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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Nov 24, 2022

Show, Don't Tell: Tips and Examples of The Golden Rule

Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. It fosters a more immersive writing style for the reader, allowing them to “be in the room” with the characters.

In his oft-repeated quoted, Anton Chekhov said , “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass."

In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Here’s a quick example:

Showing: As his mother switched off the light and left the room, Michael tensed. He huddled under the covers, gripped the sheets, and held his breath as the wind brushed past the curtain.

Telling: Michael was terribly afraid of the dark.

In the “showing” example, rather than merely saying that Michael is afraid of the dark, we’ve put him in a situation where his experience of that fear takes center stage. The reader can deduce the same information they’d get from the “telling” example but in a much more compelling way.

In this post, we'll show you why Show Don't Tell is the most popular "rule" in creative writing and show you how you can add some "showing" skills to your toolkit.

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Drawing the readers in with action

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Showing also helps develop characters in a way that isn't just listing their traits. For instance, rather than telling your readers that “Gina was selfish and immature,” you could show this side of her by writing a scene where she whines about how everyone forgot her half-birthday. Or if you have a character who’s extremely determined, show her actually persisting through something — don’t just say “she was persistent.”

When done right, showing draws readers into the narrative with truly immersive description. It contributes to story development but also leaves certain things up to the reader’s interpretation, which is much more interesting than making everything explicit. (Though of course, you can still use language to alter their perception ).

The bottom line: telling might be quicker, and it’s certainly necessary to have some telling in every story (more on that later), but showing should almost always be your prime strategy.

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All right, that’s enough theory for now! Let’s talk about how you can show, not tell, in your own work. Here are five key tips on how to show rather than tell in a story

4 Practical 'Show, Don’t Tell' Tips

Let's start with one of the most important aspects of storytelling...

Tip #1. Create a sense of setting

One of the best ways to show rather than tell is to create a sense of setting. You can do this by writing about how characters perceive and interact with their surroundings, weaving plenty of sensory details and occasional action into the scene. This is a particularly good way to lend immediacy to your story, as the reader should be able to imagine themselves in that very setting. 

Telling: I walked through the forest. It was already Fall and I was getting cold.

Showing: The dry orange leaves crunched under my feet as I pulled the collar up on my coat. 

Six panels, three of them read "show, don't tell" the others are close ups of evocative autumnal images: leaves crunching underfoot. Barren trees. A man in a coat

Tip #2. Use dialogue to show character

In addition to setting, you can also use dialogue to demonstrate story elements beyond the surface conversation. A character’s speech will tell the reader a lot about them, especially when they’re first being introduced.

Do they use long sentences and polysyllabic words or do they prefer short, punchy replies? Are there likely to use slang and call an authority figure “dude” or “fam” or will they address them respectfully as “Mr. So-and-So”?

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Tip #3. If in doubt, always describe action

“Telling” almost always grinds your narrative momentum to a halt. Imagine having to describe the setting every time your characters enter a new space — any pace you had built in your chapter would be destroyed. However, it’s still important to evoke the setting and put your scene in context. And that’s where showing action comes in handy.

Let’s say you start your scene with your character walking through St Mark’s Square in Venice. Instead of describing the pigeons, the tourists and the layout of the space, you can evoke it through action:

He was late. St Mark’s clocktower had struck one and Enzo found himself pushing against the tide of tourists milling towards the cafes lining the Piazza San Marco. A clump of pigeons scattered in front of him.

Through action, you’re able to describe the setting of the scene while also maintaining your story’s forward motion.

Tip #4. Use strong details, but don’t overdo it

Strong, vivid details are crucial to the process of showing. However, that doesn’t mean you should include too many details, especially those that are overly embellished. This kind of excessively ornate language can be just as bad as “telling” language that’s too basic, as it may cause the reader to lose interest in your super-dense prose.

Too much detail: The statue felt rough, its aged facade caked with dust and grime as I weighed it in my hand, observing its jagged curves and Fanta-colored hue.

Just right: It was heavier than it looked. Some of the orange facade crumbled in my hand as I picked it up.

Strike the right balance by alternating between simple and complex sentences and ideas, and different types of sensory detail, so the reader doesn’t get overloaded on one type.

'Show, Don’t Tell' Examples

To break down this technique even further, here are a few additional "show, don't tell" examples of authors showing rather than telling in their writing. If you want to analyze even more examples of this tactic, just crack open the nearest novel! Pretty much every work of fiction involves showing, and observing the tactics of successful authors is one of the best ways to learn for yourself.

Example #1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander’s Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace.

This passage uses various senses (smell, touch, and sound) to recreate the atmosphere of Offred’s old garden, romanticizing the act of gardening to show that she misses those days. It also connects that peaceful past time to the present day, implying that many people no longer feel at peace, including the Commander’s Wife.

Example #2. It by Stephen King

In this early scene, young Georgie runs after his toy boat as he is unwittingly being lured by a malevolent force.

Now here he was, chasing his boat down the left of Witcham Street. He was running fast but the water was running faster and his boat was pulling ahead. He heard a deepening roar and saw that fifty yards farther down the hill the water in the gutter was cascading into a storm drain that was still open. It was a long dark semi-circle cut into the curbing, and as Georgie watched, a stripped branch, its bark as dark and glistening as sealskin, shot into the storm drain’s maw.

King renders the fast-running rivulets of a rainy day by having Georgie run alongside them, unable to keep up. Then he sees the storm drain, which King aptly calls a “maw” (a spot-on metaphor), and its threat is heightened by the sound of its “deepening roar” and the fact that it swallows an entire branch. Needless to say, poor Georgie’s boat doesn’t stand a chance.

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

Example #3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

In this scene, a suburban husband awakens to the sound of his wife’s cooking.

My morning breath warmed the pillow, and I changed the subject in my mind. Today was not a day for second-guessing or regret, it was a day for doing. Downstairs, I could hear the return of a long-lost sound: Amy making breakfast. Banging wooden cupboards (rump-thump!), rattling containers of tin and glass (ding-ring!), shuffling and sorting a collection of metal pots and iron pans (ruzz-shuzz!). A culinary orchestra tuning up, clattering vigorously toward the finale.

This passage starts off fairly simple, building up to the grand metaphor of the kitchen noises as a “culinary orchestra.” It’s also noteworthy for its use of onomatopoeia, which is a great tactic for “showing” sound.

However, this passage isn’t just what Nick hears: it’s also what he feels (“my morning breath warmed the pillow”) and thinks (“I changed the subject in my mind”). The intimate description pulls the reader in, and the passage's rhythm (quite literally!) keeps them engaged.

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Example #4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In this passage, Kristen contemplates her loneliness.

She had never entirely let go of the notion that if she reached far enough with her thoughts she might find someone waiting, that if two people were to cast their thoughts outward at the same moment they might somehow meet in the middle.

The theme of loneliness is evoked by with specific details: the character is shown desperately thinking about human connection. Her use of language — “reached far enough,” “cast their thoughts outward” — illustrates how extreme the character’s isolation is. This also ties into the post-apocalyptic novel’s theme of societal breakdown, which naturally results in isolation. Overall, this description gives us a much better idea of the character of Kirsten and the world of the Station Eleven than if Mandel wrote, “She wished that she weren’t so lonely.”

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Example #5. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

In this early scene, Fern, the very young daughter of a farmer, learns of a new litter of piglets.

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother. "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night." "I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight. "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it." "Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"

From this brief conversation, E.B. White clearly characterizes Fern and sets the central plot in motion . After realizing that her father is about to kill a runt pig, Fern steps up to save Wilbur (as she’ll soon christen him), who will become the main character of the story. This passage also introduces the themes of empathy toward animals and the prospect of death, which pervade the rest of the book. White could have simply written “Fern cared a lot about animals,” but from the dialogue, we see it for ourselves — plus we get a sense of how the plot might unfold from here.

show don't tell

Example #6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

In this extract from Dickens's classic, orphan Oliver arrives in London for the first time.

A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses… Oliver was just considering whether he hadn't better run away, when they reached the bottom of the hill.

Oliver’s initial impression of London hits us like a train: you can almost taste the filthy air and hear the children screaming for yourself. And if the description of London’s extreme depravity wasn’t already evident enough, you can tell from Oliver’s reaction that it must be pretty bad — for context, he’s just walked 30+ miles to reach London, and this is the first thing that’s really fazed him.

Of course, Dickens might have just written, “Oliver reached London. It was dirty and crowded.” But while this more or less summarizes the above passage, it completely loses the visceral sense of setting and Oliver’s feelings toward that setting. Without these details, the description would be totally generic.

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Example #7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In this scene, Montag, a “fireman” tasked with destroying books, hears his boss’s voice in his head, describing the burning of pages.

He could hear Beatty's voice. “Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.”

This excellent use of metaphor (taken from our list of 97 metaphors in literature and pop culture ) compares the pages of burnt books to “black butterflies”: an eerie image that, fittingly enough, burns itself into our brains. Though no book-burning actually occurs at this moment (Montag is merely imagining it), the reader can still vividly see what it would look like. We shudder at the contrast between the innocent, petal-like pages and the monstrous, destructive fire. Indeed, this is the pinnacle of showing — it really drives home how powerful figurative language can be.

Example #8. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Archie scrabbling up the stairs, as usual cursing and blinding, wilting under the weight of boxes that Clara could carry two, three at a time without effort; Clara taking a break, squinting in the warm May sunshine, trying to get her bearings. She peeled down to a little purple vest and leaned against her front gate. What kind of a place was this? That was the thing, you see, you couldn’t be sure.

The stream-of-consciousness style here evokes the rushed chaos of moving house. Also, the juxtaposed descriptions of Archie and Clara (him “ scrabbling, cursing, blinding, and wilting ” while she calmly assesses the situation) show how different they are — a disparity that will only grow over the course of the book.

"Telling" is sometimes a better option

Of course, sometimes you have no other choice but to do a bit of “telling” in a story. Yes, it’s a narrative shortcut, but sometimes shortcuts are necessary — especially when you’re trying to explain something quickly, with no fanfare or immersive evocation for readers. Writers often “tell” at the beginning of a story to get the exposition across , or after a “big reveal” where certain details just need to be clearly stated. The important thing is balance; as long as you don’t have too much of either telling or showing, you should be fine.

Finally, remember that there are no hard-and-fast rules for writing. If you’re worried that you’re telling too much and not showing enough, but your writing still flows well and engages readers, don’t feel obligated to change it! And as Jim Thomas says in the video above: “In the arts, rules are more like friendly suggestions. This is especially useful to remember when you’re creating your first or second draft — you’re going to ‘tell’ and that’s okay. You’re still figuring out what your story is about.”

So whether you’re more inclined to show or to tell, just know that with practice, you’ll find the exact style that works for you. And when that happens, you’ll show everyone (sorry, we couldn’t resist!) what you’re made of as a writer.

Do you struggle to show, not tell? Leave any questions, concerns, or tips in the comments below!

9 responses

Diane Young says:

05/06/2018 – 21:27

Jim's talk was excellent. I tried to absorb every word he said, but in spots I had to back up the video to listen again for the concept of what he was putting across. The two takeaways that I really GOT were that you can "tell" in the early drafts, scribbled notes or an outline just to get it all down, but then come back later to rewrite and "show" what you told before. The second point that lit up for me is that the reader should start to have their own version of the story. It's all getting clearer in my mind!

Serena Graham says:

29/03/2020 – 22:09

How would you say this show not tell? The garden is beautiful. It was an exciting day. The cake was delicious.

↪️ Martin Cavannagh replied:

31/03/2020 – 14:43

The flowers were in full bloom, their blue and yellow petals bringing the garden to life. The boys could barely contain their excitement, clambering over each other for a peek out the window. Frosting dripped from Kate's lips as each layer of chocolate sponege seemed to melt on her tongue.

↪️ Jasbina Sekhon-Misir replied:

18/06/2020 – 22:45

what do you think makes a garden beautiful?If I asked you what about it was beautiful, what would you say?The peony's blossoms greeted us as we walked towards the wooden garden gate. The herbaceous scent washed over me and the petals looked like painted raw silk. I ran my finger tips over the different shades of pink and white. I never thought cottage gardens could be so lush. Lilacs beaconed me deeper in and I saw an ancient rose bush against the grey stone wall. Carefully tended it was an explosion of roses. There was no escape. I am not the best, but just clearly describe what you are seeing that makes it beautiful as a sense experience.

Britney Whatt says:

27/05/2020 – 12:42

I struggle to show a lot. For example, how could you show a enchanting castle that belongs to a Goddess? How do you also show that there's been a shift in the aura of the place? A place where the air was warm and friendly suddenly changed to be sinister and chilling. I just need a few phrases to show an enchanting world

18/06/2020 – 22:49

What do you think the castle is made of? The castle was an icicle of white marble, glass and clear quartz. Ghostly bleached wood veined its way through the architecture, pushing the slender building higher like finger pointing towards the heavens.I was scared by something so delicate being so large, so high. Everything about it seemed like an afront to what was natural... or even possible.

↪️ ella replied:

31/07/2020 – 03:56

The place, which Johna could sense used to be glorious, was now dimmed, it seemed, casting an aura of forgottenness and something more sinister...

01/08/2020 – 15:48

Modern writing tends to be so very bad that I simply can't read it any more. It is all the same ubiquitous dull style, yet the authors have often studied 'creative writing'. It's a huge problem for me. The overly simplistic shorter sentences and the banal conversations have replaced the controlled impeccable sentences and well placed and relatively rare conversation. Even ten years ago the writing was so much better. Today's themes are all the same as each other and books marketed on the basis that they resemble another author, with covers that make you think the same. Authors get published when they have nothing much to say and then do that very badly. It's very tedious. I used to hear that the novel was dead when I was at university and I disagreed. Now I couldn't agree more. Shut the lid on the coffin and bang in those nails some one. Save us from all those people who think they have a novel wanting to get out. Really? You probably don't.I wish people would not stop others from writing in ways that that are more natural to them, it kills off creativity. Look at the other comments here - they all want to write in the 'correct' way. Please people if you must write, then be innovative and be free to express yourselves the way you want. With regard to show and tell, the oft trotted out phrase that limits people rather than helps them; sometimes show and sometimes tell. No one person gets to tell writers what they should do, not even Chekhov. You do you. It certainly doesn't seem to have improved writing when everyone is obsessed with doing it.

↪️ Harrumphrey replied:

18/08/2020 – 19:44

Agreed 100%. How many of these self-professed writing gurus who know all the "correct rules" have ever written a single piece of fiction worth reading? Very few, I'd guess. I can only imagine what most of great literature would look if these over-zealous editors got their hands on it. "Show, don't tell" -- really? So narrative paraphrase and summary aren't viable techniques? Hmm, that red-inks just about everything written since the epic of Gilgamesh. Idiotic bad advice producing more bad writers who in turn produce more worthless books.

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what is rule no 6 in creative writing

7 Golden Rules of Creative Writing

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

― Anais Nin

Are you willing to taste life twice? Are you willing to retrospect and write your heart out, reliving the moments you did and creating those you wish you would have lived?

Creative writing isn’t just about writing for others, it’s about writing for yourself. It’s about looking at the world from a new angle, not the way it is but the way you feel it has been all along. At the heart of creative writing is the person you know best — yourself. It’s your creation and no one in the world can unlock the chambers of your mind, read what’s in there, and do the job for you. The maker of your story will always be you.

“So why am I here?” You’re here to master the art of self-expression. You’re here to learn how to set a better sail: where to begin the writing process, how to proceed, what to avoid, and how to be inspired.

The seven golden rules discussed in this handy guide are there to help you recognize, harness, and tap the potential you already have to become the writer you aspire to be.

If writing is your true calling, here’s to you for finding the opportunity to be here! You’ll know why as you go.

It’s time to explore the seven important chapters of your writing journey now, and the best part? We’re going to do it together.

So let’s go!

Find the Writer Within and Begin

Most of us believe that writers are gifted people and they have a special knack for putting ideas into words. Most of us couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is that writing is a craft and, like most crafts, it just gets better and better as you keep on practicing.

To get better at writing, you have to practice it more. And to get better at it sooner, you have to follow a set of rules and approaches that make the writing process easier, more organized and, of course, more fun. Part of the objective of this guide would be to help you understand those rules and approaches. It’s important that you look at writing as an organized process, and not some thoughtless scutwork. If you are disciplined enough to care about those approaches, implement them, and make them a quintessential part of your writing habit, nothing can stop you from becoming the writer you want to become.

Let’s begin with something general. Before you even intend to write something, make sure that you are mentally, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and every other way focused on the task at hand. When you get down to writing, write as if it is the only important thing in the world that needs your focus. Here are a few things you can do to get into the writing mindset:

  • Find the right place where you can rid yourself of all potential noises and distractions.
  • Keep the social media away for a while and turn off every device that doesn’t help.
  • Don’t multitask. It may be tempting but it’s a performance killer.
  • Don’t split your focus, for it’s the most important virtue of a writer.
  • Think it all through and clarify your muddy thoughts before you start typing.
  • In your moments of despair, remember what William Zinsser said: “If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

Don’t sit there with the wrong mindset, thinking that you can just wing it! Writing is hard work. It requires discipline and focus. And if you have due respect for the process, you know that great writers are no accident. They put in the hard work, the focus, and discipline needed to be where you find them to be. You too can take part in this marathon and, with my help, cherish the fruits of hard work as you go along the way. The key here is to set yourself some high goals and then stick to your plan.

