1. Start with a sense of stress
You will hear fiction authors or instructors tell you to start with action. The answer to that is No. Why? What asset is the performance if it isn’t grounded in a context that’s relevant to the novel or draws you to the main character? It’s better to start with tension, like a character falling short on getting something he wants—can’t save the life of a loved one. In a private detective story, I have been told by a literary agent to start in the interview with the potential client.
2. Know your characters
Fascinating stories come from characters who want something. Romeo and Juliet want each other. James Bond intends to complete the mission, and get the girl. Columbo seeks to solve the problem.
Writing fiction work requires you to have compelling characters, and characters who have strong wants, desires that are the most compelling kind there are. The trick is not to make them perfect. No one can identify with an excellent character, as no one is perfect themselves. Columbo had strange fears for being a police detective. He didn’t like dead bodies or hospitals. He didn’t like flying. These concerns are shared, and a lot of people can relate to those characteristics.
3. End each chapter on a cliff
OK, you don’t have to finish each chapter on a cliff, but you do need to leave them with open issues. That doesn’t mean you can’t answer questions during the novel. Fiction is built on the imagination and curiosity of readers. If you don’t spark their interest (especially at the end of a chapter), what incentive do they have to start the next one? This is why I’m just writing the novel, and when complete, that is when I will cut the chapters. This means I can manipulate the story in some locations to create suspense.
4. Give your characters obstacles
The obstacles can be as challenging as you want and the idea is when you think they have been through a lot, make it worse. Like the scene in Pitch Black where they lost their electric source for the lights, so they used flames and then it started raining hard. But the key here is that they have to be able to overcome the obstacle no matter what it is, etc. Fictional writing is strongest when characters face terrible odds and still come through in the end.
5. Understand your genre and audience
If you are writing a crime novel? Erotica? Or Sci-Fi. Fiction genres are different and are told in a variety of ways, so audiences of each have different expectations that you need to cover. If you’re writing crime fiction, you have to reveal what happened early. Spend the novel solving the offence, but the clues must appear in the story and enable the protagonist to solve the crime or crimes when the reader has not noticed the clues. The crime should be solved independently from the text already written. The idea is to place the clues in the story when they don’t look important and give evidence that doesn’t mean anything when it appears significant. If you’re writing a thriller, your story is dedicated to characters trying to stop whatever it is from happening.