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From the earliest cave paintings to Harry Potter, human beings have been fascinated by storytelling. Writing fiction, the act of "fashioning or imitating" according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has played a part in that imaginative exercise for millennia. Through the written word, authors express ideas and emotions and share compelling narratives. This guide is a collection of dozens of links about the process of writing fiction that we have researched, categorized, and annotated. You'll learn how to define "fiction" and what its forms are, discover resources to help you write and publish stories, and find ideas for teaching creative writing.
The umbrella category of "fiction" covers short stories and 500,000-word Victorian novels, heart-pounding thrillers and epic poetry. Before you dive into the process of creating your own fiction, it’s important to know what the term means and what its main forms are. Below, you'll find resources to ground you in an understanding of fiction's history and many genres.
Wikipedia's entry on fiction offers a broad definition of the term, along with sections on fiction's formats, genre fiction, literary fiction, and links for further exploration.
This article from a writing website offers a short breakdown of the differences between memoir and fiction, including use of facts, protagonists and point of view, use of detail, and purpose.
Dan Kurland's critical reading website offers a quick list of the differences between fiction and nonfiction, along with a list of the major categories of fiction writing.
This archived subreddit is filled with comments on the benefits of fiction and nonfiction, as well as the uses of these two different types of writing.
This eleven-minute video from the Idea Channel digs into the philosophical underpinnings of the term "fiction," outlining the differences between fiction and reality.
This Wikipedia category page describes the different forms of fiction, from epistolary novels to blog fiction, with links to more information on each form.
This (lengthy) classic book by John Gardner and Lennis Dunlap breaks down the short story form into a series of different categories, explaining the differences between each one.
This blog post offers a fairly comprehensive list of the different types of fiction, organized in a way that “won’t make your head explode,” according to the author.
This article will help you understand the difference between form and genre, using the construction of a building as a useful analogy in comparing the two.
This blog post provides an overview of what genre in fiction is, along with a link to a second post that touches on all the major genres in fiction.
Wikipedia’s list of genres is divided into those pertaining to fiction and nonfiction, with an explanation of how “genre” fiction differs from “literary” fiction.
This post from a publishing industry professional discusses the role genre plays in the book industry and how it affects categories, sales, and marketing.
This post lists all of the various sub-genres within the major genre classifications, with a quick description of what they typically entail.
As the resources above make clear, works of fiction vary in length, form, and genre. Your piece might be 500 words (flash fiction) or 500,000 words (like some novels). You might choose to write a mystery, romance, or fantasy piece. Even within genres, authors write for different ages and audiences. You also need to decide on a point of view—should your story be told from the first person perspective, or from the vantage point of an omniscient narrator? The resources below will introduce you to the many choices writers of fiction must make.
This article lists five things you should keep in mind as you decide whether your story should be a full-length novel or a short story.
This piece, authored by a film and television writer who also dabbles in other forms, discusses the different skill sets required for writing in each literary form, and the storytelling opportunities afforded by each one.
This article by Northern Irish author Paul McVeigh weighs the pros and cons of writing short stories and novels, and describes the challenges of each.
This list, geared towards self-published or independently published writers, discusses the benefits of writing short stories—both for your craft, and your bottom line.
Use this not-so-serious quiz about your favorite characters, opening lines, and more to help get you brainstorming on the type of book you should write.
In this post on the Writer’s Digest site, bestselling writer Catherine Ryan Hyde discusses how to choose a genre when writing fiction, and how that genre often chooses you.
This article by author Cathy Yardley discusses how to identify the audience for your fiction book by figuring out exactly what type of book you are writing.
This post by writing coach and author Angela Ackerman offers tips for identifying the audience you’re writing for and connecting with your readers.
This post outlines the process of finding the “right” readers for your book, understanding their perspective, and figuring out how to connect to them via platforms like Goodreads.
This post from writer Dan Blank suggests that you choose your ideal audience before you start crafting your story. Blank emphasizes that most stories are not universal.
Grammar Girl reads this article by Geoff Pope, which is a no-nonsense guide to the different perspectives that writing can take, paired with a discussion of when each is commonly used.
This short video from bestselling author K.M. Weiland focuses on deciding whether a first-person or third-person perspective is better for your book.
This short post debunks some common misconceptions about when you “have to” use first or third person, with links to longer in-depth pieces on each perspective.
This article from the Writer's Digest site focuses on different writing perspectives and contains bulleted lists of the advantages and disadvantages of using each point of view.
