Average horror book length: 40,000 – 80,000 words
#8 – How many words in a dystopian novel?
Typical dystopian novels run between 60,000 and 120,000 words, though this genre has the flexibility to be longer.
Because dystopian is often a sub-genre, meaning it usually has a broader genre within it like fantasy or sci-fi, there’s room to expand and grow these types of novels.
Here are some popular dystopian novel word counts:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – 90,240
Red Rising by Pierce Brown – 124,749 words
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau – 59,937
As you can see, this genre’s word count bounces all over the place. Just keep your intended audience in mind (young adult, middle-grade), in order to know how many worse to write.
Average dytopian book length: 60,000 – 120,000 words
#9 – How many words in a contemporary book?
In a typical contemporary book, you will have between 60,000 and 90,000 words.
One popular example of a contemporary novel is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which stands at 60,965 words in total.
Contemporary novels typically don’t exceed 90,000 words particularly because they’re focused around modern problems versus anything other wordly. This means if you write too long of a book, you run the risk of losing your reader’s attention.
Average contemporary book length: 60,000 – 90,000 words
#10 – How many words in a young adult novel?
Young adult books range between 60,000 and 90,000 words. Unless you’re writing a young adult epic fantasy, which can go up to 150,000 words.
Young adult is a category more than a genre, but it’s important to keep this in mind when writing a book in any genre.
Your audience matters because different age ranges prefer different lengths of books. An older audience, like new adult or adult, is far more likely to consumer a book that’s over 100,000 words, whereas a younger audience like young adult only has the attention span for less than 90,000 words.
#11 – How many words in a middle-grade book?
Middle-grade books are best if kept between 20,000 and 55,000 words in order to maintain the attention of readers this age.
Anything longer can be difficult for a younger audience to consume and retain all of the information. Therefore, cap your first draft off at 65,000 words with the intent to cut out what you don’t need when you ship it off to your editor.
Keep in mind that these word counts are guidelines. One thing we teach here at Self-Publishing School is that you must first know the rules before you can confidently break them.
Creative writing is one of those skills you can eternally get better at, but often suck at when you start…
I’ve been there. I’ve so been there.
Now, we’re not saying your creative writing is bad necessarily, but just that if you want to continue to push yourself in this industry, you’ll need some work since literature is more competitive now than it ever has been.
Creative writing is a form of writing where creativity is at the forefront of its purpose through using imagination, creativity, and innovation in order to tell a story through strong written visuals with an emotional impact, like in poetry writing, short story writing, novel writing, and more.
It’s often seen as the opposite of journalistic or academic writing.
When it comes to writing, there are many different types. As you already know, all writing does not read in the same way.
Creative writing uses senses and emotions in order to create a strong visual in the reader’s mind whereas other forms of writing typically only leave the reader with facts and information instead of emotional intrigue.
What are the Elements of Creative Writing?
In order to get better at creative writing, you have to understand the elements of what makes writing a book great.
You can’t build a car engine without understanding how each part plays a role, right…?
Here are the elements that make up creative writing and why each is just as important as the other.
What differentiates creative writing and other forms of writing the most is the fact that the former always has a plot of some sort – and a unique one.
Yes, remakes are also considered creative writing, however, most creative writers create their own plot formed by their own unique ideas. Without having a plot, there’s no story.
And without a story, you’re really just writing facts on paper, much like a journalist.
Characters are necessary for creative writing. While you can certainly write a book creatively using the second person point of view (which I’ll cover below), you still have to develop the character in order to tell the story.
Character development can be defined as the uncovering of who a character is and how they change throughout the duration of your story. From start to end, readers should be able to understand your main characters deeply.
Almost every story out there has an underlying theme or message – even if the author didn’t necessarily intend for it to. But creative writing needs that theme or message in order to be complete.
That’s part of the beauty of this form of art. By telling a story, you can also teach lessons.
When you’re reading a newspaper, you don’t often read paragraphs of descriptions depicting the surrounding areas of where the events took place. Visual descriptions are largely saved for creative writing.
