Hampton Roads Writers

Fiction Writing: Helpful essays


Examples of Metaphor
Examples of metaphor are easy to find, both in great literature (and not-so-great literature) and in everyday speech. These examples of both will help you make the most of this writing tool.


Writing in the Third Person
In a rut with the first person? It's common for beginning writers to avoid writing in the third person initially, but some stories benefit from the freedom it allows you. This exercise will help you rewrite a story in the third person.


Short Story Ideas
Sometimes the hardest part about writing is getting started. These exercises and prompts will provide a jumping-off point when you're feeling stuck or uninspired.


How to Publish
How to publish your short stories published in journals and magazines, for fiction writers interested in publishing their work for the first time. Everything from how to format your work to tracking submissions to dealing with rejection.


Overcoming Writer's Block
Though some people say that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist, the fact remains that most writers have trouble with writer's block at some point in their careers. Almost anything, it seems, can cause writer's block. Fortunately, there are just as many ways to overcome writer's block as things that cause it.


Find a Literary Agent
Finding a literary agent can be one of the hardest steps in getting your book published. This how-to breaks the process of finding an agent into manageable tasks.


Writing Dialogue
Provides some simple rules and obvious pitfalls to consider in writing dialogue that advances the action of the story and builds the characters.


Story Ideas from Pictures
A creative writing exercise for writing groups or individuals to help generate writing ideas using pictures. By using an image you did not create, you are more likely to free associate and come up with original ideas.


Creative Writing Prompts
Need a starting point for your creative writing session? These creative writing prompts will get you or your class or your writing started.


Figurative Language Quiz
How much do you know about metaphors, similes, personification, and synecdoche? Test your knowledge of common figures of speech.


Literary Magazines to Note
Are you ready to submit to the big literary magazines, or just wanting to start at the top? Here are ten journals with which you can easily familiarize yourself, ones whose stories consistently win awards, and that have a large circulation.


More Literary Magazines
Looking to start submitting your fiction to literary magazines, but unsure of where to begin? These ten journals are prefect for beginning the process. All are well-respected, but also open to work by new authors.


How to Get Published
For many creative writers, the idea of trying to publish their short stories is a daunting one. From how to format your work to tracking submissions, this straightforward guide will how you how to get published through manageable steps.


third person
A definition of the literary term third person point of view as it applies to the craft of fiction writing. Third person point of view may be limited or omniscient.


Creating Characters
Creating a complex, well-rounded character takes time -- time spent thinking about how your character looks, where they're from, and what motivates them, for instance. The questions on this page provide structure to this all-important thought process.


Freewriting
Freewriting is one of the best tools for generating short story ideas. It is a simple writing exercise that can be done anywhere and requires a minimum of time. The only thing free writing does require, in fact, is a pen and paper. Even the willingness to let go is provided by the exercise.


Basic Plot
If, like many people, you labor under the illusion that for "real" writers, plots come effortlessly, please dismiss that illusion now. While some writers have absorbed or were born with a sense of how to tell a story effectively, more of them do study the elements of plot and pay serious attention to how other writers successfully construct a narrative.


Exercises for Story Ideas
Sometimes the hardest part of writing is coming up with something to write about. These exercises and writing prompts will help you generate new short story ideas.


Contests by Month
Keep up with deadlines with these monthly calendars for short story contests, fellowships, and residencies for creative writers.


Short Story Rules
To be successful, the short story must employ most of the same elements that a novel uses, but in substantially fewer pages. These guidelines will help you pull it off.


round character
Definition of the term, "round character," as used in speaking of short stories and novels. Round characters, as opposed to flat characters, are major characters in a work of fiction who encounter conflict and are changed by it.


How to Get Published: A Quiz
Find out if you know all you need to about how to get published with this quiz.


flat character
A definition of the literary term, "flat character," as it applies to short story writers and novelists. Flat characters are minor characters who do not tend to undergo emotional change or growth.


third person omniscient
A definition of the literary term third person omniscient point of view as defined for fiction writers.


