Learning From Practise – 5 Fiction Writing Tips Learnt from Trial and Error

Writing like anything improves (in theory) with practise but when I say practise what I really mean is learning from my mistakes. Here’s five things that are learned with time:

1. Representation through narrative.

The first mistake the majority of writers make, particularly when writing stories is in not understanding the difference between representation through narrative and conversation.  Conversation is like telling a story to your friends and just like with real-life conversations if doesn’t always sound as interesting on the page as it does in your had. Narrative, however creates scenes, perception, emotions, actions, plot etc, the entire story can be told in narrative.

Try again

Try again (Photo credit: Grey World)

That’s not to say that all conversation-like writing is bad as it depends what you want to achieve but too much can switch off your reader very quickly.

Example 1 – Conversation style of writing

Becky went to the local store and bought a pack of batteries thinking that today would be a great day as it was sunny. They were AAA and she needed them for her mp3 player but when she went to the shop it was being held up by a man in a mask. 

Example 2 – Narrative/Representation

AAA batteries. All she had gone in for was AAA batteries. A man with a black balaclava over his face was screaming at the man behind the counter waving a gun in his face. Everything was happening fast and yet the smallest details seemed to be magnified. Details like the man in the mask’s hands trembling and the gun shaking ever so slightly. Like the young kid whose mother clutched him to her, as her arms could be bulletproof in the face of such danger.

The first example could work if you were trying to represent a child’s view of the world in which their thoughts may follow this sort of innocent, sequential perspective but the second example has much more details about the event happening. The question you have to consider is whether you want to focus on the inner character more or the event more. Sometimes these overlap. As in all creative writing it depends on what you are trying to do but avoid writing whole novels in conversational style as this tends to sound more like telling you a long story (verbally). After all, how long can you concentrate when listening to one person? It’s just the same for your reader.

2. Scene Transitions – What? Where? Why?

One problem that many will come across when writing is how to represent the character’s movement from one place to another. This problem can occur because of plot difficulties but is often just something that comes up when writing a long story, particularly one with multiple locations or travelling. For example if you end a scene where your character is in one town and you want to show them taking a journey you can show them getting the bus or simply write that they will get the bus. Often you’ll see phrases like, the next day… or a week later… These phrases work well in a lot of cases but sometimes you’ll have a change in scenes that seems a bit confusing when you read it back or that seems to switch to abruptly. The only way to really remedy this is to consider the instances as they crop up. If you get stuck on one of these you might leave it as it is until you think of a way to fix it, or you might decided to rewrite it altogether. The main point to consider when you get this issue is `will the reader understand what’s happening?’. Unless you deliberately want to confuse your reader for some particular reason you should almost always consider this question when moving from one scene to another.

As always, there’s a reason you might want to deliberately jar your reader with confusion, such as if your character is disorientated or something has happened that they don’t understand:


“How did you say-?”
“It doesn’t matter just give me your cell phone.”

A room. A floor. She groaned.
“What the-?”
“Don’t move. There’s nothing you can do.”

Here the character has been rendered unconscious very quickly and woken, disorientated in a locked room with another captive. More information would need to be given gradually to help the reader understand this but the effect is that we observe the lapse of knowledge that the protagonist has about what’s happened and where she is.

3. Style of Writing and Effect

This relates closely to the previous two tips in that it’s about writing style and choice. When you first set out to write, you will write how you think you ought to based on your previous experience as a reader. The more you write though, the more you’ll realize that there are many different styles of writing that have different effects on the reader. You’ll also inevitably learn that most people have different opinions about what is effective and what isn’t which is why I always stress that my tips are based on my own likely biased opinions about creative writing. Sentence length affects the effects of prose, such as speed and pacing but also word choice and word order can dramatically change your style. The style of your writing relates to you voice as a writer but also how you want to represent things.

English: Graf Writer in a Mural

English: Graf Writer in a Mural (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One writer might write:
The twisted vines of society wrapped around his soul like bourgeoise critics around a misspelt editorial.

While another might write:
The review was brutal. It hit hard at his remaining pride. Why were people so cruel?

Another might even write:
What an awful review? Wow, she could almost cry if she wasn’t so angry.

Or even: Bad review for the show. Binned it.

Think of how many ways you could write just this scenario. Each one tells you something different about the person receiving the review and how they respond to it just by the choices made in writing style. Which you choose is up to you as the writer.

4. Plots Change

I nearly always start with some basic idea in mind that slowly becomes a plot and develops into a longer novel. However no matter how much planning you do, your plot will likely change as you are writing. This is because your brain will continue working on your project unconsciously when you aren’t thinking about it and will realise that it would be better if scene 1 became more like scene 3 or the character went to stay with a relative instead of to a hotel. Minor details can often crop up that you weren’t expecting and more often than not the direction of your story will change. This is good news though, because it means that you’ll take detours you never expected and sometimes find a hidden gem along the way.

5. There’s No Such Thing as Completely Unbiased.

All writing whether factual, educational or creative has a purpose. Whether the writer is aware of it or not they influence the text if they wrote it, because of course if they wrote it, they must have had to choose what to write. Think about this, if someone writes from a neutral stance it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any biases it just means that they chose to represent the text from a neutral stance. Given that you and your brain are technically inseparable you are not ever going to write without taking a viewpoint, even if that viewpoint is a neutral one. You may decide to portray someone else’s view but it’s still your view of someone else’s view and so is still a representation. All writing is a representation and therefore don’t worry too much about trying to take yourself out of it, because you can’t ever do that completely.

Hopefully, one of these tips helps a writer out there learn something that they didn’t know. If not, the main message I want to get across if that writing is learning. No matter what you try the only way to fix writing problems is to first come across them so always try to think about how your story reads or how others `might’ read it. I stress `might’ because, again there’s a debate whether we could ever know how someone else thinks or experiences something that we don’t but it’s still a good starting point when you encounter a problem with your writing.


3 thoughts on “Learning From Practise – 5 Fiction Writing Tips Learnt from Trial and Error

  1. I really relate to all of these points, but at this time particularly number 4. I’ve been writing short stories lately and it’s amazing how they develop without me ever really conciously thinking about them. I’ll just come back to it and realise that changes need to be made that seem to make so much more sense.
    It makes me think that you can write one story one day, and another story based on the exact same events but with a very different approach on another day. This emphasises that learning process as it happens, and it’s something I’m enjoying about my journey in being a writer.
    Keep blogging – love your posts! Cat x

  2. Pingback: Book Review | MFA Creative Writing Portfolio

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