5 Tips For Writing Better Fiction (Even If You're Just Starting Out)

characters story structure
5 Tips For Writing Better Fiction (Even If You're Just Starting Out)

Ever wish you could see a peek into someone else’s process? Or download the most impactful writing tips from all around the internet? ME TOO! 

Although I can’t give you either of those things *exactly*, I asked a handful of my peers to send in their favorite writing tips for the most recent episode of the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast.  

In the episode, you’ll hear from other editors and coaches like Emily Golden, Daniel David Wallace, Nicole Meier, Abigail K. Perry, and yours truly. Some of the tips are born from their own personal experience writing fiction, and others come from working with writers 1:1. ALL of them are juicy and helpful. Let’s dive in!

5 Tips For Writing Better Fiction (Even If You’re Just Starting Out)

Tip #1: Embrace scene structure so that you can (more easily) write a story that has narrative drive from start to finish. 

Hey, everyone! I'm Emily Golden. I am an owner and book coach at Golden May, as well as an adult fantasy author. I work with tenacious writers to ditch hustle culture and merge their unique brains with craft knowledge that works. So you can develop a process that gets you across the finish line, book after book.

When Savannah asked me to share my favorite tip for writing a novel, scene structure immediately came to mind. When I first started writing, I didn't understand what a scene was. I knew it had to take place in a certain setting, and something had to happen, but I didn't really understand the purpose of a scene within my story.

And so I had a lot of scenes that meandered, and I started a lot of scenes with my characters sitting and standing in places and thinking about things without any action, because I was setting up context. Too often, writers in that situation that I was in approached the page with a kind of visceral trepidation.

They ask themselves questions like where should I start this scene? How long should it be? How do I establish context and jump into action right away? Are there too many characters on the page? How do I know if this scene is interesting enough? And these aren't bad questions, but they're often the wrong questions. 

Even if you've studied scene structure, it's easy to fall into the trap of looking at your scene in isolation. But scenes are not isolated moments. Scenes are links in the chain of your story. And learning how scenes link together changed the way that I see stories forever. So let's talk about the chain.

In each scene, your character should open with a goal that gets shoved off track by a conflict that eventually forces a character to make a choice. The resulting consequences of that choice should change something that sets up the circumstances of the next scene. In this way, scenes are forming a chain of reactions from the start of your story to the end.

So it looks something like this. Goal, conflict, choice, Consequences.  Goal. Conflict. Choice. Consequences. Goal. Conflict. Choice. Consequences. I think you get the picture. Your mission as a writer is to keep this chain as tight as possible. If you remove a link, it should break the chain. If you can't fit a link, then the chain doesn't need it.

By doing this, you'll ensure that your character's choices are always setting up the next scene, so that your readers feel a cohesive sense of direction and connection that keeps the pages turning. 

Now my favorite part about this is that ready built into this chain of goal, conflict, choice, and consequences, is the tie between your external story plot and your internal character arc.

What your character wants and what they believe will show up in their scene goals and choices. And that gives you space to build their character arc over your story, scene by scene. Your story's plot shows up in the scene's conflicts, in what's happening externally that's getting in the way of your character getting what they want. 

And the most magical part is that the consequences of every scene tie both your story's plot and your character's arc together by having the choices that your character makes shape the plot of future scenes. If you've achieved that tight chain, then you know your plot and character arcs are working really well together.

You know you have a tight story that's driving from beginning to end. If this is a new way of thinking about scenes for you, I would start by zooming out and looking for the chain.  Start at the beginning of your story and ask yourself, for each scene, what's my character's goal? What conflict gets in the way of that goal? 

What choice does my character make in the face of that conflict? And how do the consequences of that choice set up the next scene? Follow those questions slowly through your scenes. If you find it hard to determine goals, you might revisit your character's desires. If you find it hard to determine choices for your scenes or find choices in your scenes, you might see where you can give your character more opportunities to act on the page.

And if you find scenes that don't link together, you probably don't need them. Wishing you all the best with your plotting, drafting, and revising. Happy writing! 

Want to get in touch with Emily? You can find her at goldenmayediting.com, on her podcast called Story Magic, or over on Instagram @ebgoldenbooks.


Tip #2: Focus on the forward action of your story to avoid bogging the reader down with too much backstory or exposition. 

Hi everybody. Thank you so much to Savannah for inviting me to be part of this. My name is Daniel David Wallace. I am the creator of the Character First Writing Approach, which I teach in courses and live classes, and I'm the host of Escape the Plot Forest, an annual summit all about storytelling, planning, plotting, and drafting.  