Now that I have discussed how to get into the writing mindset, let’s get back to the real part: what to write and where to start off?

It all begins with an idea!

Recognizing the right idea is at the heart of every writing process. You can’t possibly write a masterpiece without finding something to write about that resonates with your interest. In other words, you need to ask yourself this question, loud and clear:

What do I care about the most and how transforming my ideas into carefully-crafted words would make any difference to me and to my audience?

Once you get to the bottom of that, the rest is nothing short of inspiration. The satisfaction and love you will experience along the way will be sufficient to drive you to commit yourself to the process. Remember that you don’t have to worry about the outcome just yet. All you need to focus on is the process — the outcome can take care of itself.

Creative writing is about you being an important part of the equation. When you set out to do creative writing, you can’t really be sure who your specific audience is. And so it only makes sense that you write what appeals to your heart and care less about what the rest of the world will think of your creative work. As a matter of fact, the realm of creative writing — where ideas and inspirations pan out — in large part belongs to yourself. Your thoughts, your experiences, and your perception of the world are what will become the raw material for any form of creative writing you embark on.

There are times you may be tempted to ride the wave of interest for some trendy ideas or story themes. Even if that happens, try to put things in perspective and see if it’s an area that might sprout into something of value to you. We all have a reservoir of interest deep buried within us and all it takes is a little ferment for it to surface. The idea is that anything you write in the creative space has to come right from your heart.

If it doesn’t come right away, don’t allow laziness and mediocracy to creep in and erode your mind. Do your best and, as you go along, you’ll carve your way through those untapped domains and find new interests.

When you set out to explore a perfect theme or topic to write about, there usually goes some preliminary research into it. You don’t want topics that are already written on without being able to add some additional value. Sure enough, your best bet are those topics no one else has touched on, yet they seem to be invaluable to your audience. If that’s not possible, you can go with a modified version of an existing topic — but adding your own bits of contribution to make it look different and better than it presently is. In other words, you can give ideas some intelligent twists, change them, and make them your own. We call it the “confluence of ideas” where you relate things from a variety of contexts and model them into a single theme that provides its own unique value for your readers.

Discovering Your Topic

There are times when finding a topic becomes more of a struggle. Here’s what you can do as you go about the process of finding something that’s worth writing about:

  • Make a list of the things and ideas that interest you.
  • Slow down and let the heightened awareness approach find a way out.

The first of the two approaches is more controlled and analytical in nature. It requires you to sit down in a quiet place and do some brainstorming sessions, listing all the ideas down and then getting to the specifics. Once your general direction is defined, you can narrow down your ideas to a number of supporting themes.

To give you an example, let’s say one of your topics of interest happens to be “habit”. Since you know that “habit” is a blanket term and can encompass numerous other concepts and topics such as “forming good habits,” “small habits that impact our lives in big ways,” “building good habits and breaking bad ones,” and so on. Assuming you chose the topic “The Habits Guide: Building Good Habits and Breaking Bad Ones” for your creative writing, it’s now fairly easy to proceed because you already know your direction. You might focus on “a few ways to form better habits”, “a few ways to break bad habits”, and “a few ways to make a good habit stick” as your supporting themes and then develop your content around each one of them as you progress.

The heightened awareness approach, on the other hand, requires you to be more conscious of your surroundings, your ideas, and your experiences that come to the surface over a time period spanning from a few hours to a few days. The idea is that some of the best ideas you stumble upon are not necessarily the result of a deliberate rumination. They are spontaneous in nature; meaning that you don’t have to push too hard to find them, but stay alert as and when they surface in your mind. And when they do, be sure to register them or jot them down on a paper so that you don’t miss out on them when it’s time to make your story plan.

These two approaches combined may also throw some of the craziest ideas your way. Get ready for them, too! Don’t shy away from going out of the way to find something truly unique and, at times, a little insane. You may not realize but some of the best ideas in writing, as in other areas of life, are the crazy ideas one can work through. The question is, how organized you are to harness the power of innovative thoughts to deliver something of true value to your readers. One way to make this work is to list all your crazy ideas on paper. At the end of the day, you never know some of these “insane ideas” could be all the more valuable for your readers.

So, rule no 1: Nurture your love for writing, be disciplined, and choose something that intrigues you.

Learning Resources

George Orwell’s Why I Write is a piece worth giving a once-over by every aspirant writer. In a short, honest, and direct manner, Orwell gives a quick overview of how it all happened in his life: what motivated him to be a writer and how he approached writing as his true calling. Besides knowing something about the early developments in the life of a great writer, you will also get to know the key motives that, in Orwell’s view, propel every writer’s actions regardless of the subject matter or the surrounding atmosphere.

Building Plotlines

Structuring plotlines.

In a sentence, a plot can be defined as a sequence of events arranged by a writer to tell a story. To give you a very basic example: a character finds herself a higher purpose, decides to go after it, undergoes all kinds of difficulties, achieves her mission, and finally comes back to where she started — but wiser, stronger, and more fulfilled than when she started. That could be a raw example of how story plots are structured.

Sounds easy? It certainly isn’t or you would have seen great stories coming your way every single day and in good numbers! That’s simply not the case. You may tend to oversimplify things but the fact remains: great stories are quite rare. And since great story plots emanate from the great imaginative power of the minds that craft them, they are rare too.

But the good news is this: you own this power as much as anybody else. So, as an aspiring writer, you too can harness the power of your creative mind through simple discipline, conscious learning, and a continuous sense of improvement. Don’t look for the easy route though. I hate to say this, but there is no such thing as an easy way out when you enter the realm of writing.

Let’s get into the specifics now and discuss the four key elements that, when put together, constitute a sound plot structure for any story.

Create a Setting for Your Story

Every story takes place in a unique atmosphere imagined by its creator. The story setting is one key component of a story plot. Designed well, it can have a profound effect on how your readers receive and engage with the story. When we look at a story setting, it usually contains three essential pieces: the place, the time, and the social situation or a cultural environment where a story event takes place. Changing any one of these pieces would also impact the story as a whole. To give you a better example of how changing a setting could influence the entire plotline, look at the two contrasting examples below.

You see a story character in an old, abandoned house in the dead of night, all alone and suspicious of everything around. The winds are blowing outside, rustling the trees and taping against the creaking house.

What type of action does this kind of setting allude to? Some likely appearance of a murderer or a ghost maybe? Look at a different scenario now:

The character of the story is in a crowded shopping mall on a bright, shiny day. People are pushing past him and some salesmen are busy cheering their customers and trying to entice them with attractive deals. There’s a fountain in the far right corner, with children hanging, laughing, and joking around.

What kind of impression does this setting give off? It’s anything but scary, for sure.

When you set out to write a plotline, you need to keep in mind the emotions you intend to drive through your story and how you want it to be perceived. That being said, your plot doesn’t always have to revolve around fiction or some abstract themes; it can be anything ranging from a personal story to a professional write-up, targeting a completely different genre of readers. The key thing is, you must know how to structure the right setting or atmosphere for your story.

Work on Characters

Character development is another essential step in the story writing process. In fact, without characters, there will be no story at all. Through characters, you give your story its life. If there is no story without a plot, there is no plot without characters. Characters are the building blocks of your story and they should be treated as such.

Your story may have two types of characters: the main character(s) and the supporting ones. Your goal is to make sure that each one of them sounds and appears as real, tangible, and complex as the people around you. Having strong, memorable, and profound characters means leaving your readers mesmerized every now and then as they go along the pages. The strength and receptivity of your story, therefore, greatly depends on your ability to develop complex, nuanced, and endearing characters that hold special places in your audiences’ hearts. One of the best ways you can achieve this is by giving your characters certain attributes that are unique and specific to themselves. Such as giving them a personality, a goal, a motivation, a history, a quirk, a desire, and so on.

Remember that each one of your characters should have some role to play that makes the story complete. If you feel you can completely remove a character without affecting your plot one bit, you don’t need that character in the first place. And if it’s not needed, it should not be forced on to your story (neither on to your readers).

Adding drama to your story means making things more dramatic and intense for your readers. As you go along, you will find plenty of opportunities for drama that naturally comes into the story. Make the most of them to turn your story into a strong, suspenseful, and emotionally charged experience. At the same time, make sure that you are not adding extravagant stuff that makes characterization less salient than the action itself. There is a fine line between drama and melodrama and you should know the difference well.

There are many ways you can add drama to keep the readers on the edge of their seats and never stop turning pages. One way is to create emotional relationships between your protagonist and some other story characters. To add drama, you can now use this relationship as a source for emotionally charged scenes that involve love, kindness, and romance; or hatred, fights, arguments, and even tears. Another way is to add some hidden intentions that call forth mistrust, suspicion, and outrage between your protagonist and the other characters. Still another way could be the use of judgmental errors to place your characters in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These are some of the effective ways, but they are not the only ways. As you work on structuring your plotline and think your story through, you may stumble upon even better and more interesting ideas to amp up your story. So be open and stay on your toes!

Know How Your Story Ends Before It Begins

This is about as simple as it gets. It is never a good idea not to know your direction and just drift around. As a story writer, you will never be able to make something out of the story if you allow it to show you the way instead of you charting the course. You must not let the story take control of you —  you need to be in control of your story. And the only way you can control what needs to go into your story is by knowing and structuring everything beforehand, including where it begins, how it progresses, and where it ends. It is understandable that most of the teeny-tiny details will make their way into the story only after you begin it, but the skeleton of your story has to be preplanned and prestructured.

Story and Plot Line

By now, I expect that you have a better understanding of what a story plot is. To tell you the key difference between a story and its plot, let’s borrow the explanation of E. M. Forster, one of the leading English novelists and short story writers of the twentieth century: “A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence — it simply tells us what happened and in what order.” The plot is “a narrative of events, with the emphasis on causality… The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot.” So according to Forester, “If it is in a story we say ‘And then?’ but if it’s in a plot we ask ‘Why?’”

Basically, both the story and plot are closely related, so much so that you can’t have one without the other.

In short, story writing is a systematic process. It begins with structuring your ideas and making connections between the sequence of events that constitute your story plot. The plot’s structure is how you arrange the elements of your story. Your job is to piece everything together, from characters to events to places all the way to the ending.

Rule No 2: Structure your story and develop a plot that keeps the logic intact.

E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel provides invaluable insights into the essentials of storytelling. In a succinct manner, he describes his observations as to what a story is, how it’s different from a plot, what produces a great story, how characters add value, and so on. You can also learn a great deal about patterns, rhythm, and how the elements of fantasy allow a writer’s imagination to take flight.

If you care about crafting a plot that hooks your readers’ attention from start to finish, there is no better book to guide you through than James Scott Bell’s Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure. This book from an award-winning author will help you learn some of the best brainstorming techniques for original plot ideas and craft a strong beginning, middle, and end — with thought-provoking exercises at the end of each chapter.

Every aspiring writer wants sound advice on how to write about anything: people, places, business, sports, science, technology, arts, and so on. On Writing Well by William Zinsser is another book that provides you with just that. Written by a fourth-generation New Yorker, the book not only offers fundamental principles that are relevant to writers, editors, journalists, teachers, and students but goes far beyond. In Zinsser’s own words, “The life-changing message of ‘On Writing Well’ is: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.”

Developing Characters

Character-driven approach.

People remember characters as they have the power to influence human emotions in profound ways. In general, it’s a whole new skill that only gets better as you approach story writing the right way and keep on practicing.

If you are someone who tends to think of the plot first and then create characters, you are more of a plot-driven storyteller. The downside of a plot-driven approach is that you risk the chance of making your story characters more charismatic and memorable. Don’t get me wrong though, character-driven plotting can be much more complicated if you try to structure everything around the story or become too conscious about the characters. The trick is that when you write a character-driven story, be willing enough to let the characters dictate the direction of the story.

Define Your Character

Without strong and memorable characters even the most astonishing plot won’t amount to much. Difficult or not, you have to give the characters their due share of attention. In defining characters, the first thing you need to figure out is their type — whether it’s a dynamic character or a static one? A dynamic character has an internal conflict that grows and changes throughout the course of the story. A static character, on the other hand, doesn’t evolve much over the course of the story and so its personality remains the same at the end of the story as it was in the beginning.

Nevertheless, every character has a defining desire and, in the case of your protagonist, his/her/its defining desire propels the main storyline.  So when defining your characters, make sure you know what their defining desires and greatest fears are. You may leave the static characters less defined but you’ll need to know a lot about your dynamic characters, including their backgrounds, their desires, their fears, beliefs, appearances, quirks, and so on.

How to Create Characters People Don’t Forget?

Creating compelling characters is more subjective than it sounds. While there are no universal guidelines to follow, there is certainly a framework that can make the character-building process all the easier, better, and more systematic. Essentially, it requires you to break down the process into the following few steps:

  • Determining the inner conflict and what your character is struggling with.
  • Determining what your character looks like.
  • Knowing their personal story and their background.

You also need to be able to answer a few key questions pertaining to the character you want to place in a story or any other piece of writing. What does this character want (or their goals in life)? What’s their lifestyle? What is their personality like? Are they round characters with complex personality dimensions or flat characters with a simple set of attributes? Depending on what your character embodies, you adopt a tone of voice, a mood, and a style and then use them as a tool to create the identity that makes your character look different.

Making them Memorable

Every character in your story should have the power to be remembered by those who know (or interact with) it on a deeper level. Memorability is the characteristic that distinguishes great characters from ordinary ones. And making your characters compelling and memorable really comes down to the work you’re willing to put into them.

If it happens to be a human character, how humanistic and interesting does it sound to you? If it lacks charm, charisma, and drawing power, you can be sure it will go down as one of the million uninspiring and forgettable characters that people never bother carrying around much.

As important as character building is, I’m not going to overwhelm you with unwieldy ideas that can make things seem a lot difficult at this stage. But the one hack I ask you to try is this:

Give your characters an inconspicuous trait, a habit that clearly stands out from how they are typically profiled by the rest. 

This idea, if you work on it well, can make your character as timeless as possible. The literature we know today is full of such mesmerizing characters: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Harry Potter in Harry Potter, Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings are just a few examples. If you observe them closely, they all have this inconspicuous quality that makes their character shine and people find it hard to forget them.

You know the third rule now: Create characters that come with a purpose, a personality, and a set of physical attributes one can’t easily forget.

K.M. Weiland’s Crafting Unforgettable Character is a hands-on manual to guide you through the process of character development. In a step-by-step manner, Weiland explains how story writers can make powerful use of characters to bring their stories to life. It starts with a sound context around why crafting great characters is so essential and then moves on to the real subject: how to help writers develop a deeper understanding of the craft itself.

Mapping out your characters before you start writing is a much better strategy than meeting your character in the middle of the story. To help you prepare for that, V. L. Schmidt, a Ph.D. Scholar, has provided a very handy tool in the form of Character Development Worksheets . You can use it to create a character story sketch to help you remember all the little details about your characters; create character snapshots to help you add more depth to your main characters; think through interesting scenes that reveal deeper aspects of your character; and do a few more creative things that make the job of character development easier and more efficient.

Choose Words that Resonate with Your Audience Emotionally

So far, the focus has been around planning and structuring your ideas. I talked very little about the execution part of the writing process. The way you craft sentences, choose words, and make use of the English language to express your ideas impacts how your readers will engage with your story. The readers are least concerned about what you undergo or how much energy you pour in. They will judge you by the quality, clarity, and immersive power of the story you get them to read. So, it’s very important that you learn how to avoid muddy thoughts, get clear, and express your ideas in a simple, clear, and uncluttered way.

Language and Words

Writing is a diverse craft. You can have as many styles as there are writers out there. But what’s also true is that the diversity of styles doesn’t make them inherently good. Anything unique but unclear, cluttered, and boring is bad. The opposite could also be true: anything ordinary but clear, uncluttered, and effortless is good. Your readers are not there to be impressed by their frequent contact with difficult words, technical jargon, or twisted sentences — they are there to easily read, understand, and absorb your story. And if you fail to immerse them into your story, you may fail the story itself.

I have been consciously using the phrase “writing is a craft”. What I mean by that is, like every craft, writing can be learned. All you have to do is stick to a few simple disciplines: being willing to learn, knowing the rules and principles, implementing the rules, and practicing them over an extended period of time.

I have discussed some of these fundamental rules and principles in the previous sections. Here are some more of them you should keep in mind to be able to express your ideas well and write with clarity.

Don’t hold yourself back. Hands crossed, if you keep on thinking and thinking, nothing is going to materialize. You have to keep the flow going. There is no guarantee that the start would look like how you wanted it, but you can be sure that it won’t be completely off the mark either. As you go on getting your ideas down on paper, you will gradually start cultivating a sense of fulfillment along the way. You can only stay focused and in good spirits when you feel that you’re not just sitting there and wasting time.

Just don’t assume everything is perfect at this stage. Because it comes naturally doesn’t mean it’s going to be without flaws. If you’re not an experienced writer already, it’s very unlikely you’ll produce a masterpiece right the first time around. You need to exercise the good old practice of revising and rewriting until it’s fairly obvious you have got on paper what you had in mind.

