The Novel Writing Roadmap: A Guest Post by Katja Kaine

In this guest post, writer Katja Kaine breaks down her process for writing a novel from developing an idea to editing the final draft!The following is a guest post from Katja Kaine, writer, blogger, and creator of The Novel Factory writing software.

When I first started writing a novel, I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark.

I wandered around for a while making a lot of false starts, finding dead ends, backtracking, and staring into the darkness. But slowly, I learned the lay of the land as I wrote my first novel. Rather than repeat this tedious and time-consuming process for each subsequent novel, I decided I needed to plan a more concise route for next time.

And so my Novel Writing Roadmap was born.

It describes each of the steps I follow to take my novel from concept to completed manuscript. It’s the guide I wish I had been handed when I first started, and I hope it will save a lot of headaches for new writers.

In this article I’ll be giving you an overview of my novel-writing process. To help make this process easier, I’ve also developed the Novel Factory software to give writers extra guidance and support, and you can learn the full details about that here.

It’s important to know that this method will not teach you to write well. I don’t go into a lot of detail about showing not telling, adverb use, punctuation and grammar, and all that jazz. It also cannot give you good ideas or write your novel for you. What it will do is teach you how to turn your story idea into a fully-fledged, well-structured manuscript. It is a map, and you will have to do the walking.

Here is an overview of the steps:

  1. Premise
  2. Skeleton
  3. Character Introductions
  4. Short Synopsis
  5. Extended Synopsis
  6. Goal to Decision Cycle
  7. Character Development
  8. Location Development
  9. Advanced Plotting
  10. Character Viewpoints
  11. Scene Blocking
  12. First Draft
  13. Theme and Variation
  14. Second Draft
  15. Final Draft

Now we’ll look at each step in more detail.


Right. Let’s get started. You’ve probably got an idea for a story. But if your idea is going to turn into a novel we need to make sure it’s got all its arms and legs. So take your idea and make sure it has:

Here’s an example:

  • a protagonist – Joanna the plumber
  • a goal – save earth from alien attack
  • a setting – Earth 2050
  • an antagonist – aliens
  • a disaster – the government turn on her

Put all those ideas into a single sentence, like this: When aliens attack Earth in the year 2050, can Joanna the plumber save the human race before the traitorous government manage to turn her into a scapegoat for the whole disaster?

Outlining the premise in The Novel Factory


There is an established set of story beats that the vast majority of blockbuster movies and books follow to create a satisfying story arc, so I recommend following these closely when you’re first starting out.

Each of these beats can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, so don’t be worried that it means your story will be like all the others. Also, once you’ve mastered them, you can deviate to your heart’s content. Here they are:

Act 1

  • Introduction to the protagonist’s world
  • Call to action / inciting incident
  • Protagonist commits to the goal

Act 2

  • Mentor teaches the protagonist
  • First challenge
  • Temptation
  • Dark moment

Act 3

  • Final Conflict
  • Return home

Expand your premise to include each of these story beats.

 Character Introductions

Your characters are the life blood of your story, so it’s good to get to know them nice and early. For step three, make notes on all the major characters in your story. Don’t worry about getting too in-depth at this stage, we just need an outline of the key broad brushstrokes of their personality, appearance and motivation. I recommend making notes on at least the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Physical appearance
  • Key character traits
  • Motivation
  • Summary of their role in the story
Developing Characters in The Novel Factory

Short Synopsis

This is simple. Expand your story skeleton until it is about a page long. It should include all the key elements of your plot and anything else you think is important.

Note the word ‘short’. You will be tempted to put in much more, but the short synopsis is deliberately constrained to make you think hard about what is of key importance. You can add in more detail in the next stage.

Extended Synopsis

Now go through the Short Synopsis adding detail until it is about four pages long.

The Goal to Decision Cycle

Before you get too much further with the plot, you need to make sure it’s well structured, and not simply meandering around all over the place. One method of doing this is to pin each section to the Goal to Decision Cycle, which works like this:

Your character has a GOAL.

But when they are trying to reach that goal they encounter CONFLICT.

Things escalate and end in DISASTER.

Your character has an emotional REACTION to the disaster.

They are faced with a DILEMMA with no good options.

They make a DECISION.

Which means, your character has a new GOAL.

If you go through your story and try to identify or create each of these elements (GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, REACTION DILEMMA, DECISION) then you will create a story that has momentum and feels logical to the reader, even if they don’t know why.

Note that these elements do not need to have equal weight, and how much attention you give to each of them will affect the shape and feel of your story. More exciting adventure stories will emphasize the goal to disaster section and only have a brief pass over the reaction to decision, whereas more philosophical stories will do the opposite.

Character Development

The story is really taking shape now, so let’s spend a little more time with our characters while that settles. There are a few methods you can use to get under your characters’ skin. Here are my favorites:

  • Consider their history, including: infancy, childhood, teen years, young adulthood etc., up to where they are now
  • Complete a questionnaire for them – this helps you think about new and interesting angles.
  • Think about what they ‘want’ as opposed to what they ‘need’

 Location Development

The title of this step is fairly self-explanatory. Take some time to make a list of all of your locations and make some notes about them. I like to think about all the senses, how each location changes in different scenes, how it reflects the mood and character, and I like to try to find some pictures and blueprints to aid inspiration and clarity whenever possible.

Advanced Plotting

During this step we take some time to look at the overview of our novel and make sure we have all our ducks in a row. Think about character development, plot threads, important items, clues, and foreshadowing. Make sure all of these elements tie in nicely, because it’s much easier to figure these things out now than to realize when you’re 50,000 words in that there’s a major flaw.

Character Viewpoints

The last step before you start sketching out your first draft (or pre-first draft, but we’ll get to that) is to go back and give all of your major characters their moment in the limelight. This means going through the story from their point of view.

This is a fantastic practice, because not only does it help you to develop each of the characters so that they are people in their own right and not just flat sidekicks for the protagonist, but you will add much more texture and depth to the story as a whole.

Seeing the story from the point of view of another character means you may see options the protagonist didn’t. Or you may realize that the best friend had a headache when the protagonist walked in, so instead of being clear headed and helpful, she is ratty and obstructive.

Scene Blocking

This is the last step before you actually start writing your novel properly, I promise. This is a sort of pre-first-draft. It’s not a first draft because you’re not writing actual prose; instead, you’re writing an outline about what happens in each scene beat by beat, sort of like stage directions in a play.