You need them in order to help the reader understand what the surroundings of the characters look like.
There are a few points of views you can write in. That being said, the two that are most common in creative writing are first person and third person.
First Person – In this point of view, the narrator is actually the main character. This means that you will read passages including, “I” and understand that it is the main character narrating the story.
Second Person – Most often, this point of view isn’t used in creative writing, but rather instructional writing – like this blog post. When you see the word “you” and the narrator is speaking directly to you, it’s second person point of view.
Third Person –Within this point of view are a few different variations. You have third person limited, third person multiple, and third person omniscient. The first is what you typically find.
Third person limited’s narrator uses “he/she/they” when speaking about the character you’re following. They know that character’s inner thoughts and feelings but nobody else’s. It’s much like first person, but instead of the character telling the story, a narrator takes their place.
Third person multiple is the same as limited except that the narrator now knows the inner thoughts and feelings of several characters.
The last, third person omniscient, is when the narrator still uses “he/she/they” but has all of the knowledge. They know everything about everyone.
While non-creative writing can have dialogue (like in interviews), that dialogue is not used in the same way as it is in creative writing. Creative writing (aside from silent films) requires dialogue to support the story.
Your characters should interact with one another in order to further the plot and development each other more.
Part of what makes creative writing creative is the way you choose to craft the vision in your mind.
And that means creative writing uses more anecdotes, metaphors, similes, figures of speech, and other comparisons in order to paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind.
All writing can have emotional appeal. However, it’s the entire goal of creative writing. Your job as a writer is to make people feel how you want them to by telling them a story.
Creative Writing Examples
Since creative writing covers such a wide variety of writing, we wanted to break down the different types of creative writing out there to help you make sense of it. Y
9 Creative Writing Exercises to Improve Your Writing
Writing is just like any other skill. You have to work at it in order to get better.
It’s also much like other skills because the more you do it, the stronger you become in it. That’s why exercising your creative writing skills is so important.
The best authors out there, including Stephen King, recommend writing something every single day. These writing exercises will help you accomplish that and improve your talent immensely.
#1 – Describe your day with creative writing
This is one of my favorite little exercises to keep my writing sharp and in shape.
Just like with missing gym sessions, the less you write, the more of that skill you lose. Hannah Lee Kidder, a very talented author and Youtuber, gave me this writing exercise and I have used it many times.
Creative Writing Exercise:
All you have to do is sit down and describe your day – starting with waking up – as if you were writing it about another person. Use your creative writing skills to bring life to even the dullest moments, like showering or brushing your teeth.
#2 – Description Depiction
If you’re someone who struggles with writing descriptions or you just want to get better in general, this exercise will help you do just that – and quickly.
In order to improve your descriptions, you have to write them with a specific intention.
With this exercise, the goal is to write your description with the goal of showing the reader as much as you can about your character without ever mentioning them at all.
Creative Writing Exercise:
For this one, craft a character in your mind. It can be one you already created or a completely new one.
Pick 5 key qualities about them you want to highlight within your description. Then, without ever mentioning the character at all, describe either their living room or their bedroom to meet that goal.
#3 – Edit your old writing
Believe it or not, editing does count as writing and can actually sharpen those creative writing skill more than you think.
It can be a little scary to pull up a story you wrote last week or even two years ago and tear it apart. But that’s exactly what I want you to do.
Check out this video of me editing my old writing in order to replace weak verbs with stronger, better ones to get a taste of what this can look like and how it can help you get better.
#4 – Voice Variations
One of my favorite parts of writing is giving unique voices to each character. I believe that’s what truly brings them to live.
Their dialogue as the power to pull readers in, or push them out of the book completely.
Obviously, you want the former.
During this creative writing exercise, your focus will be to pick 4 different emotional states and write dialogue and narrative of how your character feels and interprets those feelings.
Creative Writing Exercise:
For this one, craft a character in your mind. It can be one you already created or a completely new one.