Novel Ideas
If you're going to commit years of your life to a project, you obviously want to be sure that it's worth it. So how do you know if your idea is novel worthy? A few questions will help you decide.


figurative language
Figurative language is imaginative, non-literal words and phrases that make prose stronger and more effective when used properly.


Tips from Kris Saknussemm
Kris Saknussemm, author of Zanesville: A Novel, offers his advice on making it as a novelist. Features both advice on writing and publishing for the writer attempting his or her own first novel. Saknussemm cautions writers against filling notebooks with useless information, and encourages them to read their work aloud and to be unreasonable.


first person
A definition of the literary term first person point of view as used by fiction writers.


Punctuating Dialogue
Provides the absolute essentials for punctuating dialogue: the details that most clearly mark a beginner from a professional.


Everyday Metaphors
We don't have to look very far to find examples of metaphor. From expressions like "raining cats and dogs" to "table leg" and "old flame," everyday speech is full of them. But why are the useful? And exactly how do they work? Discover the logic behind everyday metaphors.


Writing Style
To a certain extent, your writing style will evolve naturally over time through your reading and writing, but there are things you can keep in mind with regard to writing style. These tips are outlined here.


Secrets Writing Exercise
It's sometimes hard to come up with original short story ideas. This game involving secrets helps writing students discover new inspirations for their short stories.


American Short Fiction
A quarterly magazine, American Short Fiction strives to discover and publish new fiction in which transformations of language, narrative, and character occur swiftly, deftly, and unexpectedly. This profile provides all the information you need to submit your work to ASF.


Is Your Story a Novel?
How do you know if a short story is really a novel? These six signs will help you evaluate whether or not to expand your short story into a novel.


Short Story Writing Contests
Book and short story writing contest information, along with details about awards, fellowships, and residencies with July deadlines for fiction writers interested in submitting their short stories or novels to writing contests and awards. Information on website urls, contest deadlines, and fees.


Choosing a Point of View
Deciding which point of view to use is a strategic decision. As a writer, you must choose which person will allow you to most effectively develop your characters and tell your story, but how do you make that crucial decision?


Examples of Assonance
Examples can help you make use of a literary device in your own work. These examples of assonance and alliteration have been compliled to help you do just that.


Testing a New Story Idea
How do you know if your short story idea is compelling? Robert McKee, in his book, "Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting," has this tip for testing out a new idea.


Make Time to Write
For most of us, making time to write will always be something of a struggle. With friends and family, financial obligations, and emotional issues all vying for our attention, it takes determination to make a writing schedule and stick to it. I've come to the conclusion that there is no easy answer, but there are concrete things we can do to make time to write.


Books for Beginning Writers
With so many books for writers out there -- particularly for the beginning writer -- it can be hard to know where to start. These reviews of some classic and recent books for writers will help you decide which ones are right for you.


Writer's Market
A review of the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market series, an indispensable tool for any fiction writer wishing to see his or her work in print.


third person limited
A definition of the literary term third person limited point of view for writers of short stories and novels. In third person limited, the narrator reveals the thoughts of only a single character.


Avoiding Back Story
Does your fiction tend to get bogged down in back story? Are you unsure of how to stay in the present with a piece? This exercise will help you learn to create forward-moving fiction.


A Writing Space of One's Own
What do you do when you don't have adequate writing space? Ideally we'd all have that room of our own, but sometimes that's just not an option. But space should never keep you from writing. Read here for suggestions on how to overcome space issues.


second person
A definition of the literary term second person point of view as defined for fiction writers.


Are You Ready to Publish?
Before beginning the process of trying to get your fiction published, it's important to know whether or not you're ready. These five questions will help you evaluate whether or not you're ready to embark on that stage of your writing life.