This stage means you can get the gist of each scene pinned down quickly, without worrying about what words you’re using or exact dialogue. Write the story all the way through in the present tense, without worrying about style. Just describe what happens in each scene, once thing after another.

First Draft

You made it! You’re ready to write your first draft. It may feel like it’s been a slog to get here, but the advantage of this is that you can probably get your first draft done in a month or so, and it will be in a hell of a lot better shape than if you hadn’t done all that planning.

When writing your first draft, don’t worry about good writing – just barrel on through as fast as you can and don’t look back. The purpose of the first draft is to get the words down. The purpose of the second draft is to make the words good.

Story overview in The Novel Factory

Theme and Variations

You’ll probably have learned a lot during the process of writing your first draft, and hopefully made a bunch of notes. Although you may be raring to get started on your second draft, it’s worth taking a little break to let things settle.

During this time you could make sure all your notes are in the right place, revisit your sub plots, and also consider themes and foreshadowing.

Second Draft

Now you’re really getting somewhere. Go through your first draft and make it better. Sort out the grammar and punctuation, get rid of any clichés, cut repetition, make sure you’re showing not telling, and weed out unnecessary adverbs. Make it shine.

Final Draft

If you have access to feedback, then get it and use it. During the final draft you have to be patient, ruthless and have painstaking attention to detail.

Now it’s basically just a matter of editing over and over again until your fingers are bleeding or you’ve lost your mind. Once either of those two things happens, it’s probably time to draw a line in the sand and call the novel finished.


Hopefully you’ve found my novel writing process useful, and some of the stages might help you formulate your own process and achieve your dream of writing a novel that will make you proud.

What does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below, or you can chat with me on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

katjaKatja L Kaine lives in a hippyish commune in Yorkshire with her husband, two cats, dog, escapologist baby, a chess genius and a Pole.

She spends her time furiously writing novels and short stories at breakneck speed and then pedantically combing through every word to transform them into something vaguely readable.

She is also the creator of The Novel Factory, a writing software that helps writers structure and develop their novels. You can learn more about The Novel Factory here, or browse more useful articles on writing at The Novel Factory Blog.

Intro to Creative Writing: A Free Mini-Workshop

In this FREE workshop for new writers you'll be introduced to the world of novel-writing. You'll learn the writing & publishing processes, how to make a living as an author, how to find a writing community, and more! Plus, there is most definitely a free workbook involved. So, I have something a little different to share with you today, friend. As you’ve probably noticed I usually write my posts, but this week I decided to shake things up. Are you ready for this? *dramatic pause* I’ve created my first YouTube video.

Yep, an actual video. With me talking. And saying all the things. And stepping wayyyyyy outside of my comfort zone.

So what did I whip up for you?

Well, of course I couldn’t keep my first video simple, because that would make too much sense. Instead, I’ve created a 35-minute mini-workshop called Intro to Creative Writing, complete with a free 17-page workbook. (Excessive, yet epic, no?)

This workshop is meant to be a companion/prequel to my Writing 101 series. While the Writing 101 series teaches you the basics of fiction writing like developing your plot, characters, setting, etc., the Intro to Creative Writing workshop introduces you to the world of writing. It covers things like the writing and publishing process, how to make a living as an author, myths about writing a novel, and more.

Basically, this is everything I wish I had known about writing before I started my first novel.

Sound like fun? You can check out the full workshop below or on YouTube, and grab the free workbook here!

Also, as I’m still figuring out this whole video thing I hope you’ll forgive the imperfections ; )

Resources Mentioned:

So, what do you think? Did you find the video helpful? Would you like to see more workshops like this in the future? Please share your thoughts below!



15 More Techniques to Write a Romance That Will Make Readers Swoon (Part II)

Need some more techniques in your romance arsenal? Here are 15 more ways to create a fictional relationship that will make readers swoon! Last week, I shared with you 15 Ways to Write a Romance that Will Make Readers Swoon. Today, I’m excited to bring you the sequel to that post! If you’ve been struggling to write an authentic romance and build a deep, meaningful relationship between your characters, this is the post for you, friend. Here are 15 more techniques to help you create that swoon-worthy romance–enjoy!

(More) Ways to Write a Romance That Makes Readers Swoon

1. Compliments–Let your love interests compliment each other, but don’t limit it to just looks–think about intelligence, accomplishments, skills, etc. as well. What do your love interests admire about each other? Let them say it!

2. Making Sacrifices for Each Other–Loving someone means putting their needs ahead of your own, and doing whatever it takes to keep them safe. Sometimes, this might involve sacrifice. But this doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing one’s life; a love interest might sacrifice something else that’s important to him/her such as a job/promotion, a prized possession, a dream, an opportunity, etc. When they give up something they want or love, it shows just how much they care for their love interest.

3. Accepting Each Others Flaws/Past–Love means accepting the bad along with the good, because let’s face it no one’s perfect. Let your love interests develop a relationship where they feel comfortable sharing anything with each other, now matter how dark or shameful, because they know they will be accepted and forgiven.

4. Encouraging/Supporting Each Other–Let your love interests support each other through tough times, encourage each other to reach their goals, and believe in each other even when they don’t believe in themselves.

5. Verbal Confessions and Affirmations of Love–This might be harder for some characters than others. Though its true actions speak louder than words, its still always nice to hear an “I love you.” Give your love interests an opportunity to verbally express how they feel about each other.

6. Humble Enough to Apologize–If a character has made a mistake, is in the wrong, or has started a fight, have them be humble enough to apologize to the love interest. I see this skipped over too often in films and novels, and it always gets under my skin. “I’m sorry” might seem like frivolous, unnecessary dialogue, but it’s not. It reveals a lot about the love interest’s character. It shows 1) that they are mature enough to take responsibility for their mistakes, and 2) that they are working to “fix things.”

7. Forgiving Each Others Mistakes–When one love interest apologizes for doing wrong, the other should (hopefully) forgive them, though it could depend on the situation. If the love interest has done something completely unforgivable, the relationship might have to end. But for a relationship to work, forgiveness is required. Don’t let your character carry a grudge or hold the mistake over the love interest’s head forever.

8. Sharing Their World with the Other–Have your love interests slowly start to share their worlds with each other. They might begin to introduce each other to friends and family, or share special places, stories, traditions, interests, pets, or possessions. Gradually, they will want to make their new love a part of their world.