Choose your 4 emotional states – and get creative. You can choose sadness, anger, happiness, and excitement BUT you can also go a bit further and choose to use drunk, flirty, terrified, and eager.
After you have 4 emotional states, write one page of each using dialogue and narrative your character would use.
#5 – Single Senses
Creating strong visuals is one of the most powerful ways to become a great creative writer. In fact, practicing this will help you craft books that really hook readers.
This exercise’s goal is to help you develop writing the senses in ways that not only make sense, but are also imaginative and unique.
#6 – Dialogue Destruction
During this exercise, you will learn a lot about how to shape a scene using entirely dialogue.
Now, this isn’t something you’ll always do in your writing, but it’s very important to know how to move a scene forward using dialogue if you need to.
To start, choose a scene you wrote previously that has little to no dialogue, but is still very important.
Next, rewrite the entire thing using dialogue (including dialogue tags and body language descriptions). You will quickly become better at using dialogue to show and not tell.
#7 – Tell the origin story of the Tooth Fairy
This writing exercise will really help you think creatively about something a large part of the world knows about.
However, you have to think of a very unique, interesting way of presenting this common idea. The purpose of this is to help you dig deeper within your own story and plot in order to come up with the very best, most unique ideas – because that is what will stand out in your book.
Creative Writing Exercise:
Begin this story like you would any other. Develop who the very first Tooth Fairy is and understand their character. Then, start creating a backstory that coincides with how they ended up becoming the tooth fairy.
Write this in full, ending with the Tooth Fairy taking their first tooth.
#8 – Thematic Attic
This is a fun one! The idea behind this creative writing exercise is to focus on interpreting themes through story.
Since all creative writing has an underlying theme behind it, it’s really important for you to be able to accurately depict that theme throughout the story you’re telling.
Otherwise, it can get lost. Not knowing the theme can often leave readers feeling unsatisfied – and rightfully so.
Creative Writing Exercise:
For this exercise, pick an overarching theme you want to focus on. This can be anything from equality to the difference between right and wrong.
Next, craft a short story with the setting being and do your best to make sure that theme shines through
Get creative! Your attic can even contain a portal to another dimension if you really want it to.
#9 – Break Language Barriers
This isn’t quite what you think it is. So no, we will not be creating new languages with this exercise.
Instead, we’ll be working on using unique language to describe very common, everyday occurrences and experiences.
One of the beauties of creative writing is that you have the power to change the way someone sees the world. You can make it more appealing and special to them – if you know how.
This exercise will help you develop the skill of using a unique narrative within your story.
Creative Writing Exercise:
In this creative writing exercise, you’ll start by reading. You can read a new book or even some of your old writing.
Highlight or copy sentences or paragraphs you think are very common experiences that most everyone in the world knows of. For example: the sunset, brushing your teeth, looking up at the sky.
Your job is to rewrite these experiences in the most unique way you can using visuals that you don’t normally see in writing.<
Here’s an example:
BEFORE – The sun set beyond the trees.
AFTER – The trees tucked the sun in for the night.
Character – The characters are essential. It’s extremely difficult to tell a story without them, as character development is one of the best parts in narrative writing. Think of your characters as the driving force of the narrative.
Conflict – This part of narrative writing is where the tension comes from. Conflict of any form, whether it’s between characters, between elements in your setting, or even in your plot, is essential for not only a good book, but for narrative writing.
Plot – This is the main point of your story. Where is it all going and what’s happening while we get there? This can often include any conflict, but is usually a bigger “main” portion of your story, and therefore the narrative.
Setting – The setting of a story is really what determines its genre as well as its learning curve. The learning curve refers to how much readers need to learn about the world, aka, how different it is from our own. The setting adds to this extensively because if your book is in a new world, more worldbuilding is necessary, which means it will bleed heavily into your narrative.
Theme – These are embedded into your story even if you’re not trying to. Narrative writing tells a story and with any stories, lessons are learned and these become the themes of your story. Whether you mean to or not, your own thoughts about the world and important values bleed into your work within the narrative writing.
