How to turn obstacles into meaningful conflict to develop character, enrich story, and drive plot

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Image credit: Giulio del Torre (1927) Public Domain via creativecommons.org

Obstacles and conflict aren’t the same

Aspiring novelists often misunderstand the element of conflict in fiction. The most common mistake is to equate conflict with a series of obstacles that get in your protagonist’s way. But throwing obstacles at your characters isn’t enough to create meaningful conflict.

Conflict isn’t synonymous with obstacles per se. It emerges from the way your protagonist’s motivation, goals, and beliefs interact with the obstacles put in their path. To create conflict that will have your reader on the edge of their seat, eagerly turning the pages, you must do more than make life inconvenient for your key character. You must craft…


Learn how to write a page-turning novel by focusing on character and story instead

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Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay

Story and plot are not the same

Many new writers confuse story and plot. While they are two sides of the same proverbial coin, they are not the same. Story is the journey of transformation that your protagonist or key characters undergo so that they are changed in significant ways. It’s what we mean when we say that a character must be different at the end of the book compared to how they were at the beginning. Plot is the road they take, step-by-step, to get from the opening paragraph to the last page.

Getting an idea for a story is the straightforward part. Developing that idea…


Learn how to create fascinating characters that drive compelling stories and keep your readers turning the page

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

What drives a compelling story?

In real life, we often act unconsciously. The way we behave and respond to situations: the daily round; interpersonal conflict; work; the unexpected incident. But underneath the actions we take, formed by our childhood and all later experiences, three factors drive what we do and how we react to the challenges we face. Those factors are:

  • Motivation
  • Beliefs
  • Goals

Your fictional characters must also have these driving forces which dictate what they do, how they do it, and why. The difference is that you, as their author, must be fully conscious of what they are, where they came from, and…


Learn how to write authentic-sounding, character-revealing dialogue that drives your story forward

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Photo by Matt Koffel on Unsplash

Dialogue is a vital element in contemporary fiction, no matter what the genre. Done well, it can work hard, revealing character, developing relationships, modulating the pace, adding color and tone to your novel’s atmosphere, conveying essential information without “info-dumping”, and helping to drive your story forward. Done wrong, it can undermine the reading experience and make your writing seem amateurish and clumsy.

But credible dialogue, as with any other aspect of good writing, doesn’t just happen. It takes knowledge, time, and skill to create. It needs as much editing and rewriting as everything else. …


How to recognize and eradicate info-dumps from your fiction

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Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

One of the most common problems that editors see in fiction submissions from new writers, whether short stories or novels, is the infamous literary crime of the “info-dump”. Most first drafts contain info dumping. But an experienced writer knows how to spot an info-dump when she sees one and will make damned sure it’s not there in the final draft.

Beginner writers may not even realize that they’ve written an info-dump; or they may not understand why it’s a problem. …


Learn how to write a protagonist that your readers will love from the very first page

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Photo by James on Unsplash

It’s often said that we make up our minds about people — whether we like them, trust them, or find them interesting — fast. Several sources suggest the average is about seven seconds. According to the Association of Psychological Science, it can take as little as a tenth of a second for us to form our first impressions. And you only get one chance at creating a first impression.

That’s as true of fictional characters that readers “meet” in novels as it is of real-life people and situations. In any novel, you must introduce your protagonist to the reader at…


Learn how to tap your creativity on demand and write even when you’re not inspired

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Photo by Natalie Grainger on Unsplash

The myth of creativity

Have you ever wondered what ‘creativity’ is? How it works? Why sometimes you’re fired up with inspiration and can’t get the words down fast enough, while other days you’ve got your head in your hands, staring at a blank page or screen? It’s as if your creativity just gave you the finger, went off on vacation, and slammed the door behind it without even leaving you a contact number. Do you know that feeling?

Well, I have good news for you. If you follow the creative reasoning techniques given below, you’ll never have that experience again. It will no longer…


Starting your novel with a bang is the best way to make sure readers — including agents and editors — will read on

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Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

The two most important parts of your novel — any novel — are the beginning and the end. But nothing is more important than the beginning. And the most important part of your first chapter is the very first page. That’s true whether you’re self-publishing your book or sending out the first few chapters and a synopsis to an agent. If the first page doesn’t intrigue, excite, and enchant the reader, the rest of your novel will remain unread.

No matter if it’s your first book or the twentieth in a series. No matter if the reader is checking out…


Learn the market definitions that will help you sell more stories

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Photo by Cosmin Mîndru on Unsplash

The question, “What is a short story?” may seem to be a ‘no-brainer’. But the answer is more complex and nuanced than many imagine. You can’t define a short story only by its length.

As the history of the short story shows, there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that. You must deepen your understanding of the short story — its possibilities and limitations — if you want to write and sell short-form fiction.

Broadly, two angles on defining the short story dominate the field: the literary definitions and the market definitions. Literary ideas about the nature…


Because understanding the origins and development of short fiction will help you to write and sell more stories

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Photo by Daniel Bosse on Unsplash

Why do you need to know the history of the short story?

You may wonder why studying the contemporary short story market isn’t enough if you want to build a successful career writing and selling short-form fiction. Well, it may often be enough. But given the range and diversity of short stories in the modern market, there’s a lot of useful information you can gather by studying the history of the short story. Not least because the traditional, academic version of the origin and development of short fiction is a world away from the history of the kind of short stories you probably want to write.

Let’s look at the orthodox version…

Austin Hackney

Austin is a professional writer and editor. Skeptical about everything else, he believes in kindness. Here, he shares sensible advice for serious writers.

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