So, the technique I'd like to share today is simple. To focus on the forward action of your story.  I feel like so many writers come to me with stories they would like advice on, and they arrive with extremely developed backstories. And yet, the present action of their tale is hazy. There's often a time when we ask them, about the halfway point or maybe even earlier, and they're not sure what's going to happen in their story even though they can tell you so much about every supporting character. 

It's totally understandable to not always know where your story is going, but sometimes it seems like these writers, and I include myself in this; the more they work on their story, it is not that more story appears, but rather more back story appears.  If that sounds anything like you, then I'm sorry! 

All I'm trying to say today is, try to focus your pre-writing, drafting, and revising efforts on the present moment of your story. I mean, keep it really simple. Imagine the moment you write your first page. A clock has started ticking.  

The reader has questions about the situation you've created, the character,  the setting, the plot. They want to see those questions answered in the forward time of that ticking clock, not backward. Before the clock starts ticking, they are kind of unsure what they think about anything. What they want to see is, does she get what she wants? Does he get his act together? Does this other person end up with the person they like. Do they survive? All kinds of things.

That's their primary interest. Now, I know this sounds like I'm attacking flashbacks. But I like a good flashback. I actually mean my advice more broadly. Sometimes, even when a story is technically moving forward, you know, it's 9am in chapter 1, it's 10am in chapter 2, it's 4pm in chapter 3, the story is technically moving forward in time.

But it can sometimes feel like we're meeting new people, we're arriving at new scenes, just to give the excuse of releasing more backstory, more context, more world-building, and more deep analysis. 

An analogy is coming. Imagine you're walking in a desert and you see an upside down pyramid, an inverted pyramid. And as you get towards it, you see there's a door at the tip of the pyramid right by the sand. You can actually climb right in. And you realize once you're inside the pyramid, it's designed to be this way. It's small at first,  And easy to explore, but you can tell that more is coming. There's a big pyramid above you, that you can start exploring bit by bit. 

As you get more used to the pyramid, it expands, and there's more and more interesting stuff there.  Obviously, that's what I think a novel probably should be. It should start simply and clearly to the reader and then expand. Instead, many novels in progress feel like a normal pyramid just to get up to the next floor. You've got to explore so much, you have to ingest so much backstory and context that it can feel kind of draining. So if you're a writer, I'm saying focus your attention on the present moment of your story.  Before you start the actual writing process and when you're into it,  ask yourself, how can I slow down moments in my present story; moments of discovery, of revelation? 

I've got to try to avoid rushing interesting scenes. Maybe I can insert additional beats, additional setbacks, or false victories. How long can you take to write out the moment where your character walks up to someone and asks them for a dance, overhears someone they trust saying something shocking, or tries to persuade a tired secretary to let them see the hospital records? 

Elongate these scenes, I say. But instead, just hint at past mysteries, just refer to world-building features, just indicate a character's deepest lack, at least until we're deep into the novel. Build that inverted pyramid, your readers will thank you. Thank you so much for listening to this. Thank you, Savannah. 

Want to get in touch with Daniel? You can find him at danieldavidwallace.com or on Instagram at @writingdaniel.


Tip #3: Pay equal attention to developing your protagonist’s inner journey as you do developing your story’s plot.

 Hi everyone, I'm Nicole Meier; author, book coach, and developmental editor! I also host the Steps to Story podcast for emerging authors. I work with fiction writers who are looking to craft strong manuscripts and develop a strong writing community in order to follow their novel-writing dreams. When Savannah asked me to share my favorite writing tip, I knew immediately what I wanted to share, and that is, know your protagonist and map out their journey. 

Okay, first, here's a secret. I write character-driven novels. In fact, my fourth book releases this year! But I'm going to admit that mapping out my character's journey was something I didn't even consider in the early days. The result was feedback from agents who said things like, “love the premise, can't connect with the protagonist.”

Yikes! Not what I wanted to hear, right?  That's why I love working with writers now, over a decade later, because I want to save you from this kind of feedback. It wasn't until I really understood that you could map out a protagonist's inner journey, much like you'd map out your book's plot, that something clicked into place.  

So, here are some things to consider when it comes to your story's protagonist. First, ask yourself whose story you're telling. Sure, you know things about your main character, but consider whether or not you've gone deep enough when it comes to knowing them.  This is where I'll pause and say that when working with writers, I've found that one of the top reasons they get stuck isn't writer's block. 