9. Sharing a Life & Death/Traumatic/Emotional Experience–When you go through a tragic or traumatic experience with another person, it tightens the bond between you. You both experienced the same intense emotions and helped each other to survive, whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally. No one else will be able to understand what you went through like that person who shared your experience. Consider putting your love interests through a life & death or traumatic experience to help create a stronger bond between them.

10. Sharing Hopes and Dreams–When you share your dreams, deepest desires, and passions with another person, it’s like sharing a piece of your heart. What do your characters want for their future? What are their dreams? Let them share it with their love interest.

11. Patience–You might not realize it, but patience can be extremely sexy in a love interest. Whether it’s patiently waiting for the other to fall in love, figure out their feelings, begin to open up, or become comfortable enough to move further physically, patience shows determination, dedication, selflessness, and respect. It shows that the character cares enough about their love interest not to pressure them, no matter what they might want themselves at the moment. They put their love interest’s feelings and best interests ahead of their own desires.

12. Devotion and Loyalty to Each Other–Are your love interests completely devoted to each other? Would they do anything for each other? Go to the ends of the earth, to hell and back? Devotion means constancy, unwavering loyalty, and commitment. Create opportunities for your love interests to show their devotion.

13. Showing Concern for/Worrying Over the Other–I always find it sweet in books and movies when a character shows concern or gets worried over their love interest. It shows that they care and the love interest is always in their thoughts.

14. When the Guy Pursues the Girl–I’m not saying a girl can’t pursue a guy, but there’s something about a guy who pursues a girl that’s pretty damn romantic. It shows he’s interested and cares enough that he’s willing to make an effort to win the girl’s heart. It also shows that he’s willing to make himself vulnerable and risk being turned down for a chance that she might like him too. Maybe it’s that combination of boldness and vulnerability that gets me every time.

15. Physical Displays of Affection–Last but not least, let your love interests use displays of physical affection to express their feelings. This could be small, flirty touches, tender embraces, a peck on the cheek, passionate kisses, hand holding, cuddling, etc. Physical touch helps to deepen the bond between love interests.

BONUS: Making the Other Laugh–Whether it’s to try to cheer them up or just because they like to see them smile, your love interests should know how to make each other laugh.

Have anything you’d add to the list? Tell me in the comments below!

Miss out on Part I? Click here to catch up!



15 Techniques to Write a Romance That Will Make Readers Swoon (Part I)

Struggling to write a romance makes readers' hearts flutter? Here are 15 ways you can create a deep, authentic romance readers won't be able to resist falling for! I’m a sucker for a good love story. Whether it’s in a book, film, or TV show, I just can’t seem to help myself. I’ve encountered a lot of fictional romances over the years, some that made me swoon and others that made me roll my eyes (or resist the urge to gag). But lately, I’ve become more aware of just what it takes to write a romance that makes readers swoon.

You see, romance is so much more than candlelight dinners or passionate kisses. It’s more than reciting poetry or making love. In order to write a romance that really gets readers in the heart, you must develop a relationship between your characters that is authentic, deep, and raw. You must go beyond physical attraction and cute romantic gestures. You must reflect upon what it truly takes to love someone, such as trust, devotion, sacrifice, and putting another before yourself.

I’ve spent time analyzing several of my favorite love stories to try to figure out what it was about them that made my heart flutter. I’ve made a list of my observations, which I’ll be sharing with you in two parts. Keep reading for Part I, and check back next week for Part II!

Ways to Write a Romance That Makes Readers Swoon

1. Cute & Memorable First Meeting–Everyone loves a good “How did you guys meet?” story!

2. Rocky Beginnings–Consider having your love interests start out as enemies, disliking each other, or not trusting each other. This allows for more growth in the characters and creates more tension.

3. Similar Backgrounds/Common Interests–Give your love interests some common ground so they can bond and develop an understanding of each other. Maybe they both grew up in foster care, or enjoy the same hobby.

4. Complimentary Personalities–How might your love interests’ strengths and weaknesses balance each other out? Maybe one has a temper while the other is patient. Or, maybe one is a martial arts master while the other is a clever intellectual.

5. Taking Care of Each Other–Give your love interests opportunities to see to each others’ needs, or to put the others’ needs before their own.

6. Protective of Each Other–Give your love interests opportunities to defend each other against danger, or to stand up for each other in a social situation.

7. Respectful of Physical Boundaries–Don’t let one love interest pressure or coerce the other into moving further physically in the relationship than what they’re comfortable with. Show that if one isn’t ready to move further, the other is respectful of their decision and willing to wait.

8. Learning Quirks and Habits–Everyone has them, though you don’t often realize it until you begin to spend more time together. What might your love interests find endearing or annoying about each other?

9. Learning Likes and Dislikes–When you get to know a person, you become familiar with their tastes. If one of your love interests decided to surprise the other with coffee, would they know what to order for them? Or if they went on a trip and bought a gift, would they know what to pick?

10. Thoughtful Surprises–Have one love interest surprise the other with something they said they enjoy or said they had been wanting. It not only shows that the love interest listens to and remembers what the other says, but that they are always thinking of them.

11. Learning to Trust–Can your love interests trust each other to keep a secret? To be honest? To be faithful? To not abandon each other? To not play games with or break each others heart? You must first trust someone before you can become vulnerable with them.

12. Being Vulnerable with Each Other–Revealing secrets, emotional scars, pain or tears, insecurities, fears, flaws, mistakes, embarrassing moments–the things we would normally prefer to keep hidden–these all require vulnerability. Sharing them strengthens the bond between the love interests. A first kiss or confession of love are also acts of vulnerability because there is a chance the feelings might not be reciprocated.

13. Rescuing Each Other–Whether it’s the guy saving the girl or vice-versa, everyone needs help sometimes, and when you love someone you don’t abandon them. Though modern trends might say otherwise, I think it’s fine to have a guy rescue a girl. I don’t think think it shows the girl is weak, but rather, it shows the guys cares enough to risk himself for her.

14. Learning to Depend on One Another–This is especially challenging for stubborn, independent, or proud characters, but as a couple your love interests need to learn how to accept each others’ help and work together as a team. They might have to learn that it’s okay for someone else to do something for them, even if they’re capable of doing it themselves–and acts such as these might even be how a character expresses their love.