Narrative Writing Arc – This is the story structure the narrative takes. This includes things like the inciting incident, key milestones like the first slap and second slap, the climax, the resolution, and even nuances like the character arc.
15 Original Narrative Writing Prompts
If you’re ready to get started on narrative writing, even before we’ve covered the important tips below, check out these writing prompts to inspire you.
Narrative Prompts #1 – Fantasy
Set in its own world, write a story about a single plant, kept alive in a temple for thousands and thousands of years. Until one day, the guard on duty noticed it has dried and shriveled completely, cutting off the society’s magic.
Write a story about a woman who works the night shift at a local convenience store finding herself in the midst of what seems to be an otherworldly magic battle…in her shop.
Create your own world and write a story about a modern civilization as if magic is and has always been the norm…until someone from the outside is discovered to be marveling at its wonders, as if they’ve never seen it before.
Narrative Prompts #2 – Science Fiction
Write a story focusing on a street sweep who works in the Dark, the place at the Earth’s surface where smog and pollution has taken over. Except when cleaning a particular street corner, they uncover an underground civilization who have perfected the technology to filter the air, leaving them with the purest in the world.
Write a story about a doctor who was just replaced by a machine to diagnose, treat, and even operate on patients.
In a futuristic society, the right to privacy has been abolished in order to keep people safe after a worldwide terrorist attack. Your main character, an engineer, has discovered how to override the “foolproof” surveillance system…what they find in the database changes everything.
Narrative Prompts #3 – Romance
Your main character is a strawberry picker who has a run-in with the love interest, who is hiding in the fields, eating and picking strawberries as a means of survival because they’re on the run…and homeless.
Write a story about two people who have been friends since childhood, though their families have promised them marriage to others despite them being in love.
Write a story focusing on a semi-truck driver trying to outrun a jaded past as they meet someone who works in law enforcement while at a diner.
Narrative Prompts #4 – Dystopian
More than a thousand years have passed since it happened—since one man disobeyed government orders to destroy his research into a nanobot technology after he discovered how to make them think.
Write a story about an old man whose grandfather, when he was young, made the choice to unleash the secrets of cancer research—and its cure—to the world. Now population control has become an even bigger issue.
Climate change is inevitable. Write a story about what happens when a small hole tears in the Earth’s atmosphere due to climate change, and what society must look like in order to heal it.
Narrative Prompts #5 – Mystery
Your character receives a call that seems ordinary, from their doctor, about a recent test they took. When your character goes in for the appointment to discuss, their regular doctor is gone—missing…only to turn up dead days later.
Eight astronauts went to space. Only seven returned. And none of them have any memory of an eighth person having ever been with them at all.
All people in comas have been disappearing from hospitals all over the country for the past three months, with no leads. Your character is the sister of one of the missing coma patients.
How to Master the Use of Narrative Writing
By learning a few tips about how to write narrative really well, you’ll be well on your way from novice to expert.
#1 – Learn from the experienced
Most often, the best advice comes from those who are and have been in the thick of the thing you want to learn about.
They’ve got inside knowledge for the how-tos that are often far more effective that those simply teaching those methods.
Here are our favorite resources for learning about narrative writing:
You learn storytelling by reading or listening to stories. That’s how everyone learns how to tell a story.
While some are better than others by nature, reading more and more can open your eyes to new techniques and methods within the narrative writing.
Reading at least a book a month can help you improve your writing by simply immersing yourself in the words of someone else.
While some people might worry that their own writing will mimic the book they’re reading, this fear is often unfounded. Your natural voice will always be at the forefront unless you’re intentionally trying to sound like someone else.
Which we don’t recommend.
#3 – Practice regularly
Narrative writing is a skill that gets better the more you practice, much like most other skillsets.
As you write and craft stories with protagonists, great conflict, interesting setting, and more, you’ll learn how to make each of those elements better.
Recognizing where your strengths and weaknesses are will help you know what to focus on and improve…but that can only be done through experience, aka, practice.
It’s very hard to be objective with your own work. We can’t often take a step back and recognize what we’re doing wrong and therefore, we can become stunted in our growth as writers.
