Tips for Story Writing

As my time as a creative writing student at NC State comes to a close, I’ve been collecting all of the best advice I’ve gotten in my fiction and poetry writing workshops into one place that I can refer back to when I need some help. I’ll be posting the best of them here too, starting today with the best tips on writing stories from my fiction writing workshops.


1. Thoroughly and carefully think through your story idea before sitting down to write your first draft. However,  don’t think about it to the point that you over-complicate it, especially for a short story.

2. Try to give yourself as much freedom as possible in your first draft. If you imagine your antagonist in a purple suit, let him wear one. If you want cats to come through doing a line dance, bring ’em on.

3. Know your primary characters inside and out. It’s good to know a lot more about your primary characters than ever goes into your story. I often sketch little drawings of my characters and write out everything I know about them, so that I have something to refer back to when I’m writing.

4. State your characters’ preferences and character traits only sparingly – show instead.

5. Create antagonists who are real and sympathetic.

6. Balance narration, description, and dialogue. Everyone will tell you that action and dialogue are most important, but don’t overlook the importance of exposition. Good exposition is just as important as good dialogue.

7. Give your story a sense of urgency that will keep your readers interested and engaged.

8. Remember that sometimes scenes can be most effective if they happen “off stage”. The audience can imagine things like sex or death as more good, bad, scary, grisly, etc. than you can write them.

9. When writing dialogue, avoid using addresses (“Yes, Mother,” “Could you… Bob?”). Read dialogue out loud to test it.

10. Don’t use verbs and adverbs such as “She began to,” or “suddenly,” but show instead.

11. Use sensory details other than sight.

12. End on an image or an action, rather than a statement.

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