"Your Mother" Writing Prompt
A teacher of mine once used this creative writing prompt with good results. In it, you use a common phrase to jumpstart a freewriting session -- and hopefully a story or poem.


Rules for Mystery Writing
The mystery, more than other genres, tends to follow standard rules, making it both easier and harder for the mystery writers. Whether you end up following them or breaking them, it's important to at least know what they are.


plot
A definition of the literary term, "plot," as used by fiction writers. Plot differs from story in that plot is concerned with how events are related or structured, and the kinds of changes they work upon the characters.


Creative Writing Programs
Creative writing programs can provide a writer with time and space in which to write, but they can also be uncomfortable places. Some careful consideration can make a big difference in your experience.


Modifiers
While modifiers -- adjectives and adverbs -- can add to a story, too many, or the wrong ones, can bog down your prose and lead to weaker nouns and verbs. This writing exercise, by forcing you to hold off on modifiers altogether, will challenge you to choose your nouns and verbs more carefully.


Teen Publications
Are you a teen or young adult writer who's ready to publish your work? Magazines from Stone Soup to Teen Ink are taking work from young adult and teen writers now.


Use Metaphors Correctly
When used correctly, metaphors are effective fiction writing tools, but like most literary devices, metaphors bomb when used incorrectly. Learn about the two most common traps to avoid when using metaphors in your fiction writing.


Idea Box
An idea box is one way to ensure that you always have a stock of ideas for your creative writing.


The Artist's Way
Since 1992, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's guide to achieving a more creative life, has helped countless artists and writers to uncover the reasons for their creative block and then implement a habit to overcome it.


Setting Exercise
Many writers swear that setting is the most important element of any fictional work -- that story and character grow out of setting. Through this exercise, you will devote some time reflecting on your story's setting.


"The Blues" Writing Prompt
For this creative writing prompt, you may want a little music playing in the background for added inspiration. In a structured writing session, move from brainstorming to freewriting to writing.


Create Your Own Metaphors
Spending just a little time on metaphors and similes can spur you to make better use of them in your writing. This exercise designed for poets works for fiction writers as well.


Ten-Minute Writing Exercise
If you think you don't have time to write, think again. See what you can produce with a simple set of writing prompts and ten minutes of your time with this creative writing exercise.


allusion
An allusion is a kind of shorthand used by fiction writers to provide greater context or meaning for the fictional situation of the novel.


Craft Exercises
No matter what stage you're at with your writing, it's always beneficial to work on craft and technique. These exercises target common problems and weaknesses.


The New Yorker
One of the most venerated publications for short fiction, the New Yorker has published stories by some of our most respected fiction writers, including John Updike, Haruki Murakami, and Alice Munro.


Books for Summer Reading
If you're like me, summer vacations often turn into great times to think about writing. So tuck one of these books into your beach bag -- along with your journal -- and let your imagination go.


Dictionary Writing Exercise
The dictionary is a wealth of story ideas and writing prompts. This exercise will guide you through the process of unlocking this tool.


Storyteller Exercise
This imaginative exercise inspired by one in Julia Cameron's The Right to Write, encourages writers to listen for story ideas.


Freewriting Example
Are you foggy on exactly what freewriting should look like? Here's one example of how the process might play out.
metaphor
Used correctly, metaphors can be a powerful tool for fiction writers. Used incorrectly, however, metaphors only confuse and distract your reader.


Fiction Writing - HowTos
An index of HowTos for the Fiction Writing guide site.


Fiction Writing - QuickTips
An index of QuickTips for the Fiction Writing guide site.


Interview with Thomas McCormac
Thomas McCormack, the former CEO and editorial director of St. Martin's Press and author of The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, shares publishing stories and advice for evaluating editors in this valuable interview for novelists.


Literary Journals
The first step in getting published is researching the market. Start with these lists of literary journals and magazines, grouped by journal size and age group.


52 Projects
A review of Jeffrey Yamaguchi's book, "52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity," a new book to infuse your life with art and creativity.