15. Comforting Each Other–When one love interest is upset, the other should be there to console them and help them through the situation. Someone who truly cares will share the pain of the person they love, and will hurt because they hurt.

That’s all for Part I, stay tuned for Part II coming next week!

What is it in a fictional relationship that makes you swoon? Tell me in the comments below!



How to Write a Short Story (That’s Actually Short!)

Want to write a short story but struggling on the "short" part? Learn my top tips for trimming down your story!Most people probably think that it’s easier to write a novel than it is to write a short story. In reality, however, it’s actually harder to write a short story than a novel. Well, for many writers anyway. But how can this be? How can it be harder to writer 7,500 words or less compared to 50,000+ words?

Let’s say you go on a two-week vacation to the exotic location of your choice. When you get home you want to tell your best friend all about it, but she’s running short on time. You have two minutes to tell her about your two-week trip. How can you cram everything you did into a two-minute conversation? The thing is, you can’t.

You see, the short story is an art. Condensing a story into a compact form that is still functioning, interesting, and creates emotional impact is no small feat. It’s harder to tell a good story with fewer words, and this is why many writers find short stories so challenging.

The Short Story Trend

Lately, I’ve noticed a, interesting trend in Young Adult fiction. It seems the short story is making a comeback of sorts. I’ve noticed authors publishing short stories that relate to their novels that are prequels, sequels, tell a character’s backstory, or explore what a certain character was doing “off stage” during the events of the novel.

Some examples of this trend include Sarah J. Mass’ The Assassin’s Blade novellas, Cassandra Clare’s The Bane Chronicles, J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website, and Marissa Meyer’s collection Stars Above. These are just a few examples–there are many more out there and I seem to be running across more and more every day, so this trend definitely seems to be growing.

And it makes sense. Not only to these short stories give readers more of their favorite tales and characters, but they’re great for the 21st century attention span. Readers can snack on these short stories without having to commit to a whole series of sequels or prequels or what-have-you.

I think we very well may see short story collections such as these grow in popularity in the near future, perhaps even to the point where we see more stand-alone collections that aren’t attached to novels! And with this growing trend, it might be worthwhile to learn how to write a short story even if you’re a novelist at heart.

Why Write a Short Story?

So why should you bother trying to write a short story? For me, I just wanted to take on the challenge. I wanted to have the skill, and it bothered me that I could write a 160,000 word novel but not a measly short story. I wanted to challenge myself to get outside of my comfort zone as a writer.

Here are some other reasons you might consider writing a short story:

  • A short story can be used to promote a novel and attract new readers
  • Publishing a short story in a magazine or online can help you build some publishing credibility for your novel
  • You can use a short story to give your readers more of a novel without having to write an entire series, or expand on a series (Ex. J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore stories)
  • Short stories allow you to experiment with writing styles and genres and allow you to explore new ideas without committing to writing an entire novel
  • Short stories challenge you to write succinctly, and help you learn how to say more with less

As you can see, even novelists can benefit from short stories! Ready to write a short story for yourself? Before you do, keep reading to get my top tips I learned during my own short story practice and study!

My Top Tips For Short Stories

1. Focus on a Turning Point

One of the first challenges you face when you set out to write a short story is figuring out a plot. What do you want this story to be about? How do you keep the story you want to tell to the length of a short story, yet still have it qualify as a true “story” and not a random scene?

First, let’s look at the elements you need for a story–a hero, goal, conflict, and growth. A story is about a hero who wants something (goal), sets out to attain it, but faces an obstacle that stands in his way (conflict), and as the result of achieving or failing the goal, grows or learns something.

So how can we pack all this into a short story? In terms of plot, you need to think tiny. Which is extremely hard if you’re a novelist like me. It’s my instinct to plot novels, so my short stories would always end up being too long. I’d make the plot too complicated and try to include too many scenes. I’d create conflicts that were so large and complex it would take an entire novel to resolve.

But after taking a Literature class in college in which we studied short stories, I was finally able to figure out the “secret” to creating a short-story-sized plot. The trick is to focus on a turning point in the hero’s life. Since a short story can only portray a moment, you need that moment to have an impact. A turning point provides you with the emotional significance you need to make the story matter and not seem random or pointless.

So what do I mean by a turning point? This is a moment in the character’s life where something happens that makes them grow, change their perspective, challenge their beliefs, realize something important, or impacts their life.

For example, in the Hunger Games the scene where Prim’s name is drawn and Katniss volunteers in her place is a turning point. Katniss’ life won’t be the same after this. Another example of a turning point is when Hagrid shows up at the sea shack in the first Harry Potter novel and says Harry’s a wizard.

With a little tinkering, these scenes could be fashioned into short stories. They are both turning points with emotional impact and force the character to make a decision and overcome an internal obstacle–Katniss must find the courage to volunteer for her sister, and Harry must take a leap of faith and decide if he’ll believe magic is real. Of course there’s much more to both of these tales, but a short story is simply the tip of the iceberg.

Find your character’s life-changing moment and then tell that story of that turning point.

2. It’s Okay to Tell

One piece of writing advice we get drilled into us all the time is show don’t tell. While that’s good advice for a novel, it’s not going to work for a short story. Showing takes longer than telling, and we don’t have time for that. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to tell everything, but just realize that in a short story not only is telling acceptable, but it’s expected.

Think of fairy tales, Greek mythology, and other folklore. These are are types of short stories, and if you’ve ever read any of them, you will quickly notice that they involve a lot of telling. For example, take this opening paragraph from the Brother’s Grimm Red Riding Hood:

“Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by everyone who looked at her, but most of all by her grandmother, and there was nothing that she would not have given to the child. Once she gave her a little riding hood of red velvet, which suited her so well that she would never wear anything else; so she was always called ‘Little Red Riding Hood.'”

This is all telling, and in a novel it wouldn’t be acceptable. We would be expected to show the reader this information, which could take several scenes or an entire chapter. But in a short story we can get away with telling because we have a limited amount of page space and the reader knows this.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to tell!

3. Don’t Start With Fantasy or Romance

If you’re just starting out trying to write a short story, I’d highly recommend staying away from the Fantasy, Sci-fi-, and Romance genres until you get some practice. Why? These are some of the most challenging genres in which to write short stories because Fantasy and Sci-fi require a lot of world-building, which requires more page space, and a romance is very hard to pull off without lots of page space to develop the characters and their relationship.