Fiction writing can be broken down into a few key elements, including setting (where the story takes place), characters (who the story is about), dialogue (what characters say), plot (what happens in the story), and theme (what the story is ultimately about). Masterful fiction writers are able to incorporate each element seamlessly into a narrative whole. The resources in this section will help you get to know these terms.
This Wikipedia article offers a quick description of setting and its role, along with a comprehensive list of links to more about specific subtypes of setting.
This blog post will help you learn what exactly setting accomplishes in fiction, including grounding characters. It discusses the different elements that make up setting.
This post from Writer's Digest offers a quick look at 12 of the important elements of setting. These include population, historical importance, and climate.
This blog post offers a few examples of effective settings, from J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts to the Victorian England of Charles Dickens's Hard Times.
This Wikipedia article provides a comprehensive overview of dialogue, including how it has been used historically in a variety of literary forms.
If you're looking for a short post offering both a definition and examples of dialogue, this is a good place to start. The post explains the difference between internal and external dialogue.
Check out this post on what dialogue is and what it accomplishes. The article includes some tips at the end about best practices for writing dialogue.
The LitCharts guide to dialogue offers a definition of the term, and is followed by examples of successful dialogue in fiction and a brief discussion of dialogue’s function.
Head to Wikipedia for a succinct definition of fictional characters and an explanation of types (such as flat, round, dynamic, static, etc.).
This list of common categories of characters in fiction includes protagonists and antagonists, and is accompanied by a quick list of ways that character can be revealed in a text.
Here, you'll find a list of seven types of characters commonly found in fiction, along with an explanation of the roles these kinds of characters typically play in the story.
This eight-minute video defines "character," discusses types of characterization (such as indirect), and lists a few different character types.
Wikipedia's entry on "plot" offers a definition of the term and a description of some common literary frameworks that writers can use.
In this blog post, you'll find a concise explanation of the typical elements of plot, along with a discussion of its function, a few popular examples, and more.
This article from a site devoted to explicating literary terms discusses the five main components of plot and offers a few examples of plot in literature.
SlideShare offers this 10-part slideshow on the different elements of plot (including exposition, rising action, and climax) and discusses some common conflicts in fiction.
Wikipedia's entry on theme introduces you to the term through a brief definition and a discussion of two separate techniques used in writing to express themes.
This blog post defines themes, explains how they are revealed, and gives some popular examples of how they are used in literature. It also offers some links to resources for writing fiction.
This post from the Penguin Random House writing blog defines theme and lists some common themes in literature. Learn about themes such as "crime doesn't pay" and "coming of age."
Check out this round-up of common themes in literature, which is accompanied by lesson ideas and suggestions for other media that are helpful in teaching theme.
Now that you're familiar with the fundamentals of plot, character, setting, theme, and dialogue, you're ready to fashion these elements into a compelling narrative. The resources below offer questions and suggestions for worldbuilding, character development, crafting dialogue, and more. As you refine your writing skills, remember that even stories that seem effortlessly created involved hundreds of small choices on the author's part, and went through a number of drafts.
Here, you'll find a comprehensive list of questions you can ask yourself about the setting you’re developing. These questions will help you flesh out your world's culture, rules, and norms.
You can discuss anything and everything about worldbuilding on this forum, from choosing character names to coming up with different governments for your world.
This post lists common mistakes you can make in worldbuilding—choices that will knock readers out of the reading experience and make your characters seem pointless.
This video, one in a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson about writing novels, focuses on worldbuilding and how to do so successfully.
In this 17-minute video, graphic novelist and children's book author and illustrator Mark Crilley draws images as he explains his top 10 tips for writing engaging dialogue.
This piece is the first in a two-part post by author Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz on common problems in writing dialogue and how to fix them.
This post offers a series of eight tips on how to write dialogue, including Elmore Leonard's suggestion never to use verbs other than "said" to "carry dialogue." The post also includes four dialogue writing exercises for authors.
This post discusses the three forms of dialogue (summary, indirect speech, and direct quotation) followed by succinct advice on how best to write dialogue between characters.
This in-depth article by writer Elizabeth Sims includes eight ways to help conceptualize your characters and delve deeper into their psyches.
Get tips from New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison on how to build a compelling character, and hear insights on her own process for developing characters.
This article includes an extensive character checklist to help you flesh out your characters' background, hobbies, relationships, and more.
This printable, fill-in-the-blank chart from EpiGuide.com helps writers brainstorm about all aspects of their characters in order to get to know them.