It's actually because they don't know their protagonist well enough. So, I encourage you to take your time to consider your main character's inner journey. One that allows them to grow, learn, and evolve throughout the story.  Make sure you understand their “big want” on both an internal and external level. And think about the why behind them wanting this. 

Once you have this, you can then move on to listing out what's standing in their way. How will they push through adversity to reach their goal? Each of these elements will feed into your protagonist's arc of change, that thing that causes them to come out as an evolved person by the end of the book. 

If you want a fun exercise, I recommend doing a bit of free writing around these questions in order to get really clear. If you want, set a timer and write down everything that's top of mind without self-editing. Then walk away and come back to it a day or so later with fresh eyes.  Next, I would encourage you to get crafty. 

Grab some paper and colored pens, or if you're like me, grab a whiteboard. I love a good whiteboard! Begin to create a kind of map that represents your character's journey. This can take the form of bullet points, a drawing, or a mind map, which is a fancy word for brain dump with graphics. Treat this project like a fun experiment that you can keep adding to as your ideas come. 

Finally, don't forget to keep this map somewhere in your workspace, where you can refer to it often and let it inform your scenes as you write forward.  Okay, I hope you find this helpful. Happy creating, everyone, and thanks, Savannah. 

Want to get in touch with Nicole? You can find her at nicolemeier.com, listen to her podcast Steps To Story, or connect with her on Instagram @nicolemeierwrites.


Tip #4: Maximize your story’s midpoint to avoid getting stuck in the messy middle of act two—and to show readers what your story’s really about. 

 Hey everyone! I'm Abigail Perry, a book coach, and certified developmental editor who specializes in book club fiction, women's fiction, curio fiction, YA fantasy, and the query process. I'm also the creator and host of the podcast Lit Match, which helps writers find the best literary agent and business partner for their writing career by learning how to blend business with passion. 

Savannah asked me to share my favorite writing tip, and I knew immediately what I wanted to talk to you about. She's probably not surprised about what I picked.

As both a writer and a book coach, one of the key fiction elements that I love to emphasize with writers is the importance of writing a knockout midpoint scene for your story.

In my opinion, the midpoint is one of the most important moments in your story since this is the moment that blends the “A” story or plot, main plot line, with the “B” story, which is the character and internal arc.  By doing this, you drastically raise the stakes for your story, both externally and internally. Plus the midpoint is the moment that I think tells us what the story is really about. 

Before I learned about midpoints with my first a-ha moment coming from James Scott Bell's book Super Structure, I was struggling to build the stakes in the middle of my story. Muddle through the middle was a real reality for me as I trudged forward with plot events that often failed to be character-led and felt like they just were filler moments. 

I constantly felt frustrated by this, looking for ways to create plot events that felt like they had meaning with rising stakes, instead of having awareness about where my plot was going and why this mattered to the character.  

Today, I want to give you the key details you need to know about planning and writing your midpoint. My favorite tips come from James Scott Bell's craft resources, Write Your Book From The Middle, and Super Structure, as well as Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.  

So some quick bullets for you... The midpoint happens at the 50% mark in your story. If you were to open up your book and divide your pages in the middle, it's happening right on these pages or around these pages.  

It's also known as a mirror moment. A mirror moment means that this event forces the main character, the protagonist, to look inward in a metaphorical mirror and question if who they are at that moment in the story is the type of person that they want to be. And from that moment, are they going to move forward, and start to become the person that they want to be, or are they going to turn the other way?   

Midpoints are either a false triumph, meaning that your protagonist has succeeded so far, or a false failure, if your protagonist has failed so far. They're big plot events that either seem like the greatest triumph or failure your protagonist has had in the story. Depending on that, Act 2 (part 1), or you might hear it as a “Fun & Games” beat, will determine if your midpoint is going to be a false triumph or a false failure. If they're going well, it's usually a triumph. If they're going poorly, it's going to be a failure.  

The “A” and “B” stories also merge at the midpoint, which means that the plot and the internal arc fuse together at this moment. And therefore, I believe this also tells us what the story is really about. Going forward from this moment, the character going back to that metaphorical mirror; that mirror moment is going to constantly be aware of how the events are impacting their growth and their change. And that's going to be reinforced by what the main stakes of the novel are.  

The protagonist is also going to go from reactive to active in the midpoint moment. Typically, what happens is up to the midpoint, the protagonist is pretty much reacting to their events. That by no means means that they're not making decisions in the story and on a scene level, but it does mean that usually, events are commonly happening to them instead of them actually initiating action and moving forward on their own terms. So after the midpoint moment, they start to usually take action and initiative as they're going toward their climactic moment.   