Unfortunately for me, Fantasy and Romance are my favorite genres to write, especially with the two mixed together. So of course these were the sort of short stories I attempted to write, and it was extremely difficult and frustrating. Once you get better at short stories you can start experimenting with these genres, but for now try to get the hang of things with genres that work well for short stories like mystery/crime, thriller, horror, and contemporary.

I will note though that the exception to this would probably be Fantasy that takes place in the modern-day world that involve story lines like time travel, super powers, magic, and mythical creatures that require little explanation because audiences are already familiar with them. Because it takes place in our world, the audience is also familiar with the world and how it works so little world-building is required.

4. Be a Minimalist

When you write a short story, the key is less of everything. Fewer settings, scenes, and characters; bare-minimum backstory, world-building, and plot; succinct description, dialogue, and word choice. If you can make do without it, then it needs to go. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Recommended Short Stories to Study

I’ve found the best way to learn how to write short stories is by reading them yourself, just like you learn how to write a novel by reading novels. At first I tried to write short stories without reading them (confession: I was being lazy), but I didn’t “get it” until I started studying them. It’s always harder to create something without seeing examples of it first.

I’ve compiled a list of some short stories for you below. I would also recommend buying (or obtaining from the library) a book of short stories from modern writers. The stories below are classics (with the exception of “The Lottery”), and while they’re extremely helpful for learning how to write short stories, it’s also a good idea to study modern short stories because the writing style is different from the classics to cater to modern readers.

Recommended Short Stories:

1. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

2. The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

3. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

5. A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

6. Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

7. The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde

8. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

9. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

10. Snow White and Rose Red by the Brothers Grimm

Need More Help With Your Story?

If you need more help, you might want to check out my $5 workbook Zero to Story. It breaks down how to find an idea and develop it into a short story (or novel!) step-by-step. Learn all about it here!

What’s your biggest challenge when writing short stories? Let me know in the comments below!



Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

Is your character a Mary Sue? You might be writing one without even realizing it! Learn the warning signs and how to fix them to create a character with more depth and realism. It’s hard for writers to be hard on our characters, to tell them no or make them suffer or give them flaws. Like proud, doting mothers, we want them to be our perfect children who can do no wrong. We want them to be successful. We want to spoil them, and we want readers to love them. Heck, we might even want them to inherent some of our own qualities. But unfortunately, this type of attitude often leads to the creation of a Mary Sue.

What Does a Mary Sue Look Like?

A “Mary Sue” is either a female or male (sometimes called a “Gary Stu”) character who embodies the perfect hero/heroine. Often, she is an idealized version of the author herself. Mary Sues are usually beautiful, talented, have few or no flaws, and are loved by everyone.

The problem is, all this is bestowed upon them without them having to “earn” it. They are effortlessly beautiful; they have special abilities or prodigy-like skills they don’t have to work to develop; other characters want to be their friends or lovers or lavish them with admiration without them doing anything to deserve it. Not only is this unrealistic, but it serves to irritate the reader and often turn her against the Mary Sue.

As for examples of Mary Sues, it’s been argued that characters like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Rey, Superman, Eragon, Bella Swan, and Edward Cullen fall into this character type.

I’m not going to debate in this article whether they do or don’t, but I would like to point out that some of the characters on this list are loved by many, while others are despised. So a Mary Sue character doesn’t automatically spell doom, but I do think it’s wise to avoid creating one if possible.

Mary Sue Signs and Solutions

Okay, I’m going to share a secret with you: the heroine of my first novel was a Mary Sue. It wasn’t intentional, but as a new, 14-year-old writer I did end up putting a lot of myself into the character. She was also beautiful, talented, and fit into nearly every one of the categories below. When I realized the mistake I had made I gave her a major over-haul in later drafts.

Sometimes–especially if you’re new to writing stories–you might create a Mary Sue without realizing it. But with a little bit of work you can re-shape your character into one with much more depth and realism.

Below are 6 warning signs of a Mary Sue and how to fix them. Note that if your character fits one or two of these categories, that doesn’t mean they’re a Mary Sue. The real trouble comes when your character fits a bunch or all of these categories. So don’t panic if your character has a special talent or is a chosen one!

1. Beautiful, Yet Plain

A Mary Sue usually sees herself as plain or average, but really she’s beautiful or even gorgeous. Guys don’t fail to take notice, and her friends and family reassure her of her beauty even as she laments about how plain she is. Often, she’ll have a special hair or eye color to make her more unique, or exotic features.

Solution: Try to avoid words/phrases that describe characters as beautiful/handsome  unless it’s important to their character or the story. Also, if it’s not important don’t give your heroine gold or violet eyes in an attempt to make her more unique. Not only do these colors not exist in real life, but I feel like it screams trying to hard to make the hero “special.”

Now, when you’re describing a love interest through the eyes of the character who loves them, it’s fine to be more biased about looks because of course when you love someone you’re going to be attracted to them! But don’t go crazy with it. Try to avoid creating a cast of supermodels.

2. Talented

A Mary Sue is extremely talented, often in more than one area. She doesn’t have to work at her skill, it just comes to her naturally.

Solution: This doesn’t mean that you can’t give your hero a talent. It’s good for heroes to have a strength, and in real life people usually have something they’re really good at. But it’s usually one thing, and they have to work very hard at it. Often, there are others who are better at it than they are.

Try to limit your hero’s talent to one thing, make him work for the skill, and consider not making him best person in the world at it. Also, offset his talent by showing other areas in which he struggles. For example, he may be good with a sword but can’t shoot a bow to save his life.

3. Destined

In Fantasy, it’s not uncommon for Mary Sues to have some sort of destiny or prophecy to fulfill. They’re often “The Chosen One,” the only one who can stop the villain or save the world.

Solution: This is the hardest issue to fix because it involves changing your plot. See if you can avoid making your hero The Chosen One. Instead, try to find a way to make him commit to defeating the villain, saving the world, etc. without being cornered into it by destiny.

For example, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo chooses to take the ring to Mordor and destroy it of his own free will. This makes him a much more admirable and brave character than if some curse or prophecy had made him the only one who could destroy it.

4. Without Flaw

Mary Sues have few or no flaws. They can do no wrong, and are often very moral or “goody-goody.”

Solution: Give your characters real flaws. Being ugly or clumsy are not real flaws. This is often one of the hardest parts of creating a hero because we’re afraid of making him unlikable. But strangely enough, a flawed character is actually more likable because he’s more relatable and more interesting. He has layers, different sides to him that contrast and conflict. Need ideas? Check out this list of character flaws.