Based on the book Save the Cat! (originally for screenwriters), this post offers a list of the “beats” that each narrative must contain in order to tell its story most effectively.
This blog by producer Stan Williams, author of The Moral Premise, contains diagrams of different ways to structure a book, including his well-known “story diamond.”
This Writer's Digest post is a round-up of nine different worksheets you can download and use to help outline and plan your novel.
This 15-minute video describes how to use another popular plotting tool, Dan Harmon’s story circle (based off of Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces), to plot your novel.
Read these five tips on choosing the best themes for your story from the Now Novel site. Suggestions include matching themes with characters' personalities and goals and examining how great authors have treated similar ideas.
This brief article will help you narrow down which theme you should choose to write about based on what issues you are interested in.
In this excerpt from the book Story Engineering, hosted on the Writer's Digest site, Larry Brooks defines theme and explains why it is so important in writing.
This page offers both a podcast episode and an article on how to pick the best theme for your story, and makes suggestions for how to thread that theme through a narrative.
Writing a short story or novel can be a labor-intensive process. Even once a full draft is complete, a writer is rarely ready to send it out into the world. Instead, successful writers spend time revising and editing their work with feedback from trusted readers. Below, you'll find resources to help you write a first draft, revise that draft, overcome writer's block, and prepare a final draft.
This collection of 10 top tips for writing fiction from famous writers (including Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Franzen) is based on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.
This podcast features interviews with a variety of writers on their wring process, tricks, and tips, and how to tap into both creativity and productivity.
This podcast is hosted by four authors and has over ten seasons. It features 15-minute episodes that cover all parts of the writing process.
This program gives authors an alternative to a traditional Word program, and has helpful features like movable scenes, notecards, and tagging.
This article from The New Yorker offers an introduction to the term “writer’s block” and ways that writers have combatted it successfully.
This page from a college writing center looks at some ineffective and effective ways to combat writer’s block, along with a brief description of why it occurs.
This article offers quick strategies for getting over writer’s block when drafting your novel, along with suggestions for how you can get started on a piece.
Writermag.com rounded up these five interviews with leading professional authors on how they’ve learned to get past writer’s block.
This article touches on the different types of editing that a book requires. It is aimed towards writes looking to hire independent editors for developmental editing, copy editing, etc., but is helpful for anyone looking to improve a manuscript.
This checklist from popular blogger, writer, and former agent Nathan Bransford notes important things to keep in mind when revising your novel.
On this podcast episode, Cheryl Klein (a senior editor at Arthur A. Levin Books who worked on Harry Potter), details some of her revision techniques.
This post focuses on the necessary steps in the revision process and a realistic timeline, and includes links to numerous other blog posts on revision at the bottom.
Use this printable PDF as a checklist for both writers and peer editors when tracking any errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.
This comprehensive editing guide for fiction writers contains instructions on carrying out all the major phases of revising a manuscript.
Here, the monthly advice column The Blunt Instrument offers suggestions for determining when works of fiction and works of poetry are “complete.”
This article tackles the question of how to know when it's time to stop tweaking your work, and time send the manuscript into the world.
This detailed 15-minute video explains how to format a manuscript using industry standards before sending it off to publishers and agents.
A number of options exist to get a writer’s work into the hands of readers. Writers can choose to share their work immediately with online communities, meet in person with critique partners, enter writing contests, hire an agent, or independently submit their work for publication online or in print. The resources below will help you evaluate your options and make an informed decision.
Wattpad is an online fiction-writing community where you can post and share your stories immediately, tagging them with plot elements or settings so other readers can find them and comment.
Like Wattpad, Figment is an online fiction-writing community where you can post your work, get feedback from other readers, and comment on others' work.
On this online bulletin board, writers of all genres and experiences discuss writing, publishing, and everything in between. The site facilitates discussion by offering categories with forums, threads, and individual posts.
This forum, run by Amazon, is a place for writers to discuss their work and ask advice about promotion and self-publishing. You'll need to register in order to comment.
This searchable database of contests and more, from the nation's largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers, allows you to narrow by entry fee, genre, and deadline.
This writing website offers a list of competitions in all different genres that have no entry fee for submission, but come with the possibility of a cash prize.
This list of art and writing competitions is geared toward younger writers, and contains links to each competition’s website. This link will direct you to the "creative writing" tab, but there are also options for journalism, essay, and visual arts competitions.
This article discusses both how to craft and format a cover letter for a literary submission. It does so by walking you through a hypothetical example by "Emerging Writer."
Writers can use this resource to find short story markets, track their submissions, and find upcoming deadlines for short story markets.