Writing Classes
A writing class is one of the best ways to find a writing community, but how do you find a class or a teacher you know will be worthwhile? These tips will help you begin your search.


Editing Checklist
Before you show your story to anyone, make sure that you've caught at least the obvious spelling and grammar mistakes using this comprehensive editing checklist.


Contests
Keep up with important fellowships, grants, short story contests, and residencies with this calendar for the month of September. There are many ways to get your work out there: contests and awards are one way to win recognition for your short stories.


simile
Simile, like metaphor, is a type of figurative language used by fiction writers to convey an image or idea to the reader.


Metaphors by Raymond Chandler
For examples of metaphor in contemporary literature, it's hard to do better than Raymond Chandler, the hard-boiled detective novelist. Here we look at some examples from The Long Goodbye.


Writers' Rooms
Since the Writers Room opened in Manhattan in 1978 to provide urban writers with a place to write, a number of similar spaces have opened up around the U.S. and abroad. Though it doesn't guarantee the proverbial room of one's own, it does offer a cubicle and some community.


narrative
A definition of the literary term, "narrative," for creative writers.


character
Definition of the word character as used by writers of novels, short stories, and other fictional works.


Lost and Found Writing Prompt
These creative writing prompts encourage you to delve into two of the most fertile topics for writing. Spend some time writing today -- it only takes a few minutes to get started.


antagonist
An antagonist is one of the central characters in a piece of fiction, key in providing a source of conflict upon which the plot may turn.


Ways of Spotting Scams
There are plenty of people out there willing to take advantage of writers' desire to get published. How do you know if a contest or other publishing opportunity is legit? Here are a few things to consider before writing out a check.


style
Definition of the word "style" in terms of both creative writing and editing.


Writing Prompt Pictures
Choose one of these photographs as a writing prompt for your next free writing session. By using an image you did not take, you are more likely to free associate.


Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg's classic 1986 text on writing, "Writing Down the Bones," has inspired millions of writers over the years.


figure of speech
Figures of speech are imaginative, non-literal ways of using language that will make your prose stronger and more effective when used properly.


dialogue
Definition of the word "dialogue" with regard to fiction writing.


autobiography
Definition of the literary term, autobiography, for creative writers. An example of a recent autobiography would be Julia Child's book, "My Life in France."


Alicia Erian
Alicia Erian, author of the highly acclaimed novel, "Towelhead," talks about writing fiction that moves after a day at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas.


Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird
A review of Anne Lamott's popular work, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which has become a classic in the genre.


Stephen King's On Writing
A review of Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a funny and practical look at the secrets behind King's prolific career.


Invisibility Writing Prompt
I found this prompt in Beth Baruch Joselow's book of writing prompts, Writing Without the Muse, but it just as easily could have come from Woody Allen's Alice. In it you're asked to imagine a scene you might observe only if you were invisible.


Writers' Conference Advice
An Editorial Director at Random House Children's Books offers advice on how to present your ideas in a professional way during high-pressure writers' conferences pitch sessions.


assonance
Although the term "assonance" is most commonly seen in reference to poetry, it is a tool that all creative writers may employ at one time or another.


voice
A definition of the literary term, "voice," as defined for writers of novels and short stories. In many cases, voice is one of the most important element of a story.


synecdoche
Definition of the literary term, synecdoche, for writers of short stories and novels.


story
The definition of story, as a literary term, is the full sequence of events as we imagine them to have taken place, in their natural order and duration.


denouement
Definition of the literary term "denouement" as it applies to a short story or novel.


Hands: Writing Exercise
For this creative writing exercise, take your time doing each step one by one, then use your responses to craft a story or poem. Though students may initially struggle with this writing exercise, it consistently produces the best work.


Resolutions for Writers
Ready to set some concrete goals for the next year of your writing life? Write the novel you've been meaning to write, read that classic Russian tome you've always meant to read, or just set aside some time everyday to work on your craft.