Feedback is the key to fixing this.
Other people see what you don’t. We all notice different things and this remains true for writing in particular.
Getting someone to offer feedback on your narrative writing is one of the best ways to improve and fix your weaknesses, becoming an overall better writer.
Here’s what some of your feedback can look like:
#5 – Watch movies and TV shows
Yes! We’re officially giving you permission to watch TV instead of work on writing, but for a very specific reason.
When you listen to writing advice, whether it’s from a friend or teacher or published author, you might hear them reference movies as examples.
The reason for this is because while some movies are adapted from books, all movies can teach you about storytelling and the structure of a good story overall.
And while movies are best for an overall view of storytelling for a book, TV shows are much better at teaching you how to write a good chapter, since each episode serves as a chapter of that story, the entire season as the equivalent of a novel.
Here are some questions to ask after you watch a movie or TV show:
How did it start?
What was different and intriguing about how events unfolded?
Was there a twist? What foreshadowing did they use to make the twist surprising, but inevitable?
What were the three biggest moments in the story?
Did the ending connect to the beginning?
#6 – Invoke all three main elements in each sentence
These are character, plot/conflict, and setting.
Brandon Sanderson talks a ton about these three main elements of narrative writing in his lectures on Youtube.
The idea behind this is that these three main components make up the entirety of a story. When you can really dig deep into these three, you’ll become a better and better writer.
And not only that, but if you learn how to master invoking all three of these elements into each sentence, you’ve mastered the art of writing.
Now, this is very difficult. Not all authors do this. In fact, very, very few can do this and it’s not something you can do in every sentence.
However, when you’re thinking of writing each line with the goal of showing your readers more about the character, the world/setting, and the conflict all in one, you will be an incredible writer overall.
Here’s an example of what this means:
Not good: The woman wandered outside without any gear.
Better and invoking 3 elements: The woman was crazy enough to step outside, not a single scrap of gear on her body, flesh exposed in several places.
Why this is better: In the first example, we don’t really learn anything. All we see is a woman going outside without any gear. Now, yes, in this first example we get the feeling that having gear on is probably important, but we don’t see how much. In the second example, however, we get a sense of all three elements. First, we know that the character thinks such an act is crazy. Secondly, we learn that the setting must be dangerous and harsh enough to need gear (or be deemed crazy if you don’t have it). And lastly, this potentially adds to the plot or conflict by showing us that the outdoors is dangerous, or a place one can’t simply walk out to with skin exposed.
The parts of a story consist of five main elements: characters, setting, plot, and conflict along with theme. The parts of a story are both technical and elemental in nature, but these are what make up the necessary parts of a story that readers yearn for.
You can use endlessly different story structures and styles, but each story or novel is going to boil down to three fundamental elements: character, setting, and plot.
These are your story’s main course, but what’s a meal without side dishes?
We’re also going to cover conflict, resolution, themes, morals, symbolism, point of view, and perspective: what they are, how to use them, and how all of these literary elements work together to make a complete and filling dinner–I mean story…I’m hungry.
Parts of a Story Plot: Characters, Setting, Plot, & Other Story Elements
Once you’ve got a solid story idea, the real work begins.
Here are the 10 essential parts of a story every writer needs to get it right. Without these, your story (whether you’re writing a short story or a full novel) will fall flat.
#1 – Characters
Your audience should feel different levels of closeness to your different characters, depending on if they’re main, secondary, or background character.
What do your characters want? Their desire can be simple or complex, tangible or concept–maybe they want a job, a house, approval, a child, contentment. If your character doesn’t want something, they won’t be compelled to act.
Download this character sheet to dive deep into understanding your character’s motives better:
Download your FREE character development worksheet!
If your character isn’t acting, they’re passive or they’re just a plot device. You want to avoid both, and this is usually accomplished through strong character development.
#2 – Setting
The setting is when and where your story takes place.
Aside from the physical location and position in time, your setting can include:
Take the time to consider these aspects to build a complex world for your characters to interact with.