Simplify it. You can’t let your first draft go out the door unless you fine-tune it for clarity, readability, and simplicity. Go over the paragraph you write, line-by-line or even word-by-word. Cut out the clutter by removing unnecessary words or even complete sentences. No one understands a clotted language and people who do try, give up on it soon, too.

The secret of good writing is to simplify and strip every sentence to its cleanest component. What is stylish and impressive is not what is cluttered, it’s the enviable freedom from clutter that makes stories worth reading.

Write for your readers. Use an active voice. You readers want to know who is doing what and the structure “subject – performs – action” is the most straightforward way to present your ideas. Don’t be passive and confuse your readers in a wordier, vaguer, and harder-to-understand language.

Play with word order. Many times changing the order of words does the trick. To emphasize or highlight the importance of a subject, you can reorder words instead of seeking complex expressions. Such as in the following manner:

“The light in the porch, you still haven’t fixed it.” instead of “You still haven’t fixed the light in the porch.” to emphasize that the light is broken and needs to be fixed.

Or, “Betrayal. she did not expect it from her family.” instead of “She did not expect betrayal from her family.” to put the emphasis on “betrayal”.

Reduce the clutter: Clutter and clarity never go together. To keep one, you have to get rid of the other. The choice is obvious but one which involves laborious efforts. Fighting clutter always requires your conscious efforts. You have to analyze your sentences closely, look for the clutter, and prune them ruthlessly.

The following are some of the things you need to eliminate to express your thoughts with more economy but without losing the essence:

  • The unnecessary preposition appended to a verb. Examples: “up” in “free up” or “order up”
  • Adverbs that carry the same meaning as the verb. Examples: “yell loudly” or “simile happily”
  • Adjectives that state nothing other than known facts. Example: “tall skyscraper” or “free gift”
  • Long words with the same meaning as short words. Example: “Numerous” instead of “many” or “remainder” instead of “rest”

Clutter is a common problem in writing but one that can be easily solved. All you have to do is revisit every sentence you create and look for words, phrases, and expressions that are just there to fill the space. Anything that doesn’t add more value to your sentence is clutter and your job is to identify and eliminate it there and then.

Punctuation

Writing is a conversation without a voice. It still needs to follow all the rules of communication for it to be well understood. If you remove punctuation marks or use them incorrectly in your sentences, chances are that your readers won’t understand you well. Punctuating your writing using period, comma, colon, semicolon, and exclamation point, etc. allows you to have rhythmic control over your sentences. Without punctuation, it’s hard to achieve clarity. And if the clarity is compromised, the essence of your writing could be lost.

A lot of what goes into punctuation marks should already be clear in a writer’s head. But if you are less sure, I suggest you pick a grammar book and have the foundational elements covered first. With that note, my thoughts on punctuation are going to be brief as I  believe that most of you have already had these foundational elements covered.

All writers know why period exists, what they don’t usually know is how to reach it soon enough. The period is there to help make your sentences easier, clearer, and more digestible. Use it where it’s needed and don’t wait until your sentence starts losing its direction. Don’t push your sentences to do more than they reasonably could. It’s good to keep them brief and focused than to stretch them and make them harder for your readers to grasp.

The comma is a punctuation mark that separates words, clauses, and ideas used in a sentence. Like period, it also needs some mastery. There are different ways a comma can be used. The most common of those are the following:

Serial (aka Oxford) Comma: When there is a series of three or more items, a writer has a choice whether or not to place a comma before the coordinating conjunction (“and” or “or”). Such as:

  • “Please bring me a pen, a notebook, and some labels.” with a serial comma.
  • Or,  “Please bring me a pen, a notebook and some labels.” without a serial comma.

Whether you want to use it or not, make sure that you’re consistent with your approach. It’s a bad idea to use it in a few instances and skip it in others (within a single piece of writing). In some situations, placing a serial comma can even help make your sentences more clear. For example, in the sentence “I love my parents, Adele and Groot.”, skipping the comma could be problematic. Whoever this person might be, it’s clear that Adele and Groot cannot be his/her parents. Therefore, it makes more sense to place a serial comma so that the sentence reads “I love my parents, Adele, and Groot.” Though I still have my reservations about the sanity of the sentence. (Pun intended.)

To put it all together, a comma is necessary in the following scenarios:

  • After introductory words and phrases. Example: “After he finished finishing his article, Archie could finally watch Game of Thrones.”
  • To set off nonrestrictive phrases or clauses. Example: “Numerous celebrities, movie stars, and writers attended the after-party, which began at 11 a.m.”
  • Between adjectives that modify the same noun. Example: “Emma is a tall, acknowledged blogger.”
  • When addressing a person (after a little speech). Example: “I’ll see you at the bar, Anna.”

This mark is used to introduce readers to a list of items, a quotation, or noun/noun phrases. Here are a few examples:

  • “The news said the ship would stop at the following ports: Aberdeen, Belfast, Dover, and the Port of London”
  • “My friend gave me the things I needed the most in life: companionship and peace.”
  • “Holding the idea of authenticity in high esteem, he remembered a line from Shakespeare: ‘To thine own self be true.’”

The Semicolon

Somewhere between comma and period, the semicolon has a place. A semicolon brings the reader to a pause longer than a comma and shorter than a period. Sometimes, semicolon helps separate two grammatically complete clauses that are not joined by a conjunction.

  • Mary never promises more than she is able to deliver; she is an honest person.
  • We may not reach home before dusk; it’s nearly half past five. 

One of the classic style guides on the English language, The Elements of Styles, defines dash as “a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses.” Essentially, we use a dash in two ways: One, when we need to justify something in the second part of a sentence that we state in the first part. Example: We decided to leave early — it was a long journey and the weather was not good either. 

Two, when there is a parenthetical thought that needs to be separated within a longer sentence. Example: I joined music classes at the School of Art — I had a great passion for music then — but it took me years before I got the opportunity to perform at the stage. 

The use of dash may not be exclusive to particular situations in the presence of colon and parentheses, but it certainly gives your reader a sense of ease, comfort, and clarity that other punctuation marks may not be able to achieve. So consider it where you find it relevant.

The Exclamation Point

Use it sparingly and only when you need to achieve a certain effect. Don’t use the exclamation point to emphasize simple statements or to inform readers that you are making a joke. These are silly mistakes and they do your story no good than annoy its readers. Reserve the exclamation mark for use only after true exclamations or commands, such as: “What an amazing performance!”  or “Slow down! There’s a blind bend ahead.”

The overarching goal of these rules and guidelines is to help writers write well. You can use them as a guide or a tool to help overcome some fundamental language problems, but there is more to the craft than that. As you hone your writing skills and train your mind to remain conscious of the nuanced factors surrounding style, diction, tone, and voice, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can transform your writing.

So rule no 4 is just that:  Keep your writing clear, concise, and clutter-free. Don’t break this rule unless you have a sound reason.

Any writer who wants to master the principles of the English language must take out the time for two of the most authoritative classic guides: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

The Elements of Style is a dominant how-to manual for English writers. With eleven elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, a complete chapter on commonly misused words and expressions, and a long list of reminders on how aspiring writers should approach style, the guide provides a wealth of practical information.

On Writing Well is another guide that supplements the rules and principles in The Elements of Style. In the author’s own words, “Instead of competing with the Strunk & White book I decided to complement it. The Elements of Style was a book of pointers and admonitions: do this, don’t do that. What it didn’t address was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing and journalism can take.”

Finesse the First Line. Get Inspired by Movies

Writing something and getting your pieces across to the right audience is a thoughtful process. While most of your time will be invested in the actual work — planning, writing, and fine-tuning your story — you also need to spend some thoughts on how to get it across to the right audience. Choosing the right topic and crafting the right starting lines are two of the most important steps towards that goal.

The title of your story sums up your story at a glance — at least from a reader’s perspective. Therefore, picking the right title is as important as anything else. In the final analysis, it’s a question of how creative you can get to encapsulate a long story into a few words, while not losing the essence of your story.

Here’s what Donald Murray, a renowned American journalist, author, and professor said of crafting titles:

“I average 150 titles before I settle on one. The one may be the second or third or thirteenth title, but I don’t know it’s the right one until I see the others that don’t work.” 

He never stops playing around with words and their different combinations, “making the censor stand over in the corner while I am silly, stupid, dumb, clumsy, awkward because I usually have to be all of those to finally become articulate.” 

Now we understand it would be too much of a demand to ask you to come up with so many variations for your story title, but you must not ignore the message here: title writing is an extremely important part of the process; it’s your story’s first impression and, often, a determining factor whether or not someone chooses to read your story. If you want your story to sell well, you can’t be casual about picking a title.

Finding the perfect title for a story is always challenging, but here’s what you can do: break it all down into different types of headlines and figure out which one fairs well with your story.

The Intriguing Headlines

More than contrived, intriguing headlines need to be discovered. You need to dig deep into the essence of what your story is made up of and then craft a title that carries that essence in a creative and intriguing manner. Look at some of these examples and you will get an idea how sticky and engaging your headline should sound:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Think and Grow Rich
  • A Perfect Day for Bananafish
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home

If you are fortunate to have read some of these books, you will realize how imaginative it must have been of their authors to come up with such titles. By all measures, they are perfect titles for the books they represent and are, therefore, destined to achieve great visibility and vast readerships. As an aspiring writer, crafting a solid title is the first thing you should care about once your story passes through all the development stages and becomes ready to be shared with the audience.

The Problem-focused Title

These are the kinds of titles that target specific problems people face in their daily (personal and professional) lives. We have countless examples of problem-focused titles that writers adopt for their blog posts, articles, ebooks, and other forms of content that they publish online. Here are a few good examples:

  • Seven Tips for Practicing Positive Discipline
  • Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person
  • A Five-Minute Guide to Better Typography
  • The 10/10/10 Rule For Tough Decisions
  • How to Stop Spending So Much Time In Your Head

Some of these titles, such as “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” and “The 10/10/10 Rule For Tough Decisions” seem to be more than just problem-focused — they are creative and intriguing enough to generate a “read me” effect in the audience’s minds.

The Controversial Title

By controversial title, we don’t mean something that can get you banned. You always want to land on the right side of the issue and keep the trouble at a respectable distance. But you also need to be bold enough to ride the wave of controversy if you want to pull the attention of your audience and involve them on emotional grounds. Just be sure, though, that your goal is to pull them into your story and not to push them away from it.

Here are a few examples from the world of internet that demonstrate how controversial topics can be creatively phrased and presented:

  • Why Women, but Not Men, Are Judged for a Messy House
  • Stop Coddling Your Dog — He’s 99.9% Wolf
  • The Mindfulness Conspiracy

Some of the classic examples, such as “War and Peace” and “Pride and Prejudice” also revolve around the same concept. It’s the conjunction, the tussles, and the menacing positions of two opposing sides that spark curiosity and generate a thrilling impact in the readers’ minds.

So, as you set out to do the most important job towards the end — of crafting a title for your content or story — narrow your options down to one of the three methods discussed above. Whichever option appeals to you the most, make sure that you exhaust all the possible combinations of right words and expressions to arrive at something you can confidently call “a million dollars title” for your story.

Next up is the beginning line.

The Opening Line

To get a quick feel for how the opening sentence of a story should deeply affect a reader’s desire for the story, look at the following lines from some of the best known novels in English literature:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” — Toni Morrison, Paradise

“Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave.” — Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses

“In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.” — Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter 

“One September evening when Walter Lasher returned from the city after a hard day’s work and was walking to his car in the station parking lot, a man stepped out from between two cars, walked up to him, and slapped him hard in the face.” —Stephen Millhauser, The Slap

What do these opening lines have in common? They all stir up our desire to know the complete story at once. That’s exactly what great opening lines are meant for: to create a sense of immediate desire in the reader’s heart for something they haven’t discovered yet. According to Stephen King — the maestro of horror, supernatural, science fiction, and fantasy novels — “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

The opening words set the stage. They could be short as one sentence or long as one paragraph or even an entire page. But the essential thing is that these introductory words fabricate a narrative vehicle that will propel the story forward. How powerful and engaging that vehicle might be is something to be judged by the readers themselves.

Here’s a breakdown of four main formats you can use to craft an opening line that resonates with your story and its plot structure:

Yes, and: You present what people already believe in and use it to supplement their opinions. Yes, but: You present the status quo and provide the opposite way of thinking. No. and: You introduce an opposite opinion and invite for a debate. No, but: You still challenge what people know to be true but leave some room for a possible compromise when it comes to others’ opinions.

Remember, though, what’s important in writing is not just what you’re standing for or against. Just like a good speech, the position is important and so is the way you present it. Style and voice matter as they are tied to the interest of your readers who want to be transported, moved, and intrigued by your story.

Borrowing from Movies — the Element of Suspense

People think bookworms and movie buffs are two different breeds of people, but the truth is rather murkier: at the core of every movie is writing. Whether you love a character, get impressed by some dialogues, or get exposed to a suspenseful experience, the credit partly goes to the screenwriter who uses his/her craft and imaginative skills to make it all happen.

When it comes to revealing information through nuanced actions and dialogues, writers have a lot to be inspired by movies. Just like a movie director has an obligation to hook the audience through suspenseful scenes, a writer has a similar obligation to keep their readers engaged and provide them with a thrilling experience all along. Suspense can be a hard discipline to master, but you can achieve it if you make it your principal focus in the process of unfolding your story. The key here is to delay your answer and retain the suspense element throughout the story while keeping your readers’ focus and interest intact.

That leads us to the fifth rule: Write it, read it, and revise it. Repeat the cycle and you will finally get the title and opening line your heart desires.

Want to get inspired by the techniques and opening lines from the greatest of English writers, going as far back as the seventeenth century? Look at the list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels published by the American Book Review

Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing , contains a wealth of ideas for aspiring writers. It doesn’t, however, discuss the art of crafting great opening sentences at length. To make up for that, you can refer to Joe Fassler’s “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences” , a post that he published in 2013 after having a long and broad discussion with King on opening lines. Highly relevant to what I discussed above.

Adapt Your Writing to Different Mediums and Channels

As a writer, you must begin asking yourself this question: Who is it that I’m writing for? If the answer happens to be ‘for myself’, then you might not want to spend much time on this chapter. But if the answer is ‘for my audience’, then you need to learn how to get your story across to your audience in an effective and efficient way. In this section, I’m going to help you learn just that.

The internet has transformed our lives and the way we communicate with others. Just a few decades ago, writers couldn’t even dream what they are able to achieve today. The internet is not just helping them write well but also get their stories across to the right audience at the right time. If your story is worth something, you can have millions of people read it in a matter of days. Could someone imagine that back in the 80s?

But harnessing the power of the internet might not be as easy as it sounds. To start with, you have to have a sound understanding of how things work in the online space. Each platform and channel where your story can be shared is unique. In that, it caters to an audience with a completely different set of expectations.

Ask yourself another handy question: what does the audience really expect from content creators on these platforms and channels? Don’t sidestep the question and ponder it until you get to the bottom of it. It won’t require a lot of homework though, since you are already a part of the internet community and know where people go often and how they tend to consume information online.

Whether it’s online media or offline publication sources, what you need to keep in mind and practice is this: Structure your story, analyze the audience needs, and repurpose your content so that it doesn’t lose its relevance for the platforms it goes on. In what follows, I will briefly discuss the different kinds of writing that are most relevant to modern writers and how you should use them to repurpose your story to be used on different platforms and channels.

Narrative Writing

One of the most common forms of story writing is narrative writing. A narrative is a story (fiction or nonfiction) that is told by a narrator. The narrator could be a character in the story or the author of the story. The main character drives most of what constitutes a narrative. And what happens to the main character is called a plot. The plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end. More often than not, the middle of the story is where significant events tend to happen. The main character is thrown at the center of these events that either revolve around a problem (that needs to be solved) or a significant life experience (that needs to be faced by the main character). Following a logical sequence of events, the story finally arrives at a satisfying ending.

So as you set out to write a narrative, try to get some perspective on your readers in advance. Then follow the rules and be as clear, creative, and captivating in expressing your ideas as your skills allow you to be.

Writing, in general, and story writing, in particular, is about passion. If you have that within you already, when you succeed becomes only a matter of time. Stay put and allow nothing to turn you away from your passion.

Writing blog posts is apparently a lot different from writing stories. Still, a good story writer won’t find it too hard to write a captivating blog post (and vice versa). There is certainly a process involved that will require you to learn new things as you switch around, but the journey itself is not a lot different. Both the storyteller and blogger are individuals who write for the reader. And to win the reader’s heart, they both need to write with clarity, grace, and a solid understanding of the subject matter.

We have covered story writing fairly well. With blog posts, however, you have to keep a two-pronged objective in mind: Expository writing (where the goal is to educate the audience) and persuasive writing (where the goal is to persuade the audience into taking actions).

In expository writing, the subject matter is above everything and the writer explains a situation in a neutral and objective manner. There is usually no room for voicing his/her personal opinion as the facts and figures presented are enough to speak for themselves. On the contrary, persuasive writing is all about subjectivity. The writer builds an argument, creates a need around an idea or a solution, and then tries to convince readers to buy into it — using the power of language.