5. Loved by All

Mary Sue characters are surrounded by people who adore them–except the villain, of course. They might even have several love interests clamoring for their affection. It doesn’t matter what they do or how rude they’ve been, everyone will still love them. The Mary Sue doesn’t even have to give them a reason or earn their trust/friendship/admiration.

Solution: Of course your hero will be loved by friends, family, and maybe a love interest. But not everyone they meet should automatically like them. It’s just not realistic. Give them enemies besides the villain, or have them meet people who just aren’t fond of them. And make sure there’s a reason why people like him–whether it’s friends, a love interest, or strangers.

6. No Struggle

Everything is easy for the Mary Sue character. She doesn’t have to work for anything. Everything she wants falls into her lap, and defeating the villain is a breeze. If she makes a mistake or does something wrong she doesn’t have to face consequences for her actions.

Solution: Don’t make things easy for your hero! Let him struggle, fail, and make mistakes. Don’t give him everything he wants like some spoiled child. Make it difficult for him to defeat the villain so that he “earns” his happy ending.

Have you come across any Mary Sues in books or films? Have you written any yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below!



How to Write a Love Triangle Like Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!Lately, I’ve been on a Jane Austen movie binge. I just can’t resist the empire gowns, the cravats, the balls, the wit and humor, and Mr. Darcy (insert swoon here).

But in typical writer fashion, of course I couldn’t just enjoy the stories like a normal person–I had to be curious about how Jane Austen constructed them, too. Much like a builder staring up at a domed ceiling and instead of appreciating the beauty thinking, how did they do that?

Yes, I have a problem, but today it’s to your benefit because I’m going to show you how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen 😉

Jane Austen’s design behind her love triangles struck my curiosity because usually I’m not a fan of love triangles. Usually, I find them annoying and predictable. But I was surprised to find that the love triangles in Austen’s works didn’t bother me, and I was able to enjoy them.

Why was that? What had she done differently?

Of course I couldn’t resist analyzing and breaking it down to try to find an answer, and today I’m going to share my findings with you. It turns out, Jane Austen’s love triangles have subtle differences from the typical love triangles I’ve come across in YA novels and even a lot of romance films. Before we break down those differences, let’s take a peek at a typical YA love triangle.

A Look at a “Typical” YA Love Triangle

Most YA love triangles I’ve encountered look something like this:

The heroine falls in love with two guys at the same time. They are both great guys, though usually one is more edgy, distant, aloof, harder to obtain, etc. and/or has a bad boy side.

Guy #2 is usually the more “practical” choice as he’s “safer” and would be “better for her.” He tends to be the boy-next-door or best friend type.

The heroine agonizes over which guy she should choose as both fight for her heart. She goes back and forth between the two and just can’t make up her mind.

Examining Jane Austen’s Love Triangles

Now, on the other hand, let’s examine the elements of the type of love triangle Jane Austen creates.

1. First, the heroine does not fall in love with both men at the same time. She has feelings for only one at a time. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett has a crush on Wickham for a while. After she learns his true character her feelings subside, and it is only then that her heart begins to turn towards Darcy.

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood ignores the attentions of Colonel Brandon, thinking him too old and unromantic, and falls in love with the dashing Willoughby. But she realizes what Willoughby is really like when he abandons her and breaks her heart. Eventually, Marianne gradually falls in love with Colonel Brandon.

 2. Not both men are good options. In most YA love triangles both love interests are good options, and for the heroine it’s just a matter of deciding who she loves more and wants to spend her life with.

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!But in Jane Austen’s novels, one man is the “right” choice while one man is the “wrong” choice, and it’s up to the heroine to learn their true character in order to make her decision.

Basically, Austen encourages readers not to decide on a man with your heart or romantic feelings, but to judge and know his character.

In many YA love triangles, often the emphasis is placed on feelings and physical attraction and little is revealed about the character of the love interest. But Austen has her heroines learn the character of the love interest so they have a reason to like them that runs deeper than physical attraction.

3. While one man is meant to be the wrong option, both men might appear to be good options. Austen loves to show that charms and dashing good looks do not reveal a man’s true character, and are not enough to build a lasting love.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice Wickham is very charming, good-humored, and handsome. It seems like he’s a decent man and would make a good love interest–until his true character is revealed. Similarly in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby is dashing, romantic, and charming, but his character is lacking. And in Emma, Frank Churchill is yet another charming man of shallow character.

Austen loves to create characters who appear to be good love interests because they’re handsome, charming, romantic, etc., but in the end it’s the men who possess qualities that matter such as loyalty, commitment, devotion, compassion, honor, responsibility, etc. who end up winning the heroine’s heart.

4. The heroine is decisive and does not waver back and forth between the love interests. The main reason I have such a hard time with modern YA love triangles is that after a while it drives me nuts when the heroine can’t decide between two guys.

I hate the constant jumping back and forth and eventually I want to grab the heroine and shake her and scream just pick one already! I can put up with it for a while, but if it’s dragged out for too long–or over an entire series–it begins to wear on me.

I think authors feel this increases the tension and in a way it does, but it can also make the heroine seem very fickle or as though she is toying with the two guys. Jane Austen avoids this problem by having her heroines feel for only one man at a time, though two men might be interested in the heroine at the same time.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy and Wickham are interested in Elizabeth at the same time, but she is only interested in one of them at any given time. And in Sense and Sensibility, both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are interested in Marianne at the same time, but she only likes one of them at a time.

I find this slight shift in love triangle dynamics interesting, and I can’t help but wonder what these stories would have looked like had the heroines been interested in both men at once!

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!

Final Thoughts

Even though the differences in the way Jane Austen designs her love triangles are subtle, I feel like their impact is much deeper and emotional than that of many modern love triangles out there today.

Austen’s love triangles aren’t about choosing the hottest guy, or the guy who’s the best kisser or the best in bed, or the guy you have the best chemistry with. They’re about choosing the guy with the best character, a man who will truly love and commit to you. They’re about avoiding rogues in gentleman’s clothing, or villains with the face of a Disney prince.

Personally, I find this type of love triangle more realistic and relatable. The romance it creates also provides more depth because we get to truly know the characters–not just read lengthy descriptions of heated make-out scenes.