Particularly in fantasy and sci-fi worlds, a lot of planning goes into establishing a convincing and engaging story setting that can either add to your plot or take away from it.
#3 – Plot
Your plot is the actual story–what happens, when, how, why, and what’s the result?
There are a lot of different ways to structure your plot, but in general, a plot arc has five main points:
Set-up/exposition – The beginning part of your story where you establish the world, the characters, the tone, and your writing style
Rising action – The rising action is usually prompted by your inciting incident. Here, you escalate tension and problems, explore your characters. This is the biggest chunk of your book.
Climax – This is the sort of “moment of truth.” The culmination of everything–the highest point of tension. The point the plot has been leading up to.
Falling action – What goes up, must come down. This is where you resolve any subplots and side stories.
Resolution – Wrap up.
Here’s a quick visual representation with explanations below:
Here’s what happened in the plot of this video:
Set-up: Supporting cast prepping to roll our main character down a hill in a tire. We can tell from the vibe and energy that this is just some classic lad antics.
Rising action: The tension builds as our MC gains momentum, and we can’t tell what’s going to happen.
Climax: Our MC is speeding down the hill at this point, when he nearly collides with a moving vehicle! Then he disappears into the water! Is he okay? Tension is at its highest.
Falling action: Our hero is safe! The vehicle and driver are fine.
Resolution: His stoned pals cheer him on. All is well.
Your conflict should rise throughout (peaking at the climax).
During the editing process, a good practice is to look at each scene and ask if there is conflict within it.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or your beta readers):
Does the scene add to the overall plot?
Does the scene advance internal or inter-character relationships?
Does the scene add to a subplot?
Does the scene answer or bring about any plot-crucial questions?
The conflict could lend to the overall plot, a subplot, conflict between characters, or even a smaller conflict that is resolved within that scene. For a story to be interesting, there needs to be conflict.
Scenes that don’t add to that are fluff.
#5 – Resolution
I want to talk a little more about resolution, since it’s so important. How you end your story is what will sit with readers the longest.
What’s the culmination of all we went through during the story?
What did the characters learn that led them to the decisions they ultimately made? By the end of your story, all of your conflicts should have a resolution.
In some cases, conflicts are intentionally left a bit open-ended without a solid resolution, but this should be done intentionally and there should be somesort of resolution, even if it’s an unsatisfying ending with a little remaining mystery.
Further boiling a story down will reveal elements like themes, morals, and symbolism.
#6 – Themes
A theme is your story’s main takeaway. Your story can have one theme, or several.
Some examples of themes include:
Coming of age–what struggles come with it, what’s good about it
Forgiveness–trying to achieve it, avoiding it, accepting it
Death–overcoming it, processing it, fearing it
Love–overcoming it, processing it, fearing it (lol)
Good versus bad
The list is literally endless.
The theme of your story helps to focus the narrative and answers the question: What’s the point?
What have your characters learned? How are they changed, and what will they affect now that they are different?
#7 – Morals
The moral of your story is related to theme–what message do you want your story to convey?
If the theme is what the character learned, you can think of the moral as what the reader learned.
Let’s take a coming of age narrative–what are possible morals in that type of story?
Don’t grow up too fast
Follow your dreams
Listen to the wisdom of others
Accept yourself as you are
Appreciate where you are and what’s happening now
Consider what morals you want to convey, but avoid directly stating them when writing your book. This is part of the experience of reading your story…and that’s for the readers.
A symbol can be anything from an object, a character archetype, an animal, an occurrence in nature. A window, an estranged father, a lion, a storm, a desk, a fire.
Symbols have meaning connected to them.
Here are some examples of symbolism in stories:
A window might signify freedom, longing, hope.
A lion might be bravery.
A storm might be impending doom or threat.
A desk could indicate creativity, work, neglect.
It all depends on the context of the story and the connotations you assign to your symbols.
Themes, morals, and symbolism are fun writing tools and parts of a story to work with, but be cautious of relying on them. They’re icing and sprinkles–not the cupcake.