Some examples of what a midpoint moment might be, are an intimate moment, if it's a romance, this could be their first time having sex, or this could be a big confession of love. Another example could be that they're taking on a big performance. If we are dealing with some sort of sports story or another type of performance story, a time clock could be introduced. We could even hit an iceberg! Those are just some examples of what a midpoint might look like. 

The Hunger Games is my personal favorite; it's a pretty miraculous midpoint in the first book and really defines what the story is on both a plot and character level. So the midpoint moment for the Hunger Games is the moment that Katniss is trapped in the tree by the Careers and she decides to cut down the tracker jacker nest. And in that, because of her action there, she's faced with this decision of if she's going to continue running in the games and not fighting back, and therefore inevitably going to be killed; or if she's going to start fighting back.

And when she cuts down the tracker jacker nest and gets her first kill, simultaneously in that same scene, we also see the stakes being raised drastically in the love story. Because Katniss is questioning whether or not Peta is for her or against her because Peta actually saved her life in that moment as she tries to escape and she's stung by the Tracker Jackers. 

And also from that moment, we see Katniss really start to take initiative again, going from reactive to active as she starts to form an alliance with Rue. She comes up with the plan to take out the food for the careers. She is the one who goes and finds Peeta when the when the rules are changed. And there's a succession of events that continue to challenge her internal arc and who she sees as the real enemy and helping her bring that into her gameplay. 

I want to emphasize from my own experience, that once I started to understand midpoints, I started to have a great deal more confidence in understanding how to raise the stakes in the story. And ensure that when I'm coaching or writing stories myself, they are character-driven novels that contain plot.

Planning and writing the middle no longer felt like I was just throwing out filler moments. They started to have a north star that the main plot worked towards and built from as it moved towards the end of Act 2, and eventually into the climactic moment. And all of this happens while becoming increasingly more personal to the protagonist, that B story. 

I hope that understanding midpoints does the same for you. And if you ever want to chat about midpoints, I love this. This is one of my all-time favorite topics. Please reach out to me. I'd love to hear what some of your favorite midpoint moments are in stories, and we can nerd out. Good luck, everyone!

Want to get in touch with Abigail? You can find her at abigailkperry.com, listen to her podcast LitMatch, or connect with her on Instagram @abigailkperry.


Tip #5: If you’re feeling stuck, consider what perspective you’re currently in (author, character, or reader) and dip into another perspective to get unstuck. 

 Hello, everyone. It's me, Savannah Gilbo. I couldn't resist throwing my own tip into this episode because it's one I've seen help a lot of the writers in my group coaching program lately. And the tip is to think about the three perspectives that come into play when you’re writing or editing a book. 

Perspective #1 is the author’s perspective. As the author, you know everything there is to know about your story, your characters, your world, etc. 

Perspective #2 is the character’s perspective. It is limited by what the character knows in the story at any given time and filtered through their worldview.

Perspective #3 is the reader’s perspective. It’s what the reader sees and experiences, which could be the same or different from what your character sees and experiences. Sometimes, the reader has more information than the characters, or vice versa.

Those are the three perspectives. And the way I like to think about this, or how I like to use it in practice is… Let’s say you’re writing a scene and you’re feeling stuck. You can zoom out and say, “Okay, what perspective am I in right now? Am I trying to be in all the perspectives at once? Or am I maybe stuck in the author’s perspective, which means I know everything that’s going to happen in the future… I know everything that has happened in the past… And because of that, I’m feeling stuck on what this character would do in the moment.” 

So, if you’re feeling like this in a scene, and you realize you’re stuck in the “author’s perspective,” you can start to become aware of it and say, “Okay, now I need to zoom into my character’s perspective to keep moving forward.”  

And there are a couple of ways you can do this, depending on your style. You can journal from that character’s perspective. You can play music that reminds you of that character. Or, for some writers, I know it’s as simple as just being aware of needing to zoom into their character’s perspective and it’s like flipping a switch. Basically, do whatever you need to get in your character’s head.

This is super helpful because if you are one of these people who tends to get stuck in that “author’s perspective,” and it feels like everything there is to know about your story is kind of swirling around in your head, zooming into your character’s perspective and experiencing the scene level from their perspective grounds you. 

You’re on the ground with the character, experiencing the events of the scene. This helps you make sure the decisions, consequences, and things that happen are properly affecting that person or that character. And that there are immediate results to whatever that character’s doing or deciding or trying to accomplish in that scene.