Which type of love triangle do you prefer? Are there any other differences between typical YA love triangles and Jane Austen’s that I missed? What do you think Jane Austen’s stories would have been like if they were done in the style of a typical YA love triangle? Leave you thoughts below!



Writing 101: Let’s Talk Dialogue

Part 5 in the Writing 101 series for new writers! Today, we're discussing the basics of dialogue. Learn the best speech tag to use, how to punctuate dialogue correctly, and the difference between spoken and written dialogue!Dialogue is a tricky little beast when you’re a new writer. From punctuation to making it sound realistic, there’s a lot that can go wrong. When done well, dialogue can be a true delight for the reader and make a story shine. But mess it up and, well…it can really put a damper on things.

Today, we’re going to look at some dialogue basics to get you started off on the right track. If you’re confused about punctuation, speech tags, or the difference between spoken and written dialogue fear not–keep reading and we’ll tackle them together!

Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain), and Part 4 (Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot).

What is Dialogue?

Dialogue is the spoken words between two or more characters, which is signaled with quotation ” ” marks. Most of your story will consist of dialogue. Dialogue not only moves your story along, but it also helps reveal who your characters are.

However, dialogue in fiction is not the same as dialogue in real life. When we write dialogue for a story we are actually creating an artistic imitation of real speech.

Why? Because no one would want to read real-life dialogue. In real speech, people stammer, um and uh, talk over and interrupt each other, get distracted, forget what they were going to say, bring up random stuff, chit chat about the weather… Trust me, no one wants to read that! It would be a mess.

To really see the difference between real and written dialogue, take a look at this piece of dialogue I’ve transcribed from an interview with Doctor Who actor David Tennant:

“Obviously it’s–it’s eh every exciting to be around for eh the big celebration episode, you know. Ehm, it–it–it’s something that’s being talked about (sighs)–I mean the–the expectation has been I–I think since I left eh that I’d end up in this somehow because there is the precedent I guess for old Doctors coming back for a visit around the anniversary time. But ehm, but it was really only relatively recently that–that it-it became a definite thing so uh I-I-I was thrilled cause it’s a huge–it’s a huge thing for Doctor Who.”

You can watch the interview here if you’d like to hear it spoken. Now, can you imagine reading an entire book like that? And in a conversation with two people there would be even more interruptions and overlapping speech.

So how might the above dialogue look in a story? Probably something like this:

“Obviously it’s very exciting to be around for the big celebration episode. Since I’ve left the expectation, I think, has been that I’d end up in the episode somehow. There’s a precedent for old Doctors coming back for the anniversary but it wasn’t until recently it became definite. I was thrilled–it’s a huge thing for Doctor Who.”

See the difference? It reads smoother and easier while still sounding like real speech. Some of the wording and sentence structure has been altered, and the stammering and ums have been omitted.

I would highly recommend hopping on Youtube and watching a few interviews, paying attention to the flow of real conversations. Listen to how people talk in real life, and then grab a book and study the dialogue to see the differences.

In short, dialogue in fiction is carefully crafted with purpose in mind. That purpose is to: 1) Move the story forward, and 2) Characterize your hero and supporting cast with what they say and how they say it.

Speech Tags

As you learn more about writing, you might come across the term “speech tags.” A speech tag identifies which character is speaking. It usually involves words like said, asked, shouted, or whispered. Like so:

“Can we go to the movies?” Sara asked.

“Not until you’ve finished your chores,” her mother said.

New writers often fall into the mistake of thinking said is too boring and repetitive. They try to make their writing more colorful by using speech tags like bawled, affirmed, intoned, inquired, fumed, etc. The problem is, most of the time these words are redundant or unnecessary and only clutter the writing. We should be able to tell from the dialogue that a character is fuming, you shouldn’t need to tell us.

I highly recommend using said whenever possible because it’s invisible. It doesn’t draw attention to itself and readers don’t notice it because it’s used so often. This will also make your writing seem more professional. For a more in-depth discussion on why said is the best speech tag to use, check out my article here.

Punctuating Dialogue

When I first started writing, I was confused and intimidated by how to punctuate dialogue. Since I’ve always found books to be the best teachers, I grabbed books off my shelf and studied how the dialogue was formatted. I still remember scouring the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone wondering, does the comma go inside the quotations or outside?

Ah, memories.

Now I can punctuate dialogue with a thought–and eventually you will be able to do the same. With practice, it will come as natural as breathing. I’ve written a more in-depth post on formatting dialogue which you can read here, but for this post we’re just going to cover the basics.

Rule #1: Quotation marks are for spoken words only. A quotation mark signals to the reader that someone is speaking, so don’t use them for a character’s thoughts!

Rule #2: Ending punctuation, such as a comma, period, question mark, or exclamation point, always go inside the quotation marks. Like so:

“I don’t think we should go that way,” Jane said.

“Are you sure about that?” Ethan asked.

“I’m positive.”

Also, only use one punctuation mark at the end of a line of dialogue.

WRONG: “Is that the new dress you bought?,” he asked.

Rule #3: The first word after a line of dialogue is capitalized if  1) It’s a name 2) It does not describe who is speaking or how the dialogue is being spoken (aka a speech tag). Observe:

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ryan shouted.

“I was just trying to help.” The girl backed away.

WRONG: “I was just trying to help,” the girl backed away.

The first word after a line of dialogue is lower case if it’s indicating the speaker using an improper noun (he, she, it) and/or describing how something was said.

“Hand me that paint brush,” he said.

“You could at least say please,” the girl said with a huff.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now that you know the dialogue basics, it’s time to put them to work in your own writing. The best way to learn how to write better dialogue is with practice! Keep at it and you’ll be a pro in no time 😉 Have any questions about dialogue? Post them below!

P.S. Ready for the next part in the Writing 101 series? Click here for Part 6, Setting and Worldbuilding!



Introducing: The Page-Turner Project

Want to learn how to write a page-turner? The Page-Turner Project is a 78 page guidebook that helps you understand how a page-turner works, and how to create one yourself!One of the best compliments I can receive for a story is when a reader tells me they couldn’t put it down.

Because, ultimately, that’s my goal as a writer–to create a story readers enjoy so much that they get lost in it. They speed through it. They devour it.

I don’t want to put in all the work of writing a story only to fail at holding the reader’s attention. I want my story to get read and not end up abandoned and forgotten. And I feel like in today’s world with all the distractions and readers’ short attention spans, it’s more important (and challenging!) than ever to keep the reader’s attention.