#9 – Point of view
The point of view of your story is simply who is telling the story. The most common in fiction are first-person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient.
First-person is the main character telling the story. It uses the pronouns I, me, myself.
A strength of using first-person is that your reader will connect with your character very easily–the reader essentially becomes the character. If done well, this is a very intimate reading experience.
A weakness of first-person is that your storytelling is limited to that perspective. It’s difficult to tell an entire story with a single, first-person narrator. It can be done, but it takes more effort than it might with a different point of view.
Here’s a first-person point of view example from my collection of short stories, Little Birds.
Third-person limited POV :
Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story. It uses the pronouns he, she, they.
Even though it’s an outsider narrator, third limited keeps us in the point of view of our character(s)–the reader only knows what the character knows.
A strength of third-person point of view is the versatility. It’s much easier to have multiple point of view characters with third-person, as opposed to first. You can also flow between third limited and third omniscient in a novel.
The weakness is you don’t get the closeness to the character you have in first-person, though this can still be created through strong character development and using the rule of show, don’t tell.
Here are our top tips for using Instagram the right way.
#1 – Create relevant content
Don’t panic already, ok? This doesn’t mean you’ll have to take photos of yourself or strip down for a good number of likes.
What I mean with creating relevant content is make your Instagram account about something you truly love.
Yes, you’re an author, but what kind of author? Will you share with your followers about your struggles of being an author?
Will you share your process your writing? Will you snap pretty pics of other books you’re reading and loving? Of your pet? Maybe your garden?
The point is, you’ll love it and your following will feel it and love you more for it.
#2 – Post regularly
Many often forget about this one, but you betta believe it when I tell you, this is probably the most important one!
By posting regularly, you’re showing up more often in other feeds and that will increase your chances of getting likes and comments on your photos, and even visits to your profile.
There are many arguments about when you should post and how many times per day, but there are also some great apps that evaluate what works best for your audience.
I always advice posting a photo once a day and not more because you don’t want to overdo it.
In general, the best times for posting are between 4pm and 7pm, which is when people are going back home from work.
However, you should also do what you feel is natural for you and your account.
Less is more but once a day is a must!
#3 – Post consistent content types
Now, when posting, you’ll have to think about what you want to post. This is your part of your job after all, so you should plan it just as you plan your writing.
The best rule to follow is post the same content. This might sound boring to you, but the most successful accounts started this way.
The same type of content, over and over again, and then they opened up to other things. But, in the beginning, it’s important that people will recognize your account as a whole and will want to follow you because you’re consistent and have a structure.
For visual ideas on how to do this, I recommend checking out this Instagrammer, who I love! Marlene uses the same type of content, similar backgrounds, several nuances of the same color, but every picture is unique and makes me wanna go back to her profile!
“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency.” – Dwayne Johnson
#4 – Create strong aesthetics
If you’ve noticed from the above screenshot of Thanks a Latte Blog’s account, you’ll find it extremely soothing and inviting. The reason why is her aesthetics.
When creating content and posting it, she’s clearly thinking it through.
In the first phase, you’ll have to do the same!
This might bother some of you, but no one can deny how beautiful an account like this looks. It appeals to the eye as a whole, but each photo is also carefully laid out.
For similar outcomes, look for a color palette and stick to it.
Using one main color and different nuances works out great and it won’t be a lot of work for you to figure out what goes well with what.
Another thing you can try to use is repetitive miscellaneous: either décor pieces you have around the house or flowers in the background, what’s important is that there is a nice wave between all your photos.
If you feel inspired looking at your feed, your followers will too!
#5 – Use high quality photos
You don’t need a professional camera for this! Don’t start making excuses.
Nowadays, our smartphones have good cameras that will just do if used in the best way possible. You’re starting out, you don’t need to spend all that money on something you probably won’t even know how to use!
The best advice for high-quality photos is natural lighting.
Honestly, it’s that simple. Natural light helps your photos look more alive and colorful and it’ll take you a whole less time to edit them—if you edit them at all!
