For Writing Better Stories: 12 Great Tips You’ve Probably Never Heard

Writers receive writing advice all of the time, in conferences, workshops, blogs, etc. Some advice you’ve probably heard a million times, like, “Read a lot” and “Write. Write. Write.” Advice given by authors and writing experts is designed to help us become better writers — improving the craft of writing.

What I don’t see in print a lot is advice to help us write better stories. Ergo, this post. After all, the overall goal of becoming a better writer is to tell great stories.

Below I’ve compiled a list of 12 tips from literary agents and authors who’ve dispensed sage advice that I think will help us write better stories. Here goes:

1. Don’t start the opening scene with the person waking up. This theme is too overdone. – Literary Agent at DFW Writers Conference

2. First impressions are important. Don’t waste the chance to let the reader know who your protagonist is. – James Callan

3. You only have a page or two to hook your reader. – Mike Farris

Build action or tension into the opening scene. Action and/or tension creates interest and draws the reader into the story, enticing them to keep reading. Get into the action sooner rather than later.

4. Every scene in your story should engage at least 3 of the 5 senses: Taste, Touch (texture); Smell (exhaust fumes from a car, garlic breath, cologne, smoke from a burning building) Sound; and Sight – Lena Dooley

5. Good story telling must have a universal theme – Love, Rejection, Redemption, Hope, Common Fears, etc. – Mike Farris

6. Characters are more important than anything. If we like them and feel connected to them, we continue reading the story even if the plot isn’t great. – Literary Agent at Netwo Conference

7. Good characters are not all good and bad characters are not all bad. Characters should have shades. – Jim Donnivan

The villain has a heart, and the hero has great flaws. – Ann Lamott (Bird by Bird)

8. Stack the deck against the protagonist. Have her overcome great obstacles with out-of-the-box thinking, and with grace and good humor. – Kathleen Kent

9. The point of view should be written from the standpoint of the person who has the most to lose. – Lena Dooley

10. Get your main character on the page as soon as possible. He needs to be introduced by the second chapter. – Mike Farris

11. Characters are not developed by what you say about them, but rather what other characters say about them. – Kathleen Kent

12. Characters are more interesting when they have secret desires (they do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do); have secret hurts (ones they never told anyone), or secret plans. This can be revealed through internal dialogue or exposition. – Lena Dooley

What about you? Do you have a tip or two that will help us write better stories. If you do please drop me a line.



5 thoughts on “For Writing Better Stories: 12 Great Tips You’ve Probably Never Heard

  1. Blake Snyder suggested a kind act by the main character to get sympathy for him or her early in the story in his book, Save the Cat. Another mentor I had suggested a big act of kindness, over and above what one would normally do, later in the story.

    • Both great suggestions! The main character can be flawed and messed up but if we can be sympathic toward them and care about them, we’ll keep reading. Thanks so much, Carolyn for sharing!


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