Story Writing Tips and Tricks
So, you're either writing or want to write a story. Here is a list of tips and tricks that will help you on your way to achieving your goal.
1. Write Compelling Characters
Whether your character is human or not, your audience will want to read about a hero/heroine who acts like a real person. This means giving them a well rounded personality with a fairly equal amount of strengths and flaws. Having these flaws means that they have room to grow, or they could have a tragic flaw that becomes their downfall.
Example Tragic Flaw: John Proctor from The Crucible by Arthur Miller. He is a compelling character with a tragic flaw, he has too much pride. In the end it leads to his death.
Make sure your character fits the setting too. If you are writing a story in a historical realistic setting, let's say 15th century Japan, your character should look Japanese. Research the fashion, the politics, the names and the mannerisms of the period you write about. Don't give them a modern look, or an appearance that would never fit the time. If you are writing a fantasy story inspired by Japanese culture, it might still be an idea to research the culture, but you can put your own spin on things.
Example Inspired Settings: I am currently writing a story inspired by Asian cultures. My characters mostly fit the Asian-type setting, but there are definitely elements of fantasy. For example, I have a character called Feng Jiang (last name first two names = probably not a peasant), his appearance is a mixture of Chinese, Thai and Indian, but he has bright orange hair and amber eyes (fantasy twist).
It isn't wrong to give your characters a horrible past, in my opinion anyway, as long as it isn't used as an excuse for the things they do or to make everyone feel sorry for them. Also, don't do everything imaginable to them, one or two things, maybe. (Remember that a life isn't always sunshine and rainbows either, give them an even mix of highs and lows if you want an average past, or relatively good one.)
Example Tragic Pasts: (Using another character from my story.) In this world, there are children being born with the ability to control all five elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal), and the Emperor sees these children as impurities that need to be wiped out. Li is a victim of this genocide; his village was burnt to the ground, his family killed and his body covered in burn scars. He raised himself, becoming a thief to survive and is constantly on the run.
Remember that history affects personality. How do you imagine someone like Li sees other people? Would you expect him to trust them easily? Would you expect him to feel unwanted and lonely?
2. A Note on Villains
Give your villains a motive, and I don't mean being evil for the sake of being evil. Even if you are writing a story set in a high school, the bully has a reason for what they do. Maybe they feel neglected at home, are being bullied themselves, or feel insecure and want to take it out on somebody else.
For a more sinister villain, like the ones you find in a fantasy novel, perhaps your hero did something to them in the past and now they are out for revenge. Perhaps they are the ruler of a rival kingdom and are trying to conquer the world. Maybe they are willing to do absolutely anything to become the strongest man/woman in the world.
Example Revenge: On a personal level, Jiang's biggest enemy, apart from himself, is his older brother. He did something horrible that set his brother against him. His brother has now vowed that he will destroy Jiang's heart like he destroyed his. On a larger scale, the Emperor and the Trackers are the bad guys (for a completely different reason racial purity).
I suggest doing research on the motives of criminals to help you with this.
3. Write a Plot Outline
Writing a plot outline helps you to keep up the momentum and not stray off the path of the story. So, before you start writing, figure out the beginning, middle and the end so you know where you are headed. It can be as detailed or as vague as you like, and remember that you have to let it be flexible or you could become stuck. Not everyone feels the need to do this, but it is a good idea.
Keep the plot outline you come up with next to you as you write and refer to it if you are finding it hard to figure out what happens next.
4. Keep a Notebook
While you are writing, you will be sure to have ideas that you want to use later on in the story, keep a notebook and pen with you at all times to write these ideas down because you can be sure that you will forget them if you don't jot them down ASAP.
The notebook can be as expensive or as cheap as you like, but personally, I like to get pretty ones so they all look different to each other (I tend to have more than one story on the go at any one time). Pens have to be good enough to last; you don't want to have to be buying a new one every other week because they stop working.
5. Research is Your Friend
No matter what you write, you need to do research. Keep a folder of things you find on the internet, in books or from asking other people. Collect as much information as possible and don't rely on just the one website (you know which one I'm talking about) to be completely reliable.
Example Collecting Research: I have folders dedicated to collecting information for my stories. Yes, I do use Wikipedia, but I make sure to find as many other resources on that topic as possible to see which info pops up more often and cross reference it. If it appears most often, then it's more likely to be right.
Remember, all of this is up to you, and your reader will know if you haven't done the research, especially if you mess up simple geography or history.
6. Don't be Scared of Description
As most novels don't have pictures in them, you have to rely on words to get the picture from your head onto the page and into the heads of your readers. Try to describe things as you see them in your head, it is difficult but it can be done.
Don't be scared of using similes and metaphors, but don't go overboard. Personally, I don't mind if the description of a character is a bit flowery, it helps me picture them better. Describing every minute detail is a little too much, though. Use adjectives and adverbs, get a thesaurus and find words that sound a little better than 'beautiful' (eg. gorgeous, stunning, statuesque, attractive, striking, etc) or any other commonly used words (like colours, be a little more specific with your colours: scarlet instead of red, emerald instead of green, etc).
Sometimes description can be like sweets, though, too much can make you feel sick.
7. Read, Read, Read
A writer must read. Ask any author about what an aspiring writer needs to do; they will always say that you need to read. Read analytically and make notes on the techniques an author uses, figure out what makes a best-seller a best-seller. Find authors that you admire and see what compels you to read their stories, is it the characters? The plot? Their writing techniques?
Read the books in the genre you want to write, or for the age group you are aiming your stories at. Look at what is selling well in the bookshops and read the blurbs. (I know that I am very reluctant to read the books aimed at young adults right now because they are all the same paranormal romances but they are popular for a reason.)
Keep a list of the books you read and keep your notes around somewhere. You will start to see a pattern.
Example Note Writing: For a lot of my school work, I have to write notes about the books I read for essays. I do this by using sticky notes and sticking them into the book so I know where to find everything. Eventually I will stick the notes onto paper and put them into a folder somewhere.
I hope these tips help you. You will find a way of writing that suits you, and it takes a lot of practice to write a story. One last tip, though, accept criticism, don't let what others say get you down and never give up on your dreams.