So I asked myself: How can I write page-turning stories? What is it that hooks readers and gets them addicted? Why do some stories suck you in while others fail?

I unintentionally wrote a page-turner. I set out with the goal to write a darn good story, and based on the feedback I received from friends and beta readers I realized I had not just written a good story, but one they couldn’t put down. I started analyzing what I had done, the techniques I had used, and how it had all added up to a page-turner.

All of my analyzing, study, and research has resulted in my new e-book, The Page-Turner Project. My goal with this e-book is to help you learn how to write your own page-turning stories and get your readers hooked. I’m so excited to finally be sharing this e-book with you because let me tell you, it’s pretty dang epic!

Just what will you learn in this e-book?

  • How to lay a strong foundation to support a page-turning story
  • How to create conflict that matters, and invest readers in your story
  • How to design a page-turning plot
  • How to create tension on every page
  • How to design chapters readers will speed through

But besides all this info, I’ve also included some other epic content. Like what, you ask? Well, I’ve included a case study of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that breaks down how J.K. Rowling uses tension and conflict throughout the whole book. That’s right, the whole book. Chapter by chapter, baby.

You’ll also find worksheets to help you brainstorm and lay out your own page-turning story, as well as questions to help you troubleshoot and fix boring scenes. And last but not least, I’ve included a glossary of 36 ways to create conflict and tension for when you’re feeling stuck, complete with examples from books and films.

So it’s practical information, worksheets, case study, and glossary all bundled up into one 78-page epic guide. See why I’m so excited about this book now? 😉 I’ve compiled everything I can think of to help you understand, apply and conquer the concepts you’ll learn into this e-book.

And let me tell you, this is not 78 pages of fluff. No sir, this is 18,600 words of pure, informative content. Forget waffling around, we’re going to dive right in. There’s not even an introduction (because let’s be honest, who actually reads those anyways?).

So, let me ask you: Are you ready to write a story your readers will devour? Click below to purchase your copy of the Page-Turner Project for just $12, and start learning how to design addictive fiction!

let's write a page-turner!

3 Ways You’re Killing Your Story’s Tension

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.As a reader, I love to be tortured.

I love the suspense, the waiting, the anticipation as a novel unfolds. It’s my favorite part of reading a story. Sure I love it when the love interests finally get together or the murderer is finally revealed, but the really fun part is the tension: The anticipation of waiting for that moment. Because once it happens, well, that’s that. The conflict is resolved and the story is over.

Oscar Wilde put it aptly when he said:

The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.

-Oscar Wilde

When I open a book I want the author to make the fun last for as long as possible. I want to be teased, tantalized, and tortured. I want the author to make me unable to resist turning page after page–even if it is 3am.

It’s sort of like Christmas. I was the weird kid who loved waiting for Christmas Day to finally arrive. Sure I loved opening my presents, too, but I loved the anticipation, the mystery, the suspense. Unlike my sister, I never begged to open gifts early. Why would I want to ruin the surprise? Even then I couldn’t resist tension.

Your goal as a writer is to make your novel like Christmas for your readers. Make them wait. Make it agonizing and exciting. Make them curious and eager. Then, when the moment finally arrives, give them what they’ve been waiting for.

So how can you keep the reader’s anticipation high in your novel until that big moment when the conflict is finally resolved? Here are 3 mistakes you’ll need avoid to handle your tension like a pro.

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.

1.You Make Things Too Easy

If your hero isn’t facing any challenges as he works towards his goal, or is overcoming them while hardly batting an eye, things are going to get boring really quick. Your hero needs to struggle. The struggle is what keeps your readers interested. Lack of struggle means lack of conflict, and conflict is what story is all about.

When there’s conflict there will be a winner and loser in the outcome. This leaves your reader to wonder nervously whether the hero will succeed or fail. And although it might go against your instincts to do so, you must let your hero lose sometimes. If your hero wins every battle, the reader will have no doubt he’ll defeat the villain in the end without a problem. And that will destroy your tension.

Sometimes your hero will make the wrong decision. He won’t be fast enough, or strong enough. He will be outwitted by the villain. He won’t be able to save everyone. And that’s okay! It will deepen your hero’s struggle, and make for better fiction. Let your hero lose.

2. Your Characters Are Too Nice

If all of your main characters get along perfectly well throughout the whole story, your novel is going to be a real drag for the reader. Fiction is always more fun when characters are at odds with one another. When they fight, disagree, or mistrust one another it creates conflict, and therefore tension. Readers can’t resist these sorts of dynamics.

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.Think about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in the BBC series Sherlock. Sure they’re best friends, but Sherlock drives John nuts and they often fight. How boring would the show become if they were perfectly civil and agreeable towards each other in every episode? Yawn.

Or, what about the dynamics of the characters Cassandra Clare throws together in City of Bones?

You have Simon who secretly loves Clary, but Clary doesn’t return his feelings. You have Jace who’s interested in Clary and jealous of Simon. Both Simon and Jace hate each other. Alec doesn’t like Clary or Simon and is irritated with Jace for breaking the rules. Isabell and Simon flirt with each other but Clary resents Isabell for toying with her best friend.

Conflict and tension abounds!

If your characters are all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing kum ba ya, it will suck all the tension from your story.

3. You Resolve Your Conflicts Too Early

Once, a writer asked if I could give them advice on their story’s middle. Readers had complained that the middle was too slow and boring. The writer couldn’t understand why or how to fix it. After reading the story the issue quickly became clear: the writer had resolved the conflicts too early.

With the conflicts resolved, there was no tension–no anticipation of what was to come. So there was nothing to carry readers through the story’s middle, and that was why they had lost interest. Eventually another conflict was introduced, but you don’t want to risk losing readers even for a moment.

Make sure you draw out your conflicts for as long as possible–if you can, don’t resolve them until the end of the story. And if your story demands that one conflict be resolved, make sure you introduce another either just before or directly after its resolution.

At every point in your story, make sure there is a question on the reader’s mind so that they must keep reading to find the answer. Will the hero slay the dragon? Will the girl find her brother? Will the cop catch the criminal?

Keep readers wondering and you’ll keep them reading.

page turner project side barNeed more help on creating tension? I’ve written an entire e-book on the topic called “The Page-Turner Project”! Click to check it out!

What ruins a story’s tension for you as a reader? Let me know in the comments!