No matter the type of blog post, you need to begin the process with your readers in mind. While a story reader may want to be amazed and have a thrilling experience all along, an exploratory reader expects you to present the information in a precise, clear, and objective manner. Still, a general reader may be better engaged if you present your ideas in a coherent, friendly, and personalized manner.

Social Media

Each medium has its own unique set of codes, conventions, style, and aesthetics — social media platforms are no exception. When writing for social media, you need to keep in mind that it’s not one of those mediums people use for knowledge building primarily. It’s a medium for social interaction where people never mind sharing some brief, informative, and interesting content. The majority of Facebook users, for example, don’t open Facebook to read a 20-minute long article or get lost in a maze of boring facts and figures. They go there to be entertained and have some light moments in their leisure time. If you can understand that psyche and the factors driving user behavior on social media, you can write for them and achieve what you intend on achieving.

Cutting it to the chase, it’s a good idea to be short, be friendly, be approachable, and always take out the time to respond to your audience’s comments, messages, and mentions. These techniques are as simple as they sound, yet they will help your story gain traction and be picked up by the people it’s written for.

Video Scripts

Many things we talked about writing earlier do apply to video scripts. However, there are some additional guidelines you need to keep in mind when crafting scripts for corporate videos, webinars, explainers, or any other form of non-advertising videos. To keep it short and to the point, focus on the following three pieces of advice:

Make your video script conversational . Use shorter sentences, simplify the language, and make it sound natural.

Keep the audience and platform in mind. The tone of voice you want to adopt for teens, middle-aged professionals, or older retirees cannot be the same. By the same token, videos that go on your website, on a TV channel, on Instagram, or on YouTube will require different strategies as to their tone of voice, format, and language style.

Do a verbal run-through off-camera. This is the part that will help bring your script to life on camera. Speak your copy aloud as if you’re performing it for the listeners. And as you find words that don’t sound right, cut them out and replace them with something better. Remember that when you do a verbal run-through, it’s time to follow your ears (not your head so much). And if the words didn’t sound right in your ears, it’s less important how they sound on paper or in your head.

With that, rule no 6: Explore the main purpose of each medium and let your story adapt.

Successful Writing by Scott McLean is a comprehensive book on how people can overcome the challenges they face in expressing their ideas on paper — clearly and effectively. Section 6.1 of the book, in particular, focuses on mastering the art of writing for different audiences. Titled “Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content”, the section provides unique insights into how writers can identify the audience, tone, and purpose to perfect the art of audience-centric writing.

Anne Lamott’s “ Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life ” is truly a gift to all aspiring writers. This is the kind of step-by-step guide on how you can start writing and manage your life as a writer which will never bore you or fail to retain your focus as you go along. Anne Lamott is a great storyteller and she knows how to engage readers even if the subject matter is a bit dry or toilsome. In this guide, she encourages, instructs, and inspires readers, from how to get started with their story all the way to how they can get it in the hands of their readers.

Breaking The Rules

Be a follower or a forerunner.

Most people don’t question rules until they become successful. The opposite is also true: most people become successful when they question the rules. In either case, going off the beaten path and heaving yourself over the ledge is when you discover ideas that will catch people’s attention.

Imagine if everyone were to follow the usual order of things from the dawn of time. Could we have the luxury to enjoy things like music, dance, literature, and art in their present forms? Probably not. Some people at some point said no to the status quo and chose a path others never thought they could. The world applauded their move and embraced what they had to give. Those creative geniuses passed their legacies on to us and we enjoy the fruits of their efforts today and so will the future generations.

If Michelangelo were to follow the rules, he wouldn’t have painted pictures the way he did; if Shakespeare were to choose a beaten path, he wouldn’t have written poetry the way he did; or if Beethoven’s quench for originality was gone with the wind, he wouldn’t have composed music the way he did. All the great figures in human history had to struggle with rules that were there to stymie their progress and ingenuity.

What it Means to You as a Writer

It’s important for writers to keep it all in perspective. I’m not advocating this rule-breaking mentality for the sake of it. The idea is, you shouldn’t be bound by the rules so much that they start affecting your creative brain and become a roadblock in your path to achieving something (like a unique voice or style) you can truly call yours. You have all the right to explore new horizons, try something new, and make it your own. And if doing it requires you to break some rules, never mind them at all.

I’m going to end this guide with two important tips and a profoundly moving ad script by Rob Siltanen that he crafted for one of Apple’s iconic ads — think different. More than two decades down the road, it’s still relevant today as it was then.

Don’t wait too long to give things a start. Writing style, like a planted seed, only develops over a period of time. To borrow a line from Ogilvy, “Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.”

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” What Picasso has said is true for writers as it’s for painters, sculptors, designers, or any other type of artist. Take it as a golden rule to break other rules.

Square boxes are not made for humans to fit in. If you are the person who thinks differently, feels differently, and behaves differently, you will one day find a way to write differently as well.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

With that, here’s the seventh and final rule: Don’t be too afraid of breaking the rules, but master the rules before you consider breaking them.

Winston Weather’s Alternate Style: Options in Composition is a book for all who love boundary-breaking written expressions, linguistic innovation, and rhetorical experimentation in the English language. Weather’s suggestions and examples on how one can break the rules of conventional style (“Grammer A” as he calls it) and still be effective are invaluable. Go through it if you want to learn some of his suggested techniques.

There are numerous articles and blog posts on the subject of breaking writing rules that can be accessed on the internet. This one — “How to Break Writing Rules” — from Jenny Bravo is particularly helpful. In a fun, readable, and engaging manner, she explains some of the writing rules that writers may consider breaking, including plot rules, punctuation rules, and stylistic rules. Besides, Christine Frazier’s Six Writing Rules that Even Bestselling Authors Break is another well-written post you may go through and glean some interesting ideas from it.

All the best!

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“Show, don’t tell” is one of the simplest guidelines in creative writing, and one of the most helpful. In short, it encourages writers to transmit experiences to the reader, rather than just information .

“Show, don’t tell” encourages writers to transmit experiences to the reader, rather than just information.

“Show, don’t tell” is not just a suggestion for creative writers; it’s at the heart of what defines creative writing itself. In this article, we’ll explore what “show, don’t tell” means and how understanding it can help us as writers, and we’ll give you lots of exercises you can experiment with to properly balance “show” and “tell” in your own work. Let’s dive into this essential topic in the craft of writing.

What is “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing?

Rather than asserting something for the reader to  accept , “Show, don’t tell” writing transmits something for the reader to  experience .

What does “Show, don’t tell” mean? At its root, it means that rather than asserting something for the reader to  accept , your writing transmits something for the reader to  experience . The writer accomplishes this through a mix of vivid imagery, descriptive verbs, and immersive details.

To see what this means in practice, let’s look at a couple of “show, don’t tell” examples:

Do you see the difference? The first text doesn’t invoke a very specific experience, and it doesn’t feel like all that much. It’s just information. “Huh, I guess it was terrifying. All right.”

Conversely, the second example invokes a specific experience: it actually lets you visualize some sort of shambling spike demon drawing closer to you. It doesn’t just talk about scariness in the abstract—it is scary, at least a little bit. As the reader, you can imagine how the main character might have felt, using your own ability to imagine and feel.

Here’s another example, this time of a single “Tell, don’t show” sentence and lots of “Show, don’t tell” examples:

Show, don’t tell:

  • He shivered and pulled up his flannel scarf.
  • He ducked his head against the bitter December air.
  • The wind wicked heat from his exposed skin.
  • “Beauty is pain,” he said, wincing as the cryogenic gunk touched his warts.
  • The cashier’s glare froze his innards.

Each example expresses very different emotions, settings , and conflicts —all within one sentence! By using “Show, don’t tell,” these sentences impart what kind of cold the man felt: was it a chill of temperature, of emotions, or of surgery? Is it a necessary chill, or a frightfully apathetic frigidness? Can we relate this cold to our own personal experiences?

“Show, don’t tell” writing is all about creating “doorways” for the reader: “ways in” that let the reader live in and directly experience the world of the writing.

So “Show, don’t tell” writing is all about creating “doorways” for the reader: “ways in” that let the reader live in and directly experience the world of the writing.

Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing Empowers the Reader

When it’s done properly, creative writing creates experiences in the reader. It brings up images in the mind, emotions in the body, sense perceptions, memories—you name it.

Readers bring the writing to life, by experiencing in their own way what the writer is working to transmit. The writer gives readers a world made of language—sets of happenings, images, meanings, associations—and the readers’ own experience of the writing depends on how their minds and bodies light up in response.

“Show, don’t tell” writing gives the reader a job that goes far beyond simply “understand” or “agree.”

In other words, “Show, don’t tell” writing gives the reader an experiential and interpretive job that goes far beyond simply “understand” or “agree.” Readers are always meeting writers halfway.

That freedom of interpretation—passing the human experience back and forth, and feeling it together, but each in our own individual ways—is the beating heart of creative writing.

Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Separates Creative Writing from Other Types of Writing

Most writing in English does  not follow the “Show, don’t tell” guideline (including this article).

Most writing in English does  not follow the “Show, don’t tell” guideline. For example, this article exists mainly to tell you something as clearly as possible, for you to consider and perhaps incorporate moving forward. Most professions require this type of direct, declarative writing: statements that describe, educate, explain, and argue.

Creative writers have a far different goal. They more transcribe human experiences than describe them—always working to provide readers with doorways to enter the world of the writing directly. Where most writing is declarative, creative writing is exploratory, world building, and inventive.

Where most writing is declarative, creative writing is exploratory, world building, and inventive.

If lawyers were creative writers, they wouldn’t say, “My client is innocent. She has an alibi.” They’d say, “My client spent her evening like usual: chopping peppers and garlic over sizzling oil, popping one-too-many candied mints as she watched the 7 o’clock news, and thinking about the legitimacy of nation-states as she read Foucault in the bathtub.”

Of course, lawyers don’t talk like this. Why are we getting this deep into the human experience? We have a job to do. Besides, creative writing requires practice and deep thought. In fact, it took me 12 minutes just to come up with a backstory for this nameless, alibi-ed character.

Far more than most types of writing, creative writing invites the reader into an immersive world of experience.

“Show, don’t tell” can have a home in many writing styles that aren’t always thought of as creative writing, such as in journalism. But for the most part, creative writing works differently from other types of writing, and has remarkably different aims, because it is so strongly oriented toward inviting the reader into an immersive world and experience.

Should I Use “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing All the Time?

Nobody uses “Show, don’t tell writing” all the time, because some pieces of information are better off summarized.

Absolutely not. Nobody uses “Show, don’t tell writing” all the time in creative writing, because some pieces of information are better off summarized. Plus, lots of writing includes dialogue , and some people only talk using tell, don’t show language. Finally, readers need a break—they can’t be visualizing tons of images all the time, otherwise they’ll be exhausted quickly. A healthy balance of both is key.

To make this point, let’s look at an example of too much “Show, don’t tell,” and a more balanced example:

In the first example, we’re slowing readers down by describing things that probably aren’t worth their deep engagement. Those pieces are best left to “Tell, don’t show” writing, which is quick, summaristic, and simple, and which is the quickest way from cause to effect. So understand what’s less important and  tell the reader about that, so you get get to showing them what is richest and most alive.

Understand what’s less important and  tell the reader about that, so you get get to showing them what is richest and most alive.

In this vein, times when summaristic, “tell, don’t show” writing may be preferable include:

  • Describing certain minor characters.
  • Glossing over periods of time that are uneventful or unimportant.
  • Transitioning between scenes.
  • Writing memos, notes, dialogue, or other declarative media.
  • Intentionally building a contrast with more evocative writing.

To summarize: “showing” language helps spotlight the most important details. You will find this type of writing much more frequently in scenes versus summaries .

How to Balance “Show” and “Tell” in Your Writing

Getting this balance right requires three things: curiosity, craft, and confidence.

Getting the balance of “show” and “tell” right requires three things:

In the sections below, we’ll go through these three elements one-by-one, giving you lots of tools and exercises to practice incorporating “Show, don’t tell” into your writing.

For CNF writers who want to learn more on this balance, check out our workshop Show and Tell: How to Create Captivating Nonfiction .

Our Upcoming Online Writing Courses:

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Poetic Prose: The Prose Poem

with Barbara Henning

March 20th, 2024

Explore the border between prose poetry and flash fiction. For writers of fiction, poetry, essay and memoir.

30 poems in 30 days

30 Poems in 30 Days

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April 1st, 2024

This National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), build community and get feedback on your work while writing a poem every day.

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The Heart Remembers: Writing About Loss

with Charlotte Maya

April 3rd, 2024

How can we organize grief and loss into language? Honor your feelings and write moving essays in this heart-centered creative nonfiction class. 

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Let It Rip: The Art of Writing Fiery Prose

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You'll write prose that gets folks so hot and bothered they won't be able to put it down, even if it isn't about sex.

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Write Your Novel! The Workshop With Jack

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Get a good start on a novel in just ten weeks, or revise a novel you’ve already written. Free your imagination, move steadily ahead and count the pages!

1. The Role of Curiosity in “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing

Many of us are unpracticed in the kind of exploratory, empathetic thinking that “Show, don’t tell” thrives on. (This is in part because most Western education systems do not   foster a strong sense of creativity in students.) The good news is, we can practice! And it will make our writing much richer and more compelling.

As an example, let’s say I’m writing a story about a romantic couple performing an art heist. (Random, I know. I just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, so if you’ve read it, you’ll understand where my head is at.)

The curious writer sees endless doorways for exploration, and lets that curiosity guide which details to focus on.

The curious writer sees endless doorways for exploration here, and will let that curiosity guide which details to focus on. The writer might be drawn to describing for the reader:

  • Details of the museum’s layout and security systems, and the intricacies of the heist in overcoming these challenges.
  • The fine brushstrokes of the targeted painting; the patina of history built up along its weathered frame.
  • The protagonist’s shaky laugh when the sensors won’t turn off as planned.
  • The moment of pure, unrestrained joy the robbers share as they unwrap the stolen painting in the moonlight.
  • The small social cues that clue in on the robbers’ crumbling relationship.
  • The detective and his task force’s process for investigating the heist.

With “Show, don’t tell” writing, we can let our curiosity guide us through each of these doorways into the story. But if we just want to get to some payoff (“the couple executed a brilliant art heist, but the one thing they couldn’t unlock was loyalty”), then we might miss all the details that make the story worth savoring—because of a lack of curiosity about those details.

These next exercises are sure to spark your curiosity.

6 Curiosity Exercises for Show, Don’t Tell Writing

These exercises are about noticing experiences beyond their surface, summary details.

1. Try freewriting for five minutes: just write continually in a stream of consciousness, continually, without pausing, editing, or revising. This is good for moving from “pre-processed” summary and interpretation and toward accessing more immediate parts of your experience.

2. Describe one of your characters using only the five senses. Don’t name the senses themselves, and try to use specific details, or even using similes and metaphors . Instead of saying “he has green eyes,” say “his eyes are like primeval forests.”

3. Remember a unique experience that will never be replicated. Something like your first love, a serious accident, a moment of intense feeling. What makes that experience unique? How can you convey that uniqueness through the five senses? What immediate experiences—thoughts, sense perceptions, feelings—stood out? Share these things in a few sentences or paragraphs.

4. Imagine yourself somewhere entirely new: in a medieval farming village, in a darkened robotics plant after midnight, you name it. What does this experience feel like in detail ? Write what you perceive with your senses, emotions, and mind. Feel free to incorporate research if you’d like to get a better sense of this new environment.

5. Pick a random stanza or paragraph from something you’ve written. Now, try rewriting those lines as if they were told from another person’s point of view. What if the narrator was:

  • of a different sex.
  • colorblind.
  • twice the original narrator’s age.
  • a used car salesman.
  • hyped up on caffeine.
  • your best friend.
  • omniscient.
  • your favorite animal.
  • your nemesis .

Pick at least 3 of the points of view above, and rewrite from them. In each case, how does the differentness of the point of view organically change the writing, without you needing to say so directly?

6. Read like a writer . Research for and read a book with characters and a setting you’re unfamiliar with. As you’re reading, pay attention to what makes this book’s subject interesting: how does the writer pull you into a different perspective and experience of the world, and show you things you wouldn’t have expected? Pay attention, then look for ways to emulate that curiosity in your own work.

2. The Role of Craft in “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing

“Show, don’t tell” is built on the craft fundamentals of good creative writing. These fundamentals help us write clearly and vividly in any genre.

Beyond these fundamentals, in creative writing in particular, engaging with literary devices is a crucial element of craft. It is these literary devices that let you show things like moods , patterns, associations, and multiple meanings.

Literary devices let you show the reader things like moods, patterns, associations, and multiple meanings.

We know Edgar Allan Poe’s writing was gloomy and claustrophobic, and often spoke to the parts of our experience that are tinged with madness and decay. Did he ever tell us this directly? No: it’s in the literary devices he used to establish mood and various kinds of associations and meanings in us as readers. He was able to show us something of his inner world—without ever needing to tell us about it—thanks to his own abilities in writing craft.

The below exercises will enrich your abilities as a craftsperson.

7 Craft Exercises for Show, Don’t Tell Writing

These exercises are about honing your ability to create doorways for the reader, using expressive writing and literary devices .

1. Figurative language shows the reader a web of associations: how seemingly different things sometimes resonate with one another in experience. “The emergency blanket crinkled like a bag of chips” uses simile to convey a sensory experience, for example; or “joy is a lemon-yellow dress” conveys a felt sense of exuberance shared by bright clothes and happy emotions. In a few sentences or a short poem, use metaphor or simile to share the likeness of two things.

2. Write a poem or short story without using adjectives or adverbs. (So, not “he was tall,” since tall is an adjective, but “he towered over us.”) Describe things using only nouns, verbs, and literary devices.

3. Write a short story or poem that conveys a feeling—like anticipation, contentment, or guilt—without ever mentioning the feeling directly. How can you share that feeling as an atmosphere for the reader, in language that is about something else on the surface?

4. Find a literary device you’ve never heard of at https://literarydevices.net/ . Then, write 10 different, original “show, don’t tell” examples that use this device. (Try to do this even for devices that aren’t relevant to your genre. For example, a fiction writer doesn’t need to worry about end-stopped lines, but try them out!)

5. Transcribe a short passage from a podcast or talk show. Use that as the dialogue in a short story; fill in your own descriptions of the speakers’ body language and the scene around them to advance the story and establish a mood.

6. Write your next story in the style of a certain author. Hemingway, for example, was known for writing that was brisk and straightforward, with no excess. The Brontë Sisters, by contrast, are known for their sprawling sentences, lengthy passages, and slow, emotional writing. Pick a style to emulate, then write your next piece in that style. Take note of what craft elements and figurative devices you replicate.

7. Use a certain form. Poetic forms , like the sonnet or the villanelle , force you to use the writing craft. For prose writers, “form” refers to length—flash fiction versus vignette versus novella—and it refers to genres—romance, thriller, mystery , prose poetry , fantasy lyric essay , etc. Challenge yourself to fit different constraints; you’ll need the tools of the writing craft to succeed.

For more exercises on show, don’t tell writing, as well as imagery in general, take a look at our article Imagery Definition: 5+ Types of Imagery in Literature .

3. The Role of Confidence in “Show, Don’t Tell” Writing

Writing requires trust. If we as writers want to be heard and understood, we need to be willing to trust our future readers, and ourselves.

Confidence in Your Readers

When we put our writing into the world, we lose all control of how it’s going to be read. For many writers, this is terrifying.

When we put our writing into the world, we lose all control of how it’s going to be read. The ink has dried, the words are printed, and readers are left to decide for themselves if the story or poem is worth reading. This, for many writers, is terrifying.

And why wouldn’t we be terrified? When we write, we bury small pieces of our hearts in the words like squirrels storing seeds for the winter. Publishing that writing is like giving a stranger the map to those seeds, those heart-fragments, and then finding the next week that they’ve already been re-arranged.

Trust comes in in allowing your readers to interpret your work, and having confidence that their experience will be rich and meaningful.

Trust comes in in allowing your readers to interpret your work, and having confidence that their experience will be rich and meaningful—even if it’s not exactly as you would have dictated.

Why Telling Readers What to Experience Isn’t the Answer

If we approach our writing hesitantly because we can’t control how the reader will experience the work, we might respond by erasing any semblance of ambiguity in our work. In doing so, we end up telling the reader what to experience, instead of showing them our worlds and letting them experience those worlds for themselves.

“Show, don’t tell” always results in ambiguity. If we forego that ambiguity, we also forego the craft of storytelling.

“Show, don’t tell” always results in ambiguity, because readers have to experience the story for themselves, in their own ways. If we forego that ambiguity, we also forego the craft of storytelling .

“But I Want Everyone to Understand that…”

Many of us write because we want to inform, persuade, excite, entertain, or challenge our readers. Shouldn’t I focus on transmitting what I already know—the inalienable truths I’ve uncovered in my life, the things I wish more people understood?

Certainly, those discoveries should enter the mix of ideas in your work. However, if you’re not trying to grow from the writing process, then you’re not really embracing the humanistic nature of creative writing in particular.

It comes down to what kind of writing you want to do: didactic writing, or creative writing.

It comes down to what kind of writing you want to do: didactic writing (like this article), or creative writing. Creative writing is about shared human experiences. Our job, as creative writers, is to create the doorways that help our readers connect with the stories we tell. If that doesn’t interest you, that’s okay! You can spread your ideas some other way, from works of philosophy to training materials to blog articles like this one.

Leo Tolstoy is an example of an author who mixed expressive and didactic writing—and of the challenges in doing so. War and Peace contains long didactic passages about how human history works. These tracts of philosophy are almost completely forgotten; War and Peace has even sometimes been reprinted without them. And yet War and Peace ‘s story lives on as a classic for what it shows us about the human condition, far above what Tolstoy was able to tell us about how to understand everything.

All kinds of writing are valuable. Just be clear your intention, before you tell a story that is accidentally a philosophy lecture, or vice versa.

Of course, some authors were great philosophers but unsuccessful playwrights. Just be clear your intention, before you tell a story that is accidentally a philosophy lecture, or vice versa.

Confidence in Yourself

The worlds you have to show your readers are worth experiencing.

This boils down to believing that the worlds you have to show your readers are worth experiencing. And they are. However complete or incomplete you feel as a writer at present, you can share your stories, and the world will be richer for your doing so.

Feeling this sense of permission is so crucial to “Show, don’t tell” writing, because creation is such an intimate act. It can be easier to bail on the whole thing and start telling us what you think about things—much safer-seeming. But it doesn’t let us experience the world you want to create.

Accepting the Goodwill of the Reader

Readers want to read! Being a writer is not an imposition.

One thing that may help find confidence in yourself as a writer: remember that readers want to read! They want new experiences, ideas, and writing styles to excite them. This goodwill extends to the suspension of disbelief , and in a search for the merits of your work.

So being a writer is not an imposition. You’re offering into a win-win situation: both the writer and the reader benefit by the creation of literature.

Now, not everyone will “get” your work. That’s because the human experience is so vast. There is no writer in the world who appeals to every person. And you’ll never stop growing, as long as you keep writing.

So what are you waiting for? Show us your world!

Closing Thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell”

We’ve covered a lot in this article, because “Show, don’t tell” is a deceptively big topic. We hope the “show don’t tell” examples, discussion, and exercises here form a truly helpful resource as you embark on your writing journey.

If you’ve been wondering how to move forward as a writer, you’ve found the right place to learn. Between this article and our many amazing writing courses, you can absolutely take the next step in your writing. See for yourself: take a look at our upcoming courses today!

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Sean Glatch

13 comments.

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This is excellent.

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I experienced this entire article. Thank you for sharing such helpful tips!

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I’m happy to hear this resonated with you! Best of luck on your writing journey x

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you have just given an excellent blueprint on how to tackle the beast called writing

I’m so happy this helped you. Best of luck tackling the beast!

[…] “Why ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is a Golden Rule of Creative Writing” (writers.com… […]

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Wow! This was so helpful. I am in writing workshop right now for Poetry.. Finding this article, give me so much grist for the mill . Now I have to revise my poem. Thank you.

' src=

Thank you so much for this really helpful writing guide.

Our pleasure—we’re glad you found it helpful!

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Thank you for this. Very helpful information.

' src=

Excellent. I have been applying such writing skills in classes and find it so useful for our students.

' src=

Very helpful. Hard to achieve the right balance!

' src=

it’s excellent

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what is rule no 6 in creative writing

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Principles of Creative Writing: An Ultimate Guide

Explore the art of storytelling with our blog on the Principles of Creative Writing. Uncover the key techniques that transform words into captivating narratives. From character development to plot intricacies, we'll guide you through the fundamental principles that breathe life into your writing, helping you craft compelling and imaginative stories.

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Table of Contents  

1)  Understanding Creative Writing Principles 

2)  Principles of Creative Writing 

    a)  Imagination knows no bounds   

    b)  Crafting compelling characters   

    c)  Plot twists and turns 

    d) Setting the stage 

    e)  Point of View (POV) and voice    

    f)  Dialogue - The voice of your characters 

    g)  Conflict and tension 

    h)  Show, don't tell 

    i)  Editing and revising with precision   

    j)  The power of theme and symbolism 

    k)  Pacing and rhythm 

    l)   Emotionally resonant writing 

    m)  Atmosphere and mood 

3)  Conclusion  

Understanding Creative Writing Principles  

Before we move on to the Principles for Creative Writers, let’s first understand the concept of Creative Writing. Creative Writing is an exploration of human expression, a channel through which Writers communicate their unique perspectives, experiences, and stories.   

This form of writing encompasses various genres, such as fiction, poetry, drama, and more. Unlike Technical or Academic Writing, Creative Writing is driven by the desire to evoke emotions, engage readers, and transport them to alternate worlds.  

Take your academic writing to the next level – join our Academic Writing Masterclass and unlock the art of effective writing and communication!    

Principles of Creative Writing  

Now that you know the meaning of Creative Writing, let’s explore its principles.  

Principles of Creative Writing

Principle 1: Imagination k nows n o b ounds   

Your imagination is a treasure trove of ideas waiting to be explored. To cultivate your creative imagination:  

a)  Allow yourself to think without limitations. 

b)  Let thoughts collide and see where they lead. 

c)  Keep a journal to jot down fleeting ideas and use them as springboards for your writing.  

Break free from conventional thought patterns—experiment with "what if" scenarios – twist familiar elements into something new. Blend genres, combine unrelated concepts, or put your characters in unexpected situations .       

Principle 2: Crafting c ompelling c haracters   

Characters are the heart of your story. Develop characters with distinct personalities, motivations, strengths, and flaws. Delve into their backgrounds, understanding their past experiences and how they shape their choices. Consider their beliefs, fears, desires, and relationships with others in the story .   

Readers connect with characters they can relate to. Make your characters multifaceted by giving them relatable qualities. Flaws make characters human, so don't hesitate to bestow imperfections upon them. Your readers will find themselves emotionally invested in their journeys as they face challenges and grow.    

Principle 3: Plot t wists and t urns   

A well-crafted story thrives on plot twists and turns. These unexpected shifts keep readers engaged, encouraging them to explore the unknown alongside your characters. The art of plot twists lies in weaving surprises that challenge characters' assumptions and drive the story in unexpected directions.   

Develop logical and unforeseen twists, leaving your audience eager to discover what happens next. Experiment with various narrative structures. Choose the structure that best serves your story's theme and tone.  

Principle 4: Setting the s tage  

Transport readers into your story's world by vividly describing its physical elements – sights, sounds, smells, and textures. The setting isn't merely a backdrop; it's a living, breathing entity that influences the mood and atmosphere of your narrative. Create an immersive experience that makes readers feel like they're living the story alongside your characters. Make the setting integral to your storytelling, whether a bustling urban landscape or serene countryside. 

Principle 5: Point of View (POV) and v oice     

Point of View (POV) and voice are essential tools that shape how your story is perceived. POV determines the perspective through which readers experience the narrative – whether through a character's eyes (first person), an external observer (third person limited), or an all-knowing narrator (third person omniscient). Each POV offers a distinct vantage point, influencing what readers know and how they connect with the characters.   

On the other hand, voice is the unique style and tone of your writing that reflects the narrator's personality and worldview. Skilful manipulation of POV and voice deepens readers' immersion and connection with the story .       

Principle 6: Dialogue - The v oice of y our c haracters   

Dialogue is a powerful tool for revealing character relationships and advancing the plot. It's the medium through which characters reveal their personalities, motivations, and conflicts. Make your dialogue sound natural by paying attention to speech patterns, interruptions, and nuances.   

Each character should possess a distinctive voice, reflecting their background, emotions, and quirks. Effective dialogue moves the plot forward, adds depth to relationships, and provides insight into characters' inner worlds.    

Master your copywriting skills today with our Copywriting Masterclass and create compelling content that drives conversions. Join now!   

Principle 7: Conflict and t ension     

Conflict drives your story forward. Whether internal (within a character's mind) or external (between characters or forces), conflicts create stakes and keep readers invested. Make conflicts meaningful by connecting them to your characters' goals and desires. Tension, on the other hand, keeps readers engaged by evoking curiosity and emotional investment.  

Principle 8: Show, d on't t ell   

"Show, don't tell" is a principle that encourages subtlety and reader engagement. Instead of directly stating emotions or information, show them through actions, behaviours, and sensory details. Allow readers to draw their own conclusions, fostering a deeper connection to the narrative.   

For example, instead of stating, "She was sad," show her wiping away a tear and gazing out the rain-soaked window. This approach not only immerses readers in the story but also invites them to interpret and empathise with the characters' experiences.  

Creative Writing Training

Principle 9: Editing and r evising with p recision   

Your first draft is just the beginning. Editing and revising refine your work into its best version. Editing is not just about correcting grammar; it's about refining your prose to convey your message with clarity and impact. Read your work critically, checking for consistency in tone, pacing, and character development. Trim unnecessary elements and tighten sentences to eliminate any ambiguity. Embrace the art of revision to sculpt your rough draft into a polished masterpiece.  

Principle 10: The p ower of t heme and s ymbolism   

Themes and symbolism add meaning to your writing, inviting readers to explore more profound insights. A theme is your story's central idea or message, while symbolism uses objects, actions, or concepts to represent abstract ideas. By infusing your narrative with meaningful themes and symbolism, you create a tapestry of thought-provoking connections that engage readers on both intellectual and emotional levels. 

Principle 11: Pacing and r hythm   

The rhythm of your writing affects how readers engage with your story. Experiment with sentence lengths and structures to create a natural flow that guides readers seamlessly through the narrative. Vary pacing to match the intensity of the scenes; fast-paced action should have short, punchy sentences, while contemplative moments can benefit from longer, more introspective prose. Mastering rhythm and flow keep readers entranced from start to finish.   

Principle 12: Emotionally r esonant w riting  

Emotionally resonant writing

The goal of Creative Writing is to evoke emotions in your readers. Develop empathy for your characters and encourage readers to feel alongside them. Tap into your own experiences and emotions to connect with readers on a human level. Emotionally charged writing doesn't just entertain; it leaves a mark on readers' hearts, reminding them of shared experiences and universal truths.  

Principle 13: Atmosphere and m ood   

The atmosphere and mood of a story set the tone for readers' experiences. Through careful selection of words, sentence structures, and descriptive details, you can shape the emotional ambience of your narrative. Whether you're writing an exciting thriller, a magical fantasy, or a serious drama, infuse your writing with an atmosphere that wraps readers in the emotions you want them to feel. 

Conclusion   

The Principles of Creative Writing provide a roadmap for crafting stories that captivate and inspire. These principles allow you to transform your writing from ordinary to extraordinary easily. As you work on becoming a Creative Writer, remember that practice is key. Each principle mentioned here is like a tool in your Writer's toolbox, waiting to be improved and used effectively. 

Elevate your writing skills with our Creative Writing Training . Join today to unleash your creativity!   

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Library Home

Elements of Creative Writing

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

J.D. Schraffenberger, University of Northern Iowa

Rachel Morgan, University of Northern Iowa

Grant Tracey, University of Northern Iowa

Copyright Year: 2023

ISBN 13: 9780915996179

Publisher: University of Northern Iowa

Language: English

Formats Available

Conditions of use.

Attribution-NonCommercial

Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Robert Moreira, Lecturer III, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on 3/21/24

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

As far as I can tell, content is accurate, error free and unbiased.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The book is relevant and up-to-date.

Clarity rating: 5

The text is clear and easy to understand.

Consistency rating: 5

I would agree that the text is consistent in terms of terminology and framework.

Modularity rating: 5

Text is modular, yes, but I would like to see the addition of a section on dramatic writing.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Topics are presented in logical, clear fashion.

Interface rating: 5

Navigation is good.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

No grammatical issues that I could see.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

I'd like to see more diverse creative writing examples.

As I stated above, textbook is good except that it does not include a section on dramatic writing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: One Great Way to Write a Short Story
  • Chapter Two: Plotting
  • Chapter Three: Counterpointed Plotting
  • Chapter Four: Show and Tell
  • Chapter Five: Characterization and Method Writing
  • Chapter Six: Character and Dialouge
  • Chapter Seven: Setting, Stillness, and Voice
  • Chapter Eight: Point of View
  • Chapter Nine: Learning the Unwritten Rules
  • Chapter One: A Poetry State of Mind
  • Chapter Two: The Architecture of a Poem
  • Chapter Three: Sound
  • Chapter Four: Inspiration and Risk
  • Chapter Five: Endings and Beginnings
  • Chapter Six: Figurative Language
  • Chapter Seven: Forms, Forms, Forms
  • Chapter Eight: Go to the Image
  • Chapter Nine: The Difficult Simplicity of Short Poems and Killing Darlings

Creative Nonfiction

  • Chapter One: Creative Nonfiction and the Essay
  • Chapter Two: Truth and Memory, Truth in Memory
  • Chapter Three: Research and History
  • Chapter Four: Writing Environments
  • Chapter Five: Notes on Style
  • Chapter Seven: Imagery and the Senses
  • Chapter Eight: Writing the Body
  • Chapter Nine: Forms

Back Matter

  • Contributors
  • North American Review Staff

Ancillary Material

  • University of Northern Iowa

About the Book

This free and open access textbook introduces new writers to some basic elements of the craft of creative writing in the genres of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The authors—Rachel Morgan, Jeremy Schraffenberger, and Grant Tracey—are editors of the North American Review, the oldest and one of the most well-regarded literary magazines in the United States. They’ve selected nearly all of the readings and examples (more than 60) from writing that has appeared in NAR pages over the years. Because they had a hand in publishing these pieces originally, their perspective as editors permeates this book. As such, they hope that even seasoned writers might gain insight into the aesthetics of the magazine as they analyze and discuss some reasons this work is so remarkable—and therefore teachable. This project was supported by NAR staff and funded via the UNI Textbook Equity Mini-Grant Program.

About the Contributors

J.D. Schraffenberger  is a professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of two books of poems,  Saint Joe's Passion  and  The Waxen Poor , and co-author with Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt of  The Necessary Poetics of Atheism . His other work has appeared in  Best of Brevity ,  Best Creative Nonfiction ,  Notre Dame Review ,  Poetry East ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Rachel Morgan   is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of the chapbook  Honey & Blood , Blood & Honey . Her work is included in the anthology  Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in American  and has appeared in the  Journal of American Medical Association ,  Boulevard ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Grant Tracey   author of three novels in the Hayden Fuller Mysteries ; the chapbook  Winsome  featuring cab driver Eddie Sands; and the story collection  Final Stanzas , is fiction editor of the  North American Review  and an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches film, modern drama, and creative writing. Nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, he has published nearly fifty short stories and three previous collections. He has acted in over forty community theater productions and has published critical work on Samuel Fuller and James Cagney. He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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Need help submitting your writing to literary journals or book publishers/literary agents?  Click here! →

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

Seven Fundamental Comma Rules

by Writer's Relief Staff | Grammar and Usage , Proofreading , Query Letters | 5 comments

Review Board is now open! Submit your Short Prose, Poetry, and Book today!

Deadline: thursday, april 18th.

Seven Fundamental Comma Rules

Commas have an essential function in creative writing. They indicate to the reader which words should go together in a sentence and which parts of the sentence are the most important. But this little punctuation mark often causes big problems for writers. When do you use a comma? Where does the comma go in a sentence? When do you leave out the comma? What are the rules for comma use?

The comma “rule” that many of us learned—to place a comma anywhere we think a reader should pause—often results in muddled, nearly incoherent sentences like the following:

When Susan was a child, she wanted to be an astronaut, or a doctor, or a banker, but when she graduated from high school, she decided, that she would like to become an artist, and live in a big, exciting, fun city.

This “rule” is, of course, not a rule at all, and following it made the sentence above very difficult to read. Are all nine commas really necessary? Let’s check the seven fundamental comma rules.

Comma Rule 1: Use a comma before coordinating conjunctions that join independent clauses.

Coordinating conjunctions : and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet

Independent clause: a word group that contains at least one subject, at least one verb, and expresses a complete thought; also called a sentence .

Example: Tom enjoys writing poetry, and he has submitted several poems to regional literary magazines.

Comma Rule 2: Use commas to separate items in a series.

Example: She bought bread, milk, cookies, and juice.

Example: Of the three children, Becky is the oldest, James is the youngest, and Jack is the middle child.

Comma Rule 3: Use a comma after introductory words, phrases, and clauses.

Example: Quietly, she tiptoed past the sleeping child. (introductory word)

Example: Running quickly, Marjorie arrived at the bus stop before the bus pulled away. (introductory phrase)

Example: After he finished his homework, Brian read The Great Gatsby. (introductory clause)

Comma Rule 4: Use commas to set off nonrestrictive phrases or clauses from the rest of the sentence.

Nonrestrictive phrase or clause definition: a phrase or clause that adds nonessential information to the sentence. In other words, if the phrase or clause was removed from the sentence, the sentence would still retain its original meaning.

Example: Several politicians, lawyers, and business leaders attended the conference, which began at 2 p.m. (nonrestrictive clause)

Submit to Review Board

Comma Rule 5: Use a comma between adjectives that modify the same noun.

Hint: If you can put and or but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there.

Example: Edgar is a tall, distinguished businessman. (Since we could write tall and distinguished , the comma is necessary.)

Example: When I was in college, I lived in a small brown house next to a filling station. (Since we are not likely to say that we lived in a small and brown house , no comma is necessary between these adjectives.)

Comma Rule 6: Use a comma to separate a direct address from the rest of the sentence.

Example: Becky, please go to the store and buy some milk.

Example: If we don’t go soon, Barney, it will be too late.

Comma Rule 7: In direct quotes, use a comma (or commas) to separate the speaker from the quote.

Example: The teacher said, “Please pass your essays to the front of the room.”

Example: “I want to go to Grandma’s house,” the child said.

Example: “Drive to the mall,” Mother said, “and buy a new sleeping bag for your camping trip.”

Learn more about commas and dialogue format.

Comma placement is not difficult if we follow these basic rules. So let’s take another look at the first example: How many of the nine commas are necessary? If you said five, you’re correct. Here’s the sentence as it should be punctuated:

When Susan was a child, she wanted to be an astronaut or a doctor or a banker, but when she graduated from high school, she decided that she would like to become an artist and live in a big, exciting, fun city.

The first comma in the sentence follows rule 3: Use a comma after introductory words, phrases, and clauses.

The second comma follows rule 1: Use a comma before coordinating conjunctions that join independent clauses.

The third comma follows rule 3: Use a comma after introductory words, phrases, and clauses.

The fourth and fifth commas follow rule 5: Use a comma between adjectives that modify the same noun.

Check out our other articles on comma usage:

Serial Commas, Ellipses, and Em Dashes

The Common Comma

Writing News: Of Commas and Mice

Fragments and Run-On Sentences: Sentence Spoilers

Comma placement can be tricky, but if we follow the fundamental rules, it can—and will—become second nature. (Still unsure? Writer’s Relief offers proofreading for writers who want to submit their best work to editors and literary agents. Or sign up for our Submit Write Now! , which delivers monthly articles to your in-box on the mechanics of writing and the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Best of all, it’s free!)

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

Thanks for this. I am always confused about commas.

Russell_bowring

A ripper reference! Thank you. This is a much needed help for those of us who were looking out the window when punctuation was being taught at school. Russell

bob

Thank you, I love the examples, and have been making my own to try and memorize where commas go. Maybie by next week the cridics in my critter circle will stop yelling at me. XD

liberty

Thank you so much for your work!

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what is rule no 6 in creative writing

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

The 7 Golden Rules Of Creative Writing

Looking for guidance with artistic and literary writing? Here’s a quick guide that will get your creative juices flowing. Heads…

The 7 Golden Rules Of Creative Writing

Looking for guidance with artistic and literary writing? Here’s a quick guide that will get your creative juices flowing. Heads up: these rules will backfire in email exchanges with your boss. Proceed with caution. 

1. The way out of the bottomless rut that is writer’s block is to dive right in: write. It doesn’t matter if the words make sense, as long as they form. String some together and see what happens.

2. Read as much as you can, and pay attention to the authors that stand out [to you]. Do you gravitate towards styles that are simple and bare (Rohinton Mistry), frenzied and chaotic (Jack Kerouac), or elegant and grand (Arundhati Roy)?

3. Add depth, tone, texture, and lilt to your writing. Play with rhythm. Give longer sentences a break with shorter pauses — good writing ebbs and flows. And experiment with intonation: why not throw in a question, like this one?

4. If you’re writing for film or audio, pay heed to the sound of words. Read out loud everything you write, and eliminate anything that would sound awkward in conversation. “A sudden rainstorm washes down in sweet hyphens” sounds nice to read, but who really talks like that? 

5. Structure is said to be the Holy Grail of strong writing. But working bottom-up and upside-down can be as life-changing. Fact: Chuck Palahniuk’s iconic novel Fight Club was born from a short story—now a chapter.

6. There are no rules. Make them. Break them. A thing called poetic license allows you to flout convention, and legendary writers use it to their advantage. Lewis Caroll invented the words ‘chortle’ and ‘galumph’ that once nonsensical, are now part of the English dictionary.

7. Formulas and free-thinking don’t go hand in hand. The more you try to fit your work into a rigid mold, the trickier it gets to build something original and compelling. Become okay with toeing the squiggly line. 

For all other kinds of writing—the clear, concise, and structured kind that won’t get you into trouble—you may want to check Harappa's  Writing Proficiently course. 

Check out the  Speaking Effectively  course from Harappa Education and upgrade your speaking skills. Develop skills with these  online learning courses  today! Explore topics such as Writing Skills , Process of Writing , Report Writing & Types of Reporting from our Harappa Diaries blog section to build your skills for workplace success.

Soumya Bahuguna is Senior Associate, Brand Communications at Harappa Education. In her free time, she plays the piano.

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1. You can write anything in any style.

2. Continually experiment with your style and the forms you use.

3. Read a lot of creative writing, and use the styles and forms you enjoy from what you read.

4. Don’t get too intellectual—feel more than think when writing and when editing your writing.

5. Get constructive criticism from other writers, or else you will see your writing from only your viewpoint.

6. Find the right creative atmosphere for you. Get into this atmosphere as much as possible. It could be in a library meeting room, in your basement with Mozart playing in the background, etc.

7. When you have written a considerable amount of work, send it out for being published. This will make you more concerned about the quality of your work and give you motivation.

8. Even though you can write about anything in creative writing, you must also check if a reader can understand it well enough. A total understanding by the reader is not necessary, but at least some cognitive connection should be able to be established between your writing and the reader.

9. It is a normal practice to take ideas from other writers and expand on them. You are not plagiarizing—only putting your own creative energy into an idea already shown in others’ writing and making it your own idea in the process.

10. When you have written for many years, you can make your own writing rules.

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Creative Writing 101

Creative Writing 101

You love to write and have been told you have a way with words. So you’ve decided to give writing a try—creative writing.

Problem is, you’re finding it tougher than it looks.

You may even have a great story idea , but you’re not sure how to turn it into something people will read.

Don’t be discouraged—writing a compelling story can be grueling, even for veterans. Conflicting advice online may confuse you and make you want to quit before you start.

But you know more than you think. Stories saturate our lives.

We tell and hear stories every day in music, on television, in video games, in books, in movies, even in relationships.

Most stories, regardless the genre, feature a main character who wants something.

There’s a need, a goal, some sort of effort to get that something.

The character begins an adventure, a journey, or a quest, faces obstacles, and is ultimately transformed.

The work of developing such a story will come. But first, let’s look at the basics.

  • What is Creative Writing?

It’s prose (fiction or nonfiction) that tells a story.

Journalistic, academic, technical writing relays facts.

Creative writing can also educate, but it’s best when it also entertains and emotionally moves the reader.

It triggers the imagination and appeals to the heart.

  • Elements of Creative Writing

Elements of Creative Writing

Writing a story is much like building a house.

You may have all the right tools and design ideas, but if your foundation isn’t solid, even the most beautiful structure won’t stand.

Most storytelling experts agree, these 7 key elements must exist in a story.

Plot (more on that below) is what happens in a story. Theme is why it happens.

Before you begin writing, determine why you want to tell your story.

  • What message do you wish to convey? 
  • What will it teach the reader? 

Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme. Just tell the story, and let it make its own point.

Give your readers credit. Subtly weave your theme into the story and trust them to get it.

They may remember a great plot, but you want them thinking about your theme long after they’ve finished reading.

2. Characters

Every story needs believable characters who feel knowable.

In fiction, your main character is the protagonist, also known as the lead or hero/heroine.

The protagonist must have:

  • redeemable flaws
  • potentially heroic qualities that emerge in the climax
  • a character arc (he must be different, better, stronger by the end)

Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead. Perfect is boring. (Even Indiana Jones suffered a snake phobia.)

You also need an antagonist, the villain , who should be every bit as formidable and compelling as your hero.

Don’t make your bad guy bad just because he’s the bad guy. Make him a worthy foe by giving him motives for his actions.

Villains don’t see themselves as bad. They think they’re right! A fully rounded bad guy is much more realistic and memorable.

Depending on the length of your story , you may also need important orbital cast members.

For each character, ask:

  • What do they want?
  • What or who is keeping them from getting it?
  • What will they do about it?

The more challenges your characters face, the more relatable they are.

Much as in real life, the toughest challenges result in the most transformation.

Setting may include a location, time, or era, but it should also include how things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound.

Thoroughly research details about your setting so it informs your writing, but use those details as seasoning, not the main course. The main course is the story.

But, beware.

Agents and acquisitions editors tell me one of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make is feeling they must begin by describing the setting.

That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But a sure way to put readers to sleep is to promise a thrilling story on the cover—only to start with some variation of:

The house sat in a deep wood surrounded by…

Rather than describing your setting, subtly layer it into the story.

Show readers your setting. Don’t tell them. Description as a separate element slows your story to crawl.

By layering in what things look and feel and sound like you subtly register the setting in the theater of readers’ minds.

While they concentrating on the action, the dialogue , the tension , the drama, and conflict that keep them turning the pages, they’re also getting a look and feel for your setting.

4. Point of View

POV is more than which voice you choose to tell your story: First Person ( I, me ), Second Person ( you, your ), or Third Person ( he, she, or it ).

Determine your perspective (POV) character for each scene—the one who serves as your camera and recorder—by deciding who has the most at stake. Who’s story is this?

The cardinal rule is that you’re limited to one perspective character per scene, but I prefer only one per chapter, and ideally one per novel.

Readers experience everything in your story from this character’s perspective.

For a more in-depth explanation of Voice and POV, read A Writer’s Guide to Point of View .

This is the sequence of events that make up a story —in short, what happens. It either compels your reader to keep turning pages or set the book aside.

A successful story answers:

  • What happens? (Plot)
  • What does it mean? (Theme: see above)

Writing coaches call various story structures by different names, but they’re all largely similar. All such structures include some variation of:

  • An Inciting Incident that changes everything
  • A series of Crises that build tension
  • A Resolution (or Conclusion)

How effectively you create drama, intrigue, conflict, and tension, determines whether you can grab readers from the start and keep them to the end.

6. Conflict

This is the engine of fiction and crucial to effective nonfiction as well.

Readers crave conflict and what results from it.

If everything in your plot is going well and everyone is agreeing, you’ll quickly bore your reader—the cardinal sin of writing.

If two characters are chatting amiably and the scene feels flat (which it will), inject conflict. Have one say something that makes the other storm out, revealing a deep-seated rift.

Readers will stay with you to find out what it’s all about.

7. Resolution

Whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser like me (one who writes by the seat of your pants), you must have an idea where your story is going.

How you expect the story to end should inform every scene and chapter. It may change, evolve, and grow as you and your characters do, but never leave it to chance.

Keep your lead character center stage to the very end. Everything he learns through all the complications you plunged him into should, in the end, allow him to rise to the occasion and succeed.

If you get near the end and something’s missing, don’t rush it. Give your ending a few days, even a few weeks if necessary.

Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think about it. Sleep on it. Jot notes. Let your subconscious work. Play what-if games. Reach for the heart, and deliver a satisfying ending that resonates .

Give your readers a payoff for their investment by making it unforgettable.

  • Creative Writing Examples
  • Short Story
  • Narrative nonfiction
  • Autobiography
  • Song lyrics
  • Screenwriting
  • Playwriting
  • Creative Writing Tips

In How to Write a Novel , I cover each step of the writing process:

  • Come up with a great story idea .
  • Determine whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser.
  • Create an unforgettable main character.
  • Expand your idea into a plot.
  • Do your research.
  • Choose your Voice and Point of View.
  • Start in medias res (in the midst of things).
  • Intensify your main character’s problems.
  • Make the predicament appear hopeless.
  • Bring it all to a climax.
  • Leave readers wholly satisfied.
  • More to Think About

1. Carry a writing pad, electronic or otherwise. I like the famous Moleskine™ notebook . 

Ideas can come at any moment. Record ideas for:

  • Anything that might expand your story

2. Start small. 

Take time to build your craft and hone your skills on smaller projects before you try to write a book .

Journal. Write a newsletter. Start a blog. Write short stories . Submit articles to magazines, newspapers, or e-zines.

Take a night school or online course in journalism or creative writing. Attend a writers conference.

3. Throw perfection to the wind. 

Separate your writing from your editing .

Anytime you’re writing a first draft, take off your perfectionist cap. You can return to editor mode to your heart’s content while revising, but for now, just write the story.

Separate these tasks and watch your daily production soar.

  • Time to Get to Work

Few pleasures in life compare to getting lost in a great story.

Learn how to write creatively, and the characters you birth have the potential to live in hearts for years.

  • 1. Carry a writing pad, electronic or otherwise. I like the famous Moleskine™ notebook. 

Amateur writing mistake

Are You Making This #1 Amateur Writing Mistake?

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Faith-Based Words and Phrases

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

What You and I Can Learn From Patricia Raybon

what is rule no 6 in creative writing

Before you go, be sure to grab my FREE guide:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

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Creative Writing Practice pp 29–50 Cite as

The Golden Rules

  • Sunil Badami 3  
  • First Online: 10 October 2021

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This chapter considers the role of writing rules in artistic practice and creative writing teaching. It compares narratology and literary theory with writers’ writing rules, comparing these to the author’s own “Golden Rules” for writing short fiction, and his own writing practice. It considers the perennial quest for rules amongst writers, the reasons we feel compelled to seek rules, and the theoretical and practical aspects of this creative process, including the potential generative or imitative effects, both narratively and stylistically, of applying other writers’ rules and practices to one’s own writing. While acknowledging the suspicion of many writers for literary theory, this discussion seeks to strike a balance between theory and practice, while encouraging students and aspiring writers to consider theoretical and literary precedents, and ultimately argues for the most effective means of producing good writing.

  • Literary theory
  • Narratology
  • Writers’ rules
  • Creative writing courses

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Moore advises aspiring writers: “First, try to be something, anything else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie/star kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age—say fourteen. Early critical disillusionment is necessary so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sentences about thwarted desire. It is a point, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain. Count the syllables” ( 2002 : 1116).

In which Rilke refused to critique the young poet-manque Kappus’s work, writing: “Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you—no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself” ( 1929 ).

“Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honor requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work; do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there” (( 1929 ) 1979: 65).

Even Strunk and White have their detractors, with grammarian Geoffrey Pullum dismissing them variously as “stupid… vice-like… miserable… and wrong” ( 2010 ), and fellow “prescriptionist” Henry Hitchings accused of “faulty reasoning” and pedantic snobbery (Acocella 2012 ).

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Badami, S. (2021). The Golden Rules. In: Adelaide, D., Attfield, S. (eds) Creative Writing Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-73674-3_3

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1. coaching, accountability, 10 rules for creative writing.

Rules stock photo

Perhaps this is because craft can be taught (via Top 10 lists, no less), whereas trust in and mastery of one’s process takes a lifetime of engagement and adjustment. And trust is one of the key elements that separates amateur from professional writers. As David Bayles and Ted Orland noted in Art & Fear , “Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”

Given that what you create cannot be separated from the act of creating, I’d like to offer these 10 Rules for Creative Writing to guide your efforts.

  • Neuroscience has concluded that everyone possesses the capacity for creativity and innovation. All are entitled to make art.
  • Creativity is intuitive, craft skills are acquired. Good writing requires both.
  • Misconceptions about writing challenge writers as often as the task itself. (Common examples: People are either creative by nature, or they aren’t. / Writing is easy, for people meant to write. / I must make a living from my writing to be considered a writer.)
  • Believing glass ceilings are “fixed” fixes them. People rarely attempt what they do not believe possible. Believing yourself limitless enables you to work harder and achieve more than if you have a preconceived notion of what your limits might be.
  • Failure is essential in the making of art. Fear of making mistakes leads to paralysis. Instead of looking for the “right” way of doing things, look for one way, and then another way, a way, your way.
  • Art is art. Life is life. Art is a PART of life.
  • Writing is a balancing act between art and craft, creation and criticism, knowledge and mystery. Writers who learn to embrace dualities thrive.
  • Sophistication arises from the media you consume. The best way to serve your writing is by taking in as diverse and discerning a mix as possible.
  • The fastest way to elevate material is to think of theme as a question rather than a statement. What larger question about humanity does your story explore?
  • We can only write what we are grooved to write. And that’s OK. What you most want to write is what you should be writing. So stop worrying about that.

Ready to achieve your writing goals? Explore our one-on-one coaching services that provide accountability, expert feedback and thoughtful encouragement through each stage of the writing process.

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Carol, I was reading “Return To Oakpine” when I stopped to bounce around in Google hunting for information on its author, Ron Carlson, specifically to see if he had a website. In the process it was my good fortune to come across your website and because my expectations for websites devoted to the craft of writing are on kept on the low-side I was surprised when I found myself caught up in “The Writing Cycle.”

There is much to investigate on its pages and it feels like the real-deal.

[…] Read more here: https://writingcycle.com/the-writing-process/10-rules-for-creative-writing/ […]

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Writing Forward

Ten Grammar Rules Every Writer Should Know

by Melissa Donovan | Sep 9, 2021 | Grammar Rules | 51 comments

grammar rules

Some of the most overlooked grammar rules and best writing practices.

The more experience I gain as a writer, the more I’m convinced that writing is one of the most difficult skills to master.

It’s not enough to tell a great story, share an original idea, or create an intriguing poem; writers are also obligated to pay diligence to the craft. While the content (or message) of our writing is paramount, the way we use language can be just as critical.

Bad grammar is a distraction. If you can write a riveting story, readers will probably overlook a few grammatical problems. However, each mistake or incorrect construction will momentarily yank readers out of the story. Sure, they can jump back in, but it makes for a negative or unpleasant reading experience.

10 Vital Grammar Rules and Best Writing Practices

The best writing follows the rules of grammar (or breaks those rules only with good reason) and is clear, coherent, and consistent.

In my work as a writing coach and as an avid reader, I see a lot of the same mistakes. These mistakes aren’t typos or occasional oversights. They appear repeatedly, among multiple writers and pieces of writing, and they cause the work to be weak or dull.

Most writers don’t want their work to be weak or dull. We want our writing to be strong and vibrant. If we learn the grammar rules and adopt best practices in the craft, our writing can shine.

Here are ten frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing practices:

  • Commas: the comma is one of the most common punctuation marks and the most misused. It’s a tricky one because the rules are scarce, leaving usage up to style guides and writers’ best judgement. In weak writing, there are too few or too many commas. Be consistent in how you use commas and strike the right balance.
  • Verb tense: The topic of tense warrants an article of its own (or maybe an entire book). There are multiple tenses beyond past, present, and future, and they are worth knowing. Be especially careful of mixing up simple past tense ( I danced all night ) and past perfect tense ( I had danced all night ).
  • Adjectives vs. adverbs: People don’t run quick ; they run quickly . The word quick is an adjective; quickly is an adverb. Make sure you’re using adverbs to modify verbs and adjectives to modify nouns.
  • Check your homophones: homophones are little devils because spell check won’t catch them and they often sneak past editors’ eyes. Too many youngsters aren’t taught proper homophone use (in other words, they don’t know spellings or definitions of their vocabulary). From common sets of homophones like  they’re, their, and there  to more advanced words like complement and compliment , it pays to learn proper usage and to proofread meticulously.
  • Rare or uncommon punctuation marks: if you decide to use a punctuation mark like the ellipsis (three dots) or semicolon (comma with a period over it), then take the time to learn what it’s called and how to use it properly.
  • Subject-verb agreement: The subject of a sentence needs to match the verb. Due to verb conjugation, this is especially tricky for people who speak English as a second language and for tots who are learning to speak. Here’s an example of a common mistake: She have two cats. The verb have does not go with the subject she . It should be She has two cats.
  • Only proper nouns are capitalized: for some reason, a lot of people have taken it upon themselves to freely capitalize any words they think are important, a practice that is rampant in business writing. The Product is on Sale now is not a correctly written sentence.
  • Verb tense consistency and meticulous editing: these errors are often the result of shoddy editing and proofreading. A sentence that was originally in perfect past tense is changed to simple past tense, but one of the words in the sentence is overlooked, and you end up with something like  She went to the store and had shopped for produce . 
  • Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve: I don’t know why, but a lot of people seem to think the “ve” in these words means “of.” But it’s short for “have.” These words are contractions for “should have,” “could have,” and “would have,” respectively — NOT “should of,” “could of,” or “would of.”
  • Consistency is key: grammar rules don’t cover everything. As a writer, you will constantly be challenged to make judicious decisions about how to construct your sentences and paragraphs. Always be consistent. Keeping a style guide handy will be a tremendous help.

Of course, this list is just a taste of grammar rules and best writing practices that are often overlooked. What are some of the most common grammatical errors you’ve observed? Do you have any best writing practices to share? Leave a comment!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

51 Comments

Nasir

Thanks for the reminders Melissa. Have a nice day!

Melissa Donovan

Thanks, Nasir. You have a nice day too 🙂

Gabrielle Meyer

Great list! Sometimes I labor over grammar and punctuation in a little sentence for far too long. Having these tips will help.

Thanks, Gabrielle.

L.A. Wood

Very good advice, Melissa. As a new author, I’ve done lots and lots of proofreading and editing, over and over and over…and still found a couple of typos or errors! One suggestion might be for writers to edit page- by- page, or chapter- by- chapter. rather than waiting for the finished product. It might be good to do your proofing and editing as you go. just a thought. For me, a good English grammar and writing handbook is a must!

Thanks for your advice again.

Cordially, L.A. Wood

I actually think it’s impossible for a writer to catch every single typo and mistake, especially in a long piece, like a book manuscript. That’s why proofreaders and editors are so important!

Colin Guest

How very true. I go over my manuscripts many times but always find when I sent it to be edited that I have missed several things. I think it pays to have a beta reader go through your work before having it edited and submitting to an agent/publishing company.

I have found beta readers incredibly helpful for feedback on substance and editors ideal for language. If you can work with both, that’s the best of both worlds.

morchena

your and you’re – do young people know the difference?

Sadly, many do not know the difference.

Willa

It isn’t only young people. I am in my 60s, and my activities on Facebook have proven to me beyond a shadow of doubt that just as much grammar and spelling incompetence exists among my own peers as in my son’s and grandson’s age groups, regardless of level of education. It is truly pathetic. However, I must add that I also see at least as much competence among the youngsters as I do in my own age group, and nearly as much carelessness and incorrect grammar among professional writers of articles in newspapers and online journals as in a day’s worth of Facebook posts by my acquaintances. It is a paradox!

Hi Willa. It is a paradox! In my experience online and off, people from earlier generations have better grammar skills, but I’ve only drawn that conclusion from my interactions with a small number of people. My impression has been that schools have drifted away from grammar lessons. I do think it’s a combination of what’s being taught (or what isn’t being taught) and simple lack of interest or motivation on students’ part. In any case, it’s unfortunate.

JRMIR

Yes about the what isn’t being taught part. I’ve learned more on google, finding sites such as these, than in the past four years of Highschool. I took two different English classes out of interest; each of them spent half the semester watching Forest Gump… AI… The Kiterunner… Castaway (at least 2 times a semester)… and many more. Of course we’d have our observational notes to take, but it was far from educational.

This is in Canada, Ab. If that makes a difference. But yeah, thanks for putting up sites such as these; they really help where school didn’t.

I’m sorry to hear that. In fact, I find it rather disturbing that high school students are spending their time in English classes watching and rewatching movies. When I was in school, we watched maybe two movies in a school year, and this was after we read and studied the books. I can’t help but think that kids today are being robbed of a decent education.

Tara

Totally agree with commas being top! I try to teach students not to comma splice (using commas when it should be a full stop, semi colon or colon) and then realise that novels are littered with them. It’s no wonder they do it too!

I do think incorrect comma use is the most common mistake in writing, but I’m more concerned with mistakes regarding spelling and word definitions. Commas are tricky, and there is a lot of leeway in how we can use them. However, the splicing is one type of comma mistake that’s often obvious (especially when it should be a full stop). I’m glad there are teachers like you who are trying to impart good grammar to students.

Helen

An excellent post and a great reminder for both the inexperienced and experienced writer.

Thanks, Helen!

Wayne C. Long

Hi, Melissa!

Great list!

I believe one of the most problematic grammatical errors being used today is this:

It’s totally unacceptable, no matter that TV journalists and everybody else in pop culture uses it.

It’s try TO, stupid!

Sorry, just had to unload that one.

Best writing practices?

Let me mention reading one’s work out loud in a quiet room. Check for cadence, tense, redundancy, unnecessary adjectives, that kind of thing.

Another one would be to always sleep on your manuscript (not literally) and then come back at it the next day with refreshed eyes. You’ll catch those niggling bits you overlooked yesterday.

Always check your work for how it looks visually as black-on-white-space. Effective writing is often about managing the balance between printed text and white space for dramatic effect. An example would be this sentence-paragraph:

“FIRE!” he screamed.

Know your audience. I am a man but I know how to write for women when it is called for. Effective use of these gender cues will endear you to your audience. Example: Sensory cues such as fragrances and color subtleties appeal to most women while most men like action words and urban vernacular like Kapow! and WTF!

Never expect your friends or relatives to know what the hell you’re talking about when it comes to your writing. But I say let them laugh or just plain ignore me. My royalty checks are my real friends. Heh heh.

As a prolific writer/publisher of over 100 short stories, I think I have a pretty good handle on knowing that writing is a marathon, not a race. How often do you see nubes on Amazon forums fretting that they haven’t gotten any reviews yet or that they publically wonder if they’re any good? They should have thought of that BEFORE typing one keystroke. Writing success is all about planning, longevity and staying power, not instant gratification.

I will round out my best writing practices comments with this: NEVER give away your art. Value yourself and your craft and your audience will respond in kind. Walk away from underpaying freelance assignments. Resist the urge to slash your book price to jump-start sales. Why should J.K. Rowling get rich at your expense?

Wayne, I appreciate your feedback and your valuable insights. However, here at Writing Forward , we don’t call people names because they haven’t yet mastered constructs like “try to.” Everybody starts somewhere. Also, the phrase “try and” is colloquial and heavily used in some areas. If you were writing a dialogue for a character who came from one such area, it would be completely appropriate to bring that phrasing into the character’s dialect. That’s just my opinion, of course. It’s still important for the writer to be aware the proper rules.

You might find this article from Grammar Girl interesting: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-comments.aspx

“I got really frustrated while researching this topic because none of my books seemed willing to take a stand. They all said ‘try and’ is an accepted informal idiom that means ‘try to.’ They say to avoid ‘try and’ in formal writing, but not to get too worked up about it otherwise.”

Grammar Girl goes on to say that she disapproves of this construct (and I’m inclined to agree with her).

Hi again, Melissa!

Cool your jets! My comment “It’s try TO, stupid!” is a satirical takeoff on the famous political phrase used in American politics during Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign against George Bush. It actually was based on a sign created by Clinton’s strategist, James Carville which read “The economy, stupid.” It hung in Clinton’s Little Rock campaign HQ and went viral in the media.

At no time did I mean to denigrate any writer here or anywhere. This famous expression is known as a “snowclone,” a type of cliche’ and phrasal template (to paraphrase Wiki). Writing can be wickedly fun and deadly serious at the same time, as seen from Clinton’s successful election to the office of president.

Just as I have your blog on my RSS feed, I have Grammar Girl’s and had read the post you highlighted. She is as frustrated with this as we both are. I love working in idiom when it fleshes out characters and places in time. My kin are from North Carolina and they speak idiomatically all the time, so I get it, Melissa. Thanks.

All the above aside, let’s all agree that writing is as much science as art, subject to precise rules and a whole lot of imprecision as well. I think that the public school system in America has done a less than stellar job at teaching our children (our present and future writers) the basics of this craft we care so much about. As a professional writer, I try my darndest to color within the lines, but when my characters and plot take me places where historical pressures have shaped certain folks in certain places of this country, I let them speak their “mind.” My Carolina kin say “y’all” and “pie-anna” and yes, “try and.” I love them for that.

And I love you too, Melissa 🙂

Wayne, you have contributed a lot of thoughtful comments here at Writing Forward , and I always appreciate your feedback and input. It’s sometimes difficult to discern someone’s tone in writing, so perhaps I am mistaken, but your tone is coming across as snide and sarcastic. The comment policy here is simple: be respectful. That’s it.

Insinuating people who don’t know the rules of grammar are stupid (either in one’s own words or through a quote), telling me to cool my jets, and other such comments are simply not appropriate here. There are many forums with looser rules. This is just not one of them. I don’t want anyone to come here and feel insulted or intimidated. As you were once a young writer who knew little about the craft, I’m sure you can understand why I want to foster an atmosphere in which writers feel safe and comfortable, regardless of their level of skill or experience.

Thanks for understanding.

Bill Metcalfe

Hello Melissa.

“Look! Is this a sacred calling or not? Are you communing with something vast and profound or aren’t you? Do you revere and respect your own humanity in relation to that of your fellow human beings or what? Then, for the love of all that is holy, learn to use a semi-colon.” –Lynn Coady, Canadian novelist

Ha! Love that quote. I’ve never heard it before.

Destination Infinity

Informative tips. I have never used semicolons in my sentences and I think I should learn about its proper usage in a sentence. Can you do a post on the same? Thanks for the inspiration, anyway.

Here you go: How to use a semicolon .

Eman Kamal

well Melissa it’s really a nice topic and it helped me in writing. I think it’s not important the words in the story or the article, but the most important thing is the grammatical rules as it showes others that you know how to write

As much as I advocate for grammar, I’m going to have to disagree. I definitely don’t think that grammar is the most important thing in writing. I would say the words and the story itself should be given higher priority. That doesn’t mean I think writers should forgo grammar in favor of good storytelling and word choice; I’m just saying that I can forgive a few grammar mistakes more easily than I can tolerate a boring or uninteresting story.

Karolin

I disagree with you Eman. I think the theme and the words more important

Ken Hughes

Grammar’s not top priority, but still vital, agreed. As long as the meaning’s clear (though it sometimes isn’t!), bad grammar is just a distraction from the good stuff. And like most serious distractions, it doesn’t take much to hurt a story–but not as badly as having a weak story under it in the first place.

And I think Eman had the best point: each error just announces that you don’t know your work.