"The Right to Write"
For anyone who even occasionally succumbs to the idea that writing requires struggle or sacrifice, Julia Cameron's The Right to Write is a refreshing reminder that the writing life can be a satisfying one.


erotica
Definition of the literary term erotica as it applies to fiction and fiction writing.


harpercollins
Jeanette Perez offers writers seeking to get their novels and short story collections published advice culled from her time in the editorial department of HarperCollins Publishers.


Kate Turabian's Style Book
A review of Kate Turabian's classic style book, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.


Mattress Writing Exercise
Alix Ohlin uses this creative writing exercise, set in a mattress store, to help her students find the drama in everyday life.


Listening for Dialogue
For many writers, writing natural-sounding dialogue is one of the hardest parts. This little exercise helps you develop an ear for the way that people really talk.


Creative Writing Example
James B. submitted this example of the dictionary creative writing prompt in action. If you're struggling with the exercise, you might see how someone else went about it.


Books for Writers
What creative writing books should every writer have on his or her shelf? From getting inspired to getting published, these books on creative writing will help show you the way.


imagery
A definition of the literary term, "imagery," as it applies to writers of short stories and novels.


Gift-Buying Guide
Having trouble selecting a gift for the writer in your life? Want something that shows support, but is more creative than a generic pen and pencil set? With a little thought, you can choose a gift that your friend will cherish. This guide will help you get started.


Profile of Raymond Chandler
Though America's finest hard-boiled detective novelist is known for exposing L.A.'s seedy underbelly and for his streetwise (if poetic) writing style, he was actually a highly educated, even genteel man, who studied in England and France. Not until adulthood did he come to Southern California, the place that dominated his fiction.


December Deadlines
Keep up with December book and short story contests, awards, fellowships, and residencies with this calendar including information on website urls, contest deadlines, and fees.


Bad Metaphors
Believe it or not, there are times when really bad metaphors -- mixed metaphors or clichés -- come in handy, as in this example from George Saunders.


Avoiding Sentimentality
The problem of how to convey emotion without lapsing into sentimentality confronts most writers at some point in their careers, and very often in the beginning stages. Eudora Welty has much to teach on the subject, particularly in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Optimist's Daughter."


Winter Counts
In this creative writing exercise from Alan Ziegler's The Writing Workshop Note Book, a Sioux Indian practice of record keeping called "Winter Counts" becomes a creative writing exercise.


symbol
Definition of the literary term, symbol, as used by writers, and in literature and art.


alliteration
Alliteration is another tool used by creative writers, especially in more poetic works, although it is often employed for comic purposes as well.


simultaneous submission
A definition of the term "simultaneous submission" (as opposed to "multiple submission") for creative writers interested in beginning to publish their work.


Writer's Block Tip
Steve Martin, in his introduction to "Pure Drivel" talks about taking time off as a means to accessing greater productivity.


January Deadlines
Get yourself organized for the new year with this calendar listing book and short story contests, awards, fellowships, and residencies with January deadlines.


genre fiction
In general, "genre fiction" refers to nonliterary works and include the categories of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, and horror. Genre fiction novels tend to be written and read primarily for entertainment (though it may certainly aspire to and attain other goals).


bildungsroman
The literary term "bildungsroman" is not as complicated or mysterious as it sounds. In fact, most writers at some point attempt to write this kind of novel.


October Contests and Awards
Calendar listing book and short story contests, awards, fellowships, and residencies with October deadlines for fiction writers interested in submitting their short stories or novels. Information on website urls, deadlines, and fees.


climax
Definition of the literary term, "climax," as it applies to writes. A climax is a moment of great intensity in a literary work, generally bringing events to a head and leading to the conclusion.


epilogue
The epilogue, which comes at the end of a work of literature, can be important in closing a story or novel.