If you’re on the lookout for a good photo editor (that is free!), I recommend using Lightroom or Snapseed.
They’re both really simple to use and many creators on the internet have developed presets that you can buy and use on your photos. If you really don’t know what to do with a photo editor, just buy a preset or two and you’ll be fine!
Just remember! Natural lighting!
#6 – Engage frequently on Instagram
Imagine this: you’re scrolling down on your feed, see a photo you love, you like it and decide to comment.
A simple comment but it’s there. You see another photo, like it, comment and so on. The first Instagrammer actually answers your comment on their photo.
Who do you think you’ll be more inclined to interact again with?
This is a no-brainer and it’s true for every and anyone out there. You’ll feel like you have a connection with this person, even if you’ve never met them in real life.
Answering every single comment, you get might be a difficult task to accomplish, especially if you have a larger following, but it’s Instagram 101.
Not to mention, all your lovely readers will feel SO special because their favorite author answered them!
One of the authors I’ve noticed does this extremely well is Ella Maise. She just knows how to connect with her followers in what feels a very natural way.
Make someone’s day: reply to them!
#7 – Share about your life
Now that we’ve discussed replying to your followers’ comments, I would like to tell you how important it is to use Insta Stories.
Again, you might be an introvert or a very private person, and that’s ok! But you can always share a few snaps that didn’t make it into your profile or a few short videos of your daily life.
You don’t even have to share your face, just record them when you’re taking a nice walk or doing something out and about.
I do recommend speaking though, because I feel that there is a special relationship that is developed when followers hear your voice and what you sound like. (It’ll be weird at the beginning, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly, I promise!)
“Happiness is only real when shared”
#8 – Host giveaways on Instagram
Not to quote Oprah or anything, but she was onto something! Hosting giveaways is one of the best ways to get out there and get some free promotion.
You’re an author with your author Instagram now, so it makes sense that your prizes are books.
I’d recommend starting with other author’s books because you can include them in the giveaway. For example, to win, one has to follow you, the author and comment on both profiles something related to you or the book. It doesn’t get much better than this!
To host something like this, it might take you a little longer to plan than just posting a photo, but the rewards might also be much higher.
Giving will translate into receiving…
#9 – Repost relevant content
Definitely repost photos and stories on your Insta Stories! I LOVE it whenever I get a notification that someone has re-posted a photo of mine and added a little thank you note or just simply tagged me over on their stories. It makes it personal and I always feel more likely to interact with that person again.
When reposting, I suggest going for anyone and everyone.
However, remember that popular Bookstagrams might help you get to larger audiences, so their support might be very well needed.
I’m not saying you should butter them up, but it is in your interest to interact with them. They also might be reviewing your books and publicity is always great!
As with everything, just don’t overdo it and your readers are your main base so don’t forget to share their stories too!
You’ll make their day!
#10 – Use the right #Hashtags
You want to connect with a specific audience.
What kind of audience do you have in mind?
Are they a niche audience?
Do you want to promote to everyone from the Bookstagram community?
What is your main target?
It’s important to know this beforehand because the use of hashtags is incredibly necessary to start things off on Instagram.
You’ll reach more people by using them and by choosing the right ones, you’ll reach to the audience you want/need for your account.
These are some of my favorites to use when targeting the Bookstagram community:
These guidelines won’t work if you don’t feel like this is something natural in your life. Yes, it’ll take some time to get used to it, but in the end, if it makes you feel stressed or you start overthinking it, just ditch these!
Your Instagram account needs to be a reflection of your life as an author, of the things you love to do and everything you’re willing to share with the people who love and support you the most: your readers!
Whatever, however, and whenever you want to give them something, share with them, give them sneak peeks of future books or just talk about your day, they’ll be there for you!
Instagram is supposed to be fun, a lot of fun! If you spend too much time tying to snap the perfect photo, you won’t have any time left for your book! Just jump on the rollercoaster (hopefully now, after having read these tips, with a better security belt) and see where it takes you.