The other day, I was working with a writer and she was like, “I’m not sure what my character would do next! There are so many possible options and I can’t decide, especially given where the story’s going and things like that.” So, I helped her zoom out of her author perspective and told her to forget everything you know about where the story’s headed for the moment—we’d come back to that soon. 

And then I had her write out a list of ten possible actions her character could take next based on the logical next steps from the character’s point of view. 

So, again, the character doesn’t know how the story’s going to end. They don’t know what kind of conflict is coming down the pipeline, right? All they know is what’s happening in that moment, on that day in their life. 

And long story short, she did write down ten actions her character could take based on what had just happened in the previous scene, and guess what? She didn’t use any of those ten options, but listing out those options gave her an idea and enabled her to move forward. 

I really like this kind of exercise because it gets you into your character’s head, and it starts to limit your options. There are an infinite number of choices you could make, right? Which can be pretty overwhelming… 

So, in this instance, it helped the author I was working with get out of her head and it allowed her to say, “Okay, with the limited knowledge this character has right now, what might they do next?” It was a very helpful exercise for her, and it could be for you too.

Now, let’s say that you’re someone who tries to balance all three perspectives at once. You might be writing a scene when you start thinking, “From the author’s perspective, I know I need to set this thing up… And then my character’s really mad because of XYZ… On the other hand, I want my reader to be thinking this, this, and this, and there’s a red herring I need to set up to do that…” 

The list goes on and on and it ends up feeling like it’s too much or too hard. I know this is where a lot of writers get stymied and they get stuck or overwhelmed. No wonder, right? There are a lot of things to manage when writing a book!

So, if you feel like you're one of these writers, just try to gain awareness of when this is happening in the moment and acknowledge it. Say, “Okay, clearly I’m having one of those moments where I’m trying to be in all the perspectives and that’s not very conducive to what I’m doing in the moment.” And then decide which perspective will be the most beneficial for you to focus on going forward. 

If you’re writing a scene, maybe your character’s perspective is the most helpful at that moment. Not to be confused with point of view, right? This is just whose perspective you’re experiencing the story through at any given moment. Similar to point of view, I guess, but different in this context.

If you’re working on an outline—let’s say you finished your first draft and you’re creating a reverse outline so you’ve listed out all the scenes and you’re now editing the big picture of your story via that outline. Maybe you’re getting stuck in all three perspectives. So you’re trying to think about what your characters know at any given time, and about how you’re reader’s feeling, and what you need to figure out and set up as the creator of this story, and all the things.  

Sometimes it’s really helpful to do three separate passes of your outline from each one of the perspectives. 

So, maybe you go through a pass of your outline thinking, “As the author, I know that structurally, this needs to happen here, or I need to do this in order for something else to happen later, right? Whatever is it… You do this and go through one whole pass looking at the story from your author’s perspective.

In the next pass, you might say, “Okay, now I’m in my character’s head. How does the logic feel from scene to scene? Does this character’s choices make sense from their perspective, given the limited knowledge they have at any given time? Do their decisions and actions lead into the next scene? Are their emotions on the page in every scene? If not, what can I do to fix it?” And things like that. So, that would be your second pass through the outline, focusing on the character’s perspective. 

Then on the third pass, you could go through your outline and say, “Okay, I have a red herring (as an example), what will this look like from the reader’s perspective? Will they buy into my red herring or not? If not, how can I fix it or lay better clues or distractions?” And you want to track how the reader will experience the story that you're giving them. So, does everything make sense, given the information the reader has?  

I find this kind of exercise super helpful to do, especially in this outlining or reverse outlining stage. But honestly you can do it at any time. 

A lot of writers try to hang out in all three perspectives at once and it gets overwhelming fast. It's like having three or more voices in your head, and It makes the writing process or the editing process that much more difficult.  

So, if this resonates with you, then I would love for you to put a sticky note on your desk with a reminder that there are three perspectives—or three angles from which you need to look at your story: author, character, and reader. 

Put that sticky note by your desk or in your notebook because I do find this to be very helpful when you’re stuck in the weeds or when maybe you need to get in the weeds a little more. It works both ways and it’s a great tool to get unstuck. So that's one of my favorite tips—and it’s going to bring our episode to a close.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found these writing tips helpful! I love hearing what has moved the needle for other people, or what those big a-ha moments were that helped them become better writers. I think it’s so fascinating, and we have so much to learn from each other—no matter where you’re at on your writing, editing, or publishing journey.

If any one of these writing tips stood out to you as especially helpful, do reach out to the coach or editor who shared the tip—I’m sure they’d love to hear from you!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →