What skills are necessary to write good fiction?

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11When I was in 14, I would have answered that question with: good mastery of language and creativity. Now, I would categorise the necessary skills in two categories: language and storytelling. Creativity is more like the very essence of any art. If skills were flowers and foliage, creativity would be the roots. That being said, you can consider it a skill if you want to, it’s a free world.

Language speaks for itself: you have to master grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax and *drum roll* style. No, style isn’t just the product of coincidence, there are rules to follow, too. The better you know them, the more efficiently you can break them to create your own aesthetic. Examples of style rules would be not to insert 4 adjectives and 3 adverbs in a 15 words sentence, to vary the length of your sentences, etc.

All of this can seem obvious, but to quote On Writing Well: “Few people realise how badly they write.” So let’s do our homework and study style. Every writer does in one way or another.

Which leads us to storytelling, woo! The one part I almost completely ignored until very recently. You read that right: I tend to obsess over details such as style and forget the big picture. Besides, the story itself is the very reason I started writing in the first place, it should be pretty straightforward, right? Yeah… not so much.

There are many ways to break down storytelling. Larry Brooks breaks it down in 6 core competencies: concept, characters, theme, structure, scene and voice. I prefer to break it into smaller chunks: concept, characters, conflict, setting, theme, voice, tone, structure, scenes and audience. Although this last element is much more abstract than the others, there is something to be said about the wisdom of perfectly adapting your story to your target audience.

Knowing this helps me self-assess my own storytelling skills to know what my weak points are.

It also helps with estimating a story’s difficulty. If you’re a learner like me, consider that if your first attempt at novel writing is a high-concept high fantasy series, featuring characters with mental health disorders and an unreliable narrator… you might as well try to self-diagnose cancer. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying you might not have the tools to make sure you got it right.girl-5-copie

A good educational approach is generally to focus on one difficult element at a time.

The good news is that in today’s world, the amount of self-help available is virtually limitless. It can come in the form of how-to books, writing blogs and websites (I’m a fan of Writer’s Digest), creative writing courses or workshops, etc. Reading extensively also helps a lot. But then you also have to write, try things, experiment, have fun. Awesome! Those are all of my favourite activities!

I’m leaving you on one of my favourite quotes by one famous author I unfortunately can’t fully appreciate (I’m sorry; I get why he’s great, but then he’s so depressing).

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
—Ernest Hemingway


24 thoughts on “What skills are necessary to write good fiction?

  1. Even as a nonfiction writer, I agree that storytelling is crucial to good writing and it’s something I need to work on. Like you said, it’s easy to get caught up on all the other elements that go into a piece of writing. But nothing beats a well-told story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think Ernest Hemingway is totally depressing, too! I like the idea of breaking down stories into those core competencies. I’ll definitely try that. It will help me identify more specifically where the story is lacking or could use more work. Thanks for the great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love when nonfiction tells a story as well, but it can be tricky to balance. For example, when writing blog posts I’m paranoid I’ll end up talking too much about myself and look narcissistic. It’s funny because I love when bloggers talk about themselves. It’s a kind of paradox, really.
      Thank you for your comment! ^_^


  3. I answered your question on the blog rather than on the community pool because it seems relatively private here. Hope you don’t mind.
    They are basically my personal ticks to keep in mind while writing. Some of them are: plot, theme, character development, language and grammar, senses, tone, stimulus for the reader to read on, first line and heading, structure, details, narrator, unique point, loopholes, relatability, writing format.
    These are from my personal experience since I don’t have any qualification in writing or literature.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Ida!! I found your blog on community pool and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. You’ve put some great thought and effort into it. Your tips are very helpful too. I have a couple of side projects creating a Manga and Comic book and getting the story from my mind to “paper” has been a bit rough at times. Thanks for the insight and keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like it! I wish I could write comic scenarios. I tried. It was fun, but… I have to learn how to create *much* shorter stories. I do have the vague project of creating comic strips but… we’ll see how it goes.


  5. It’s about the power to reel the reader in with the storyteller and then the other key components that you mentioned. I saw your blogs link in the community pool and toddled over to visit. I run two blogs a WordPress.com site https://acookingpotandtwistedtales.com/ and a self-hosted site http://theartofbeautifulexpressions.com/ which is my new baby that needs all the nurturing to grow. Please do visit when you can. Regards Jacqueline


  6. Hi Ida!

    I stumbled upon your blog, and is currently strolling around, loved some of it (congrats on finishing your first draft!), and still looking around when I noticed this. I’m your “average” readers, only reading popular books (well it’s popular for a reason), and an even more average, on-and-off, writer. But I love it!

    Most of it now is just ramblings, I’m still trying many “style” and then you wrote about style. It’d help if you can visit me, read one or two of my post and tell me, do I have a distinguishable (and consistent) style? And if you can critic about anything at all that’d be great.

    Thanks! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

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