1. WHO are the characters?
2. WHAT do the characters need/want?
3. WHERE does it happen?
4. WHEN does it take place?
5. WHY does it happen?
6. HOW did it happen?
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1. Start with tension
Time and time again you’ll hear fiction writers and instructors tell you to start with action. This is flawed advice. Why? What good is the action if it isn’t grounded in context that’s important to the story or draws you to the main character? It’s better to start with tension, like a character falling short on getting something he wants—can’t save the life of a loved one, can’t beat a rival in a race, etc.
2. Know what your characters’ wants are
Interesting stories come from characters who want something. Romeo and Juliet want each other. Harry Potter wants to beat Draco Malfoy and Slytherin in Quidditch. Hannah Baker wants the people who led her to commit suicide know how they hurt her. Writing a fiction book requires that you have compelling characters, and characters who have strong wants and desires are the most compelling kind there are.
3. End each chapter on a cliff
OK, you don’t have to end each chapter on an actual cliff, but you do need to leave them with unanswered questions. This doesn’t mean you can’t answer questions during the book, it just means you need to create new ones as you go along. Be creative. Fiction is built on the curiosity of readers. If you don’t spark their curiosity (especially at the end of a chapter), what incentive do they have to start the next one?
4. Give your characters obstacles
The obstacles can be as difficult as you want (and should be pretty darn difficult to help spice up the story). But the key here is that they have to be able to overcome the obstacle no matter what it is—drug addiction, in love with a person who’s on the antagonist’s side, etc. Fictional writing is strongest when characters face tough odds and still come through in the end.
5. Understand your audience
Are you writing a fantasy novel? A crime novel? Erotica? Fiction genres are different and are told in different ways, so audiences of each have different expectations that you need to cover. For example, if you’re writing crime fiction, you have to reveal what happened early and spend the novel solving the crime (and the whodunit). If you’re writing a thriller, your story is dedicated to characters trying to stop whatever it is from happening.
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