Tag Archives: research

Writing Fiction: 3 Tips To Make Your Story Real

Writing Fiction: 3 Tips To Make Your Story Real

You’re writing fiction — telling stories. You want your stories to be real to your readers. Let’s look at some ways in which you can do that.

An aside. In your first draft, it’s best to get your story written. If you tinker too much, you’ll lose your inspiration, and creative flow. Keep the following tips in mind for your second draft. At that stage, you’ve got your story down. Now’s the time to make it entertaining.

1. Who, what, why, when, and where — answer readers’ questions (slowly)

Ask yourself the 5Ws for each scene:

  • Who’s in the scene?
  • What are they doing?
  • When are they doing it?
  • Why are they in the scene (goals, motivation)?
  • Where’s the scene taking place?

In your first draft, you’re sketching your story. Later, fill in the 5Ws. Create a little checklist for yourself, so that you know what needs to go into each scene.

Be careful with the “why”. I’m not a fan of backstory. Keep your story moving forward. It some stage you’ll need to reveal your hero’s tortured soul so that readers can understand him. However, do it at the right time. Recently I read a thriller where the action stopped, so that the hero could tell his sidekick a story about his childhood. An action scene’s the wrong time for backstory.

Maintain your reader’s curiosity

Curiosity — suspense — keeps readers reading. So maintain that. Be chary about what what you reveal via the 5Ws. Don’t reveal too much too soon. New fiction writers explain too much; try to avoid that.

Read Elmore Leonard to see how to maintain readers’ curiosity by feeding in facts only as needed.

2. Draw a map: locate your characters in time and place

Setting is vital. I read a lot of commercial fiction. Few writers today do setting well. Their story could be taking place anywhere, at any time. You’re not a Victorian novelist, so limit your descriptions, but use sensory details: sight, sound, smell, so that you put your readers right into the middle of your scenes.

Draw a floor plan if many of your scenes take place in a character’s home. Draw a street plan of the town in which your action takes place.

Check Google Maps to see how long it would take your hero to drive across town. Recently I read a Regency novel set in 1803. The hero and heroine made the trip from London to Scotland in a few hours. Impossible in 1803.:

Scotland is about 320 miles from London. Even on the Great North Road, the main thoroughfare from London to Edinburgh, the trip, at the average carriage pace of about 5-7 miles an hour (we’ll assume 7), twelve hours a day, would take about four days.

You don’t need to worry about this kind of thing in your first draft. In later drafts however, checking the details is essential.

You’re entertaining your readers, and to do that, you need to do everything you can to make your story real to them. Every author makes mistakes; it’s inevitable. If you’re wondering about something: check — Google it at the very least.

3. Your characters’ dialogue: a lawyer talks like a lawyer

Your hero’s 38. He’s an industrialist. Your story’s set in 1900. How does he speak? You can have him speaking in any way you choose, but he can’t sound like his 5-year-old son. Or his 70-year-old father.

If your story’s a contemporary, your main character, a female surgeon, won’t speak the way her accountant does.

I’m always advising my students to read their stories aloud. It’s an easy way to check to see whether your characters sound right.

Again, checking and crafting dialogue is something you’ll do after you’ve written your first draft. It’s easier then, because you know who your characters are.

Imagine your story as a movie. Run it in your head. Then write down what your characters say. This is fun, and it’s an easy way to make your stories not only more enjoyable for you, but for your readers too.

So there you have it. Three tips to help you to make your stories real. Keep them in mind as you write your first draft. Use the tips in your second draft.

Write on… 🙂

Story Power: short stories made easy

Story Power

Story Power — insider secrets of writing short stories and making them work for you: writing serials, and series.

Write with me: over four weeks, you’ll discover HOW to not only write short fiction, but also make money at it. I make a very nice income ghostwriting fiction for clients, and also selling my own short fiction under various genre pen names.

When you’re writing historical romance  (or anything historical), please research.

I’ve been writing Regencies, and the material on the Web which is available at a click is mind-blowing. To repeat… the material is available at a click. Yes, confirm information  from a few sources, but do try to get your facts right. You’ll make mistakes. As a reader, I’ll forgive a lot, but not a constant stream of errors.

I enjoyed this review, although I wager the book’s author didn’t:

“4) Here’s a few more – they are installed in the house owned by the Marquess, formerly belonging to his grandmother, and none of the society gossip-mongers wonders about this? And her mother’s old friend, Lady Caroline, offers to get them vouchers for Almacks? Not if she isn’t a patroness she won’t. And what is the deal with a bunch of men suddenly paying visits to the 5 women in their home? Without ever being introduced, since they had not yet been into society? I don’t think so. Just as they would have had a hard time being invited to the Duchess of Dorset’s ball without having been properly introduced and vetted for their acceptability into society first.”

My apologies to the book’s author for calling out this review. I haven’t read the book. For all I know it’s excellent,  but  I’m using the review to point out the importance of research.

If you’re writing historicals, read others’ reviews of books set in your time period. You’ll soon get a feel for the woeful mistakes which rile readers.

Here’s what annoys me about this kind of thing: the author spends a lot of time writing the best book he or she can. With just a tiny amount of care, the book could be so much better — and sell better — and one-star reviews could be avoided.

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

The Horror: The Internet is WRONG


Are you doing all the research for your book online? Chances are you’re getting information which is either incomplete, or totally wrong.

Please do some real research. Fire a gun. Ride a horse. Get into a balloon, and take a short flight.

This wonderful article, Bacon, Booze and Books: What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank | David Gaughran, made me giggle:

“… did you know that the internet can be wrong? It’s often wrong, in fact, if you are looking in the wrong places. It’s difficult to tell who is writing the information. While researching my book, I had people share their favorite links on various topics. One of them? After some digging, was written by a group of junior high students as a class project. Most people just look at content, when they should be looking at source.”

Krista’s right about boiling pig fat. I’ve done it too, and it’s a messy, smelly process. 🙂

No one’s suggesting that you grab a pig carcase and have at it, but it couldn’t hurt, especially if you care about what you write.

Nothing annoys me more, for example, than reading an historical novel, and reading that the hero and heroine galloped everywhere. They gallop for hours. Nonsense. Even a short gallop of a couple of minutes takes a lot out of a horse. Their horses would be dead, and so would they, because tired horses trip and go down. Nasty things happen to riders when they do.

It’s hard to get every little thing about your book right. You will make mistakes. I remember reading a book from a very famous, bestselling author. The hero drove along a particular road in Sydney. I know that road, and what he wrote couldn’t happen. It spoiled the book for me, because I was instantly dragged out of the book, and couldn’t get back into it.

Accept that you’ll make mistakes. They’re inevitable. However, being aware of research — and doing it — will make you a better writer.

Tip: be aware of continuity mistakes, as well as general mistakes. If your heroine is wearing boots in a scene, and then you mention that she’s barefoot as she flees into the night, either forget the boots entirely, or show her removing them.

Remember to create a timeline, and enter the events of your novel onto the timeline. Be aware of weather, days of the week, etc. It makes a difference.