How to Learn How to Write Fiction

Writing fiction is not something that can be taught with a simple “how-to” book. A creative artistic endeavor like fiction writing is something you have to learn by doing yourself. Each writer is different—at least the good ones are—therefore their method to write fiction is different. So this post is not “how to write fiction like others” but “how to teach yourself to write fiction your own way.”

1. Read fiction books.

You cannot write books if you don’t read books. You need to know what else is out there and what’s been done. If you don’t like reading books then why would you want to write one?

2. Read writing books. 

Once you read a lot of fiction (in whatever genre you like), and you have a feel for what’s been done and what you might want to do, then you should read some books about how to write fiction. There are plenty, some better than others. I began with screenwriting books, which are helpful because they are heavy on story structure—and that’s what you primarily want to learn at this point: how to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Learn the basic essentials of plot and character.

3. Write fiction. 

Once you’ve read the how-to writing books, then you should forget about them when you are actually writing. Don’t get too technical, just try to tell a story. Storytelling comes naturally to humans—we’ve evolved to tell stories since the days of cavemen sitting around the campfire at night. Often those how-to books illuminate things you already unconsciously knew but didn’t have the vernacular for. Short stories are the best form to begin writing fiction because your early work won’t be your best. You will make mistakes, but that’s okay. The only way to get better is through practice, so you’re better off writing short stories at this stage rather than writing an entire novel full of novice mistakes. (Believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way from experience.)

4. Share your writing with writers. 

The more fiction you write, the better you will get at writing fiction. This will happen on its own, but to really improve your writing, you need to share it with other writers and get feedback. It’s important that you get feedback from writers as opposed to friends and family because unless they know how to write fiction (and read books about story structure), they won’t know how to critique your fiction writing. A friend saying, “That was really good,” may feel nice, but it doesn’t help improve your writing. The constructive feedback you receive from fellow writers is essential. There will no doubt be things you’ve been doing in your writing that you did not realize, and it takes another set of eyes to point them out. 

5. Publish fiction. 

Once you’ve gotten feedback from experienced writers, you can go back to writing and editing and finally have a story/book worth publishing. Whether you self-publish or submit to agents/publishers doesn’t matter. But if you follow the previous four steps, you should be set up for success in whatever publishing path you choose.

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