Check out The Write Life's round-up of 23 places accepting short stories, including prestigious and paying markets like The New Yorker.
Here, you'll find a searchable database of literary magazines that accept short stories, with information on the magazines’ genres and reading periods.
This top 30 list of the best outlets for short fiction is broken down by categories such as “Best Bets for Beginners” and “You’re in the Money.”
On this website, you can search for agents by genre and see whether they are open to queries. You'll also find comments from writers on their response times.
Literary agent Janet Reid critiques queries on her blog, offering feedback on subsequent drafts until she gets to the point where she would have requested more material.
This book on how to navigate publishing your book touches not only on traditional approaches, but also on new avenues like self-publishing, crowdfunding, and more.
This book by industry veteran Jane Friedman explains how editors evaluate your work, and how best to approach agents and editors in order to land a book deal.
Resources abound for designing creative writing classes at all levels. Classroom activities allow students to practice their skills on-demand, while homework exercises give students time to construct their narratives on their own time. Below, you'll find a curated list of lesson planning ideas from publishers, TED-Ed, Teachers Pay Teachers, and more.
This education website offers lesson plans and ideas for teachers on all different topics within the fiction writing framework (and on a wide range of other subjects, as well).
This page provides links to a number of resources for teaching different aspects of creative writing, including a conversation about the future of creative writing pedagogy.
On this webpage, you'll find a list of short lesson ideas, each with related exercises, that teachers can use to shape their curriculum.
TeacherVision hosts a list of printable fiction writing resources, broken down by grade level, that can be used to shape classroom activities.
This popular education website (designed by teachers, for teachers) has a section devoted to creative writing resources. You'll find lesson plans and activities that are searchable by price, resource type, and grade level.
This activity includes interactive tutorials, exercises, message boards, links, and more—including an opportunity for students to submit their work at the end.
This comprehensive list of short prompts (hosted by a website with tabs on publishing, author marketing, and writing prompts) will get students’ ideas flowing for a short exercise or a story.
This handbook for writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter contains more than 75 exercises for writers of all levels of experience.
Use this list of short creative writing prompts to generate ideas for writing. The text is excerpted from the book 642 Tiny Things to Write About.
A number of other resources exist for those looking to develop their writing skills. Consider participating in writing retreats, writing workshops devoted to publishing, and online creative classes, or reading books and listening to podcasts on the subject. The resources gathered here can help you grow as a writer, and will teach you more about the process of sharing your work.
This well-known organization provides both in-person classes in NYC and online writing classes led by writers on topics such as “How to Get Published” and “Novel Writing.”
This organization offers conferences and networking opportunities for writers of children’s and young adult literature. Other genre-specific writers’ organizations, such as the American Crime Writers League and Horror Writers Association, offer similar workshops.
Check out this database for a comprehensive list of conferences and residencies currently available. It is searchable by event type, state, price, and title.
This database of writing programs, including undergraduate programs and MFAs, is searchable by genre, state, and type of degree.
This website is all about November’s NaNoWriMo, in which writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in one month. It contains forums, inspiration, and more.
This site offers online classes where you can watch lectures, complete exercises, and even receive feedback for your work (depending on whether you choose a free or paid option).
TCK Publishing offers this round-up of different creative writing courses. The webpage describes what you learn, who the instructor is, and what the cost is (many of them are free).
This YouTube "playlist" is made up of American fiction writer Brandon Sanderson's lectures for a course at BYU, which covers all aspects of working through a novel.
Writer Jeff Goins covers a variety of topics on the writing life, including self-doubt, how to improve your writing, and how to get published.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is part memoir of Stephen King's life as a writer, and part “toolkit” for writers trying to improve their craft.
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White authored this no-nonsense guide to writing clearly and well. It covers the fundamentals of syntax. This book is now in its fourth edition.
This national bestseller from author Anne Lamot is comprised of a series of essays on the process of writing (from beginning to write to technical details) and her life as a writer.
This fully illustrated guide to writing fiction includes sections on generating ideas, creating mindmaps for possible plotlines, and common pitfalls to avoid.
The popular writing magazine Writer's Digest hosts this website, which focuses exclusively on helping writers connect to the best writing resources, learn the craft of writing, and get published.
This creative writing blog offers tips and tricks for writing, along with resources for online writing exercises, resources, and much more.
This website is devoted exclusively to providing information about children’s book authors, agents, and publishers. It includes interviews with many key industry players on what they’re looking for in a manuscript.