I think most errors do tell the reader that you don’t know something about your craft, although there are exceptions. For example, we all make typos, which are mistakes in which we do know the correct construct but our typing or proofreading missed it. Ugh, typos suck.

Terri Shaver

Also, use the pronoun “who” with people, the pronouns “which” or “that” with objects.

Just as you would not say, “The ladder who broke”, you would not say “The person that arrived”.

That’s a good reminder. Thanks, Terri.

Elvina

Where i could look up more extensive rules for using quotation marks in dialogue? i get confused when in one sentence you have a spoken words and thoughts for instance.

I recommend the Chicago Manual of Style for fiction writers. As for dialogue and thoughts, I personally try to avoid including too many thoughts in narrative. I put dialogue in quotation marks and use italics for thoughts, which differentiates them quite effectively.

Rick

Thank you. I am a fifty-seven year old student being taught. I covet the knowledge.

Thanks, Rick. Writing and learning are for people of all ages.

Mustafa

In my opinion,writing might be separated to two parts that one of these required really more information and grammar rules others must be just to communicate some people.What is this?So,writing might be art or just we use for communicating.If we understand this difference and we realize why we want to use writing skills,we say that writing is too hard or not.

I agree. Some writing is pure communication, other writing is pure art, and most writing is somewhere in between, a craft.

Aaron Boluwatife

Thank you for this detailed grammar rules. I often find myself breaking some of these rules. But I’m learning each day and consciously making efforts to improve.

You’re welcome! Keep up the good work.

Izi Adeolu

Great job! thank you so much Melissa.

You’re welcome!

Najiy

My dear, I would like to be good at writing, but I am not sure where should I start and be a perfect writer, can you advise me please, many thanks.

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a “perfect writer.” But starting is simple: you write. You write every day. You read and you study the craft. Reading articles like this is a good start. It takes time, patience, and practice. Give yourself time and space to learn. Good luck!

Andy Farkas

Dear Ms. Donovan,

I was smart enough to learn the most boring and unnecessary lessons at teacher college. In spite of this, I believe I became a decent teacher. Now that I am retired, I am highly motivated to earn a bit of income to be able to pay my bills. Could you please tell me what fundamentals of grammar I must master first.

Andy Farkas

Thanks for your question. I’m not sure what kind of job you want that requires learning grammar, although my hope would be that if you were a credentialed teacher, you already have sufficient grammar skills. I would recommend starting with a simple primer, such as The Elements of Style The Elements of Style .

Allison Brown

I join the dozens of people who have already thanked you. I find that these rules are written in an easy to understand form. I may sometimes make some of these mistakes due to carelessness, but I try to always correct what I have written.

Thank you for your kind words, Allison. I appreciate it.

Neal Heurung

I came up with an easy example to explain ‘homophones’:

‘They’re going down their road to get there’.

I find it useful to create sentences to explain grammar rules.

Yep, that’s a good one!

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Creative Writing: What It Is and Why It Matters

By: Author Paul Jenkins

Posted on Published: January 13, 2023  - Last updated: January 15, 2023

Categories Writing

Writing can be intimidating for many people, but creative writing doesn’t have to be. Creative writing is a form of self-expression that allows writers to create stories, characters, and unique settings. But what exactly is creative writing? And why is it important in today’s society? Let’s explore this further.

How We Define Creative Writing

Creative writing is any form where writers can express their thoughts and feelings imaginatively. This type of writing allows authors to draw on their imagination when creating stories and characters and play with language and structure. While there are no boundaries in creative writing, most pieces will contain dialogue, description, and narrative elements.

The Importance of Creative Writing

Creative writing is important because:

  • It helps us express ourselves in ways we may not be able to do with other forms of communication.
  • It allows us to explore our creativity and think outside the box.
  • It can help us better understand our emotions by exploring them through storytelling or poetry.
  • Writing creatively can also provide much-needed escapism from everyday life, allowing us to escape into a world of our creation.
  • Creative writing helps us connect with others by sharing our experiences through stories or poems they can relate to. This way, we can gain insight into other people’s lives while giving them insight into ours.

Creative Writing: A Path to Mental and Emotional Wellness

Writing is more than just a way to express your thoughts on paper. It’s a powerful tool that can be used as a form of therapy. Creative writing has been shown to improve emotional and mental well-being.

Through creative writing, we can gain insight into our emotions, develop self-expression and communication skills, cultivate empathy and understanding of others, and boost our imagination and creativity.

Let’s examine how creative writing can relieve stress and emotional catharsis.

Stress Relief and Emotional Catharsis

Writing has the power to reduce stress levels significantly. Writing about our experiences or about things that are causing us anxiety or distress helps us to release those complicated feelings constructively. By expressing ourselves through creative writing, we can work through the emotions associated with stressful situations without having to confront them directly.

This is especially helpful for people who struggle to share their emotions verbally or in person.

Improved Communication and Self-Expression

Creative writing is also beneficial for improving communication skills. Through creative writing, we can explore our thoughts and feelings more intensely than by speaking them aloud. This allows us to think more clearly about what we want to say before actually saying it out loud or in written form, which leads to improved self-expression overall.

Additionally, writing out our thoughts before speaking aloud allows us to articulate ourselves better when communicating with others—which is essential for healthy personal and professional relationships.

Increased Empathy and Understanding of Others

Through creative writing, we can also increase our empathy towards others by exploring different perspectives on various topics that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for us—such as racism, homophobia, sexism, etc.—and allowing ourselves the opportunity to see the situation from someone else’s point of view without judgment or bias. This helps us become better communicators and more understanding individuals overall.

The Professional Benefits of Creative Writing

Creative writing is a powerful tool that can help you communicate better and more effectively in the professional world. It can also help you develop various skills that prove invaluable in many industries. Whether you’re looking to build your résumé or improve your communication, creative writing can effectively achieve both.

Let’s take a closer look at how creative writing can benefit your career.

Preparing Students for Careers in Writing, Editing, and Publishing

Creative writing is the perfect foundation for anyone interested in pursuing a career in writing, editing, or publishing. It teaches students the basics of grammar and composition while allowing them to express their ideas in imaginative ways.

Creative writing classes also allow students to learn from professionals who have experience as editors, agents, and publishers. They can use this knowledge to learn creative writing, refine their craft and gain valuable experience before entering the job market.

Improving Skills in Storytelling and Marketing for Various Careers

Creative writing teaches students to think critically about stories and craft compelling narratives that draw readers in. This skill is precious for those who wish to pursue careers outside traditional writing roles—such as marketing or advertising—where storytelling is key.

People who understand the fundamentals of creative writing will be able to create persuasive copy that resonates with readers and effectively conveys a message.

Enhancing Team Collaboration and Leadership Skills

Creative writing isn’t just about expressing yourself through words; it also provides an opportunity to practice working collaboratively with others on projects. Many creative writing classes require students to work together on group projects, which helps them develop essential teamwork skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.

As they work together on these projects, they will also gain confidence in their ability to lead teams effectively—an invaluable asset no matter what industry they pursue after graduation.

Uncovering the Power of Creative Writing

Creative writing has become an increasingly powerful force in shaping our society. Creative writing has many uses, from preserving cultural heritage to promoting social change.

Preserving Cultural Heritage with Creative Writing

Creative writing has long been used to preserve and share cultural heritage stories. This is done through fictional stories or poetry that explore a particular culture or group’s history, values, and beliefs. By weaving these stories in an engaging way, writers can bring a culture’s history and traditions to life for readers worldwide. This helps bridge cultural gaps by providing insight into what makes each culture unique.

Promoting Social Change & Activism with Creative Writing

Creative writing can also be used for activism and social change. Writers can craft stories that help promote awareness about important issues such as poverty, race relations, gender equality, climate change, and more.

With the power of words, writers can inspire readers to take action on these issues and work towards creating positive change in their communities.

Through creative writing, writers can raise awareness about important topics while fostering empathy toward individuals who may be facing difficult or challenging situations.

Fostering Creativity & Innovation with Creative Writing

Finally, creative writing can foster creativity and innovation in various fields. For example, businesses can use creative copywriting techniques to create compelling content that captures the attention of customers or potential investors.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can use storytelling techniques when pitching their ideas or products to potential partners or investors to make their cases more persuasive and memorable.

By harnessing the power of words through creative writing techniques, businesses can create content that resonates with their target audience while inspiring them to take action on whatever message they’re trying to convey. It often aids the overall creative process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of creative writing.

Creative writing has many benefits, both for the writer and the reader. For the writer, it can be therapeutic, helping them to explore their emotions and better understand themselves. It can also be used as entertainment or communication, allowing them to share their ideas with the world. For the reader, creative writing can provide enjoyment, escapism, and insights into the human condition.

How can I improve my creative writing skills?

There are several ways you can improve your creative writing skills. Firstly, make sure you allow yourself time to write regularly. Use a writing prompt to inspire a short story. Secondly, read as much as you can; great writers are also great readers. Thirdly, experiment with different styles and genres to find one that suits you best. Fourthly, join a writers’ group, writing workshop, or creative writing program to get feedback from other writers. Finally, keep a journal to track your progress and reflect on your work as a creative writer.

What is the importance of imagery in creative writing?

Imagery is an important element of creative writing, as it helps to create a more vivid picture for the reader. By using sensory and descriptive language, writers can transport readers into their stories and help them relate to their characters or themes. Imagery can bring a scene alive with detail and evoke emotion by helping readers create strong visual images in their minds. Furthermore, imagery can help make stories more memorable by giving readers a deeper connection with the characters or setting.

What are the elements of creative writing?

The elements of creative writing include plot, character, dialogue, setting, theme, and point of view. The plot is the structure or main storyline, while the character is the personage involved in this story. Dialogue includes conversations between characters to give insight into their emotions and relationships. Setting refers to the place or time in which a story takes place, while theme explores deeper meanings behind a story’s narrative. Finally, point of view defines how readers experience a story through first-person or third-person omniscient narration.

What’s the difference between creative writing and other types of writing?

The main difference between creative writing and other types of writing is that it allows the writer to create their own story, characters, settings, and themes. Creative writing also encourages writers to be inventive with their style and use descriptive language to evoke emotion or bring stories alive in readers’ minds. Other academic or technical writing types typically involve more research-based information and are usually more objective in their presentation. Additionally, most forms of non-creative writing will have stricter rules regarding grammar, structure, and syntax.

What is the golden rule of creative writing?

The golden rule of creative writing is to show, not tell. It’s the core creative writing skill. When it comes to creative writing, it’s essential to use descriptive language that immerses readers in the story and allows them to experience the events through their emotions and imaginations. This can be done through metaphors, similes, sensory language, and vivid imagery.

How important is creativity in writing?

Creativity is essential in writing as it allows writers to craft a unique story and evoke emotion from the reader. Creativity can bring stories alive with fresh perspectives and exciting plot lines while creating an escape for readers and giving them more profound insights into the human condition. Writers who combine creativity with technical aspects such as grammar, structure, language usage, and flow will create pieces that capture their audience’s attention and provide an enjoyable reading experience.

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COMMENTS

  1. Show, Don't Tell: Tips and Examples of The Golden Rule

    Tip #1. Create a sense of setting. One of the best ways to show rather than tell is to create a sense of setting. You can do this by writing about how characters perceive and interact with their surroundings, weaving plenty of sensory details and occasional action into the scene. This is a particularly good way to lend immediacy to your story ...

  2. 7 Golden Rules of Creative Writing

    Creative writing isn't just about writing for others, it's about writing for yourself. It's about looking at the world from a new angle, not the way it is but the way you feel it has been all along. At the heart of creative writing is the person you know best — yourself. ... With that, rule no 6: Explore the main purpose of each medium ...

  3. "Show, Don't Tell" in Creative Writing

    2. The Role of Craft in "Show, Don't Tell" Writing. "Show, don't tell" is built on the craft fundamentals of good creative writing. These fundamentals help us write clearly and vividly in any genre. Beyond these fundamentals, in creative writing in particular, engaging with literary devices is a crucial element of craft.

  4. Writing Rules: 10 Experts Take on the Writer's Rulebook

    You're given absolutes and adages that come to be accepted as truth and add up, almost without anyone noticing, to a set of—gasp—rules. You've heard them over and over, the basic writing equivalents of 1+1=2: "Show, don't tell." "Write what you know." "Silence your inner critic.". But in writing, 1+1 isn't always 2 ...

  5. Principles of Creative Writing: An Ultimate Guide

    1) Understanding Creative Writing Principles. 2) Principles of Creative Writing. a) Imagination knows no bounds. b) Crafting compelling characters. c) Plot twists and turns. d) Setting the stage. e) Point of View (POV) and voice. f) Dialogue - The voice of your characters. g) Conflict and tension.

  6. Creative Writing Rule #6

    Creative Destruction for Writers: How to Write a Blackout Poem The first step of this exercise is grueling for book lovers: Find a book you are willing to destroy. Blackout poetry works better if ...

  7. Elements of Creative Writing

    This free and open access textbook introduces new writers to some basic elements of the craft of creative writing in the genres of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The authors—Rachel Morgan, Jeremy Schraffenberger, and Grant Tracey—are editors of the North American Review, the oldest and one of the most well-regarded literary magazines in the United States.

  8. Seven Fundamental Comma Rules

    Comma Rule 5: Use a comma between adjectives that modify the same noun. Hint: If you can put and or but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there.. Example: Edgar is a tall, distinguished businessman. (Since we could write tall and distinguished, the comma is necessary.). Example: When I was in college, I lived in a small brown house next to a filling station.

  9. The 7 Golden Rules Of Creative Writing

    1. The way out of the bottomless rut that is writer's block is to dive right in: write. It doesn't matter if the words make sense, as long as they form. String some together and see what happens. 2. Read as much as you can, and pay attention to the authors that stand out [to you].

  10. Creative Writing Rules: 10 Tips

    You can write anything in any style. 2. Continually experiment with your style and the forms you use. 3. Read a lot of creative writing, and use the styles and forms you enjoy from what you read. 4. Don't get too intellectual—feel more than think when writing and when editing your writing. 5.

  11. The Two Things All Creative Writing Rules Are Really About

    Writing rules are not one size fits all, and should be applied to achieve the best effect to serve the story as a whole. Crossover. Many writing rules have a crossover impact on both clarity and effect. One dialogue rule I recommend, is writing character dialogue with distinct voices for the major characters. This has an impact on clarity ...

  12. 8 Tips for Getting Started With Creative Writing

    8 Tips for Creative Writers. Follow these tips if you want to boost your creativity and improve the way you write: 1. Always be writing. Don't ignore the random ideas that pop into your head. Even bad ideas can inspire good ones, and you never know what will trigger inspiration for a better idea later.

  13. Creative Writing 101: How to Write Compelling Prose

    3. Throw perfection to the wind. Separate your writing from your editing. Anytime you're writing a first draft, take off your perfectionist cap. You can return to editor mode to your heart's content while revising, but for now, just write the story. Separate these tasks and watch your daily production soar.

  14. The Golden Rules

    Abstract. This chapter considers the role of writing rules in artistic practice and creative writing teaching. It compares narratology and literary theory with writers' writing rules, comparing these to the author's own "Golden Rules" for writing short fiction, and his own writing practice. It considers the perennial quest for rules ...

  15. 10 Rules for Creative Writing

    Given that what you create cannot be separated from the act of creating, I'd like to offer these 10 Rules for Creative Writing to guide your efforts. The Rules: Neuroscience has concluded that everyone possesses the capacity for creativity and innovation. All are entitled to make art. Creativity is intuitive, craft skills are acquired.

  16. Ten Grammar Rules Every Writer Should Know

    Here are ten frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing practices: Commas: the comma is one of the most common punctuation marks and the most misused. It's a tricky one because the rules are scarce, leaving usage up to style guides and writers' best judgement. In weak writing, there are too few or too many commas.

  17. Punctuation for Creative Writers, Part 1

    Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash. As I said in "Academic Writing Rules to Leave Behind When Writing Fiction" there are official writing rules that we learn in grammar classes and are reinforced in academic and professional writing… that have nothing to do with creative writing.Because creative writing is, as it says in the name, creative. As such, we don't often learn how to use ...

  18. PDF Rethinking the Significance of Creative Writing: a Neglected Art Form

    What is creative writing? Is creative writing an art form? During its development, creative writing is first linked to "creation" and "creative power" and then comes to substitute for literature in published works (Dawson, 2005). The modern version of the discipline of creative writing begins in 1940 with the founding

  19. Rule Your Writing With The Rule of Three

    It is a belief in the aesthetically pleasing and narratively balanced use of three things in fiction, from micro-details to macro-story structures. Like anything in creative writing, the rule of three is not a hard and fast rule, but a guideline that can help, well, guide your writing. Three just hits a sweet spot. Not too few, not too many.

  20. Creative Writing: What It Is and Why It Matters

    How We Define Creative Writing. Creative writing is any form where writers can express their thoughts and feelings imaginatively. This type of writing allows authors to draw on their imagination when creating stories and characters and play with language and structure. While there are no boundaries in creative writing, most pieces will contain ...

  21. The 10 Rules Of Creative Writing

    Work on one thing at a time until finished. Use interesting verbs. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. The power of writing. Every sentence must do one of two things- reveal character or advance the action. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.