Interviews with Editors
One of the best sources of information on publishing is obviously editors -- the people who decide what gets published and what doesn't. Here, three editors and former editors, from HarperCollins, Random House, and St. Martin's Press, offer their insights into how those decisions get made.


Literary London Walking Tour
If you're a fan of English-language literature, few places are as full of literary landmarks as London, home to everyone from Shakespeare and Milton to Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. This literary London tour points out just a few of the many places where you can commune with your literary heroes.


episodic novel
A definition of the literary term, "episodic novel," as used by fiction writers. Episodic novels are narratives composed of loosely connected incidents, each one more or less self-contained, and often connected by a central character or characters.


irony
Definition of the literary term "irony" as it applies to fiction writers.


Shakespeare and Company
A profile of the famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. Shakespeare and Company is famous for allowing young writers to stay for free in exchange for work, but it also hosts readings, writing groups, and conferences for writers and literary expats.


June Writing Contests
Book and short story writing contest information, along with details about awards, fellowships, and residencies with June deadlines for fiction writers interested in submitting their short stories or novels to writing contests and awards. Information on website urls, contest deadlines, and fees.


magic realism
Magic Realism refers to


point of view
A definition of the literary term, "point of view," as defined for fiction writers. Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told.


Interviews with Genre Writers
One of the best ways to learn about writing is to hear how other writers have done it. These writers share some thoughts on what's worked for them as they've built their writing careers.


National Novel Writing Month
Every November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) spurs writers all over the world to write -- or at least attempt to write -- an entire novel in one month. Founded in Oakland, CA, NaNoWriMo not only encourages writers to tackle a big project, but also raises money for children's libraries in Southeast Asia.


Heather O'Neill
Heather O'Neill discusses her novel, "Lullabies for Little Criminals," motherhood and writing, and writing in the voice of a young girl -- specifically that of Baby, a twelve-year-old living in Montreal's red light district.


Writers' Rooms in NYC
Famous for attracting writers and infamous for its exorbitant rents, New York City has more writers' rooms than any other American city. The Writers Room created the model when it opened in Manhattan in 1978, and similar spaces have sprung up in the city since then, offering space and community to the city's many writers.


Profile of Eudora Welty
Pulitzer Prize winner Eudora Welty lived most of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, in the house her family built. Though perhaps most famous for her short stories reflecting Southern life and culture, she also wrote five novels, a book of essays, and a memoir.


February Contest Deadlines
Calendar listing book and short story contests, awards, fellowships, and residencies with February deadlines for writers of novels and short stories. Information on website urls, contest deadlines, and fees.


Katherine Anne Porter
Born Callie Russell Porter on May 15, 1890, in Indian Creek, Texas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author overcame more than her share of hardship on the way to literary success. Her mother died when she was two and her father was a shiftless, temperamental man, who was neither a consistent parent or an adequate provider.


connotation
This definition of connotation from the glossary of literary terms will help you to make better use of this fiction writing tool.


euphemism
Euphemisms, used in dialogue, can be helpful tools for the creative writer. This definition will help you make better use of them.


hard-boiled
Definition of the literary term, hard-boiled detective novel, for writers of mystery and detective fiction. Hard-boiled detective novels typically feature a professional detective as opposed to an amateur sleuth.


Interview with Alan Ziegler
Alan Ziegler is the author of the Writing Workshop Note Book, a book on writing workshops for creative writing teachers and students as well as writers unable to attend formal writing workshops. About.com interviewed him about his book and his experiences as a creative writing instructor in January 2008.


Interview with Sandra Balzo
It took six years for Sandra Balzo to publish her first book, Uncommon Grounds, but since then she's become a successful, award-winning author. What was the secret of her success?


Choosing a Writing Space
There are no hard and fast rules as to what writing space will best promote your work. At the end of the day, every writer is different. As with most aspects of writing, it's best to experiment with different writing spaces and see what works.


vanity press
For those looking to self-publish, a vanity press is one option. A good vanity press will offer some copyediting and proofreading services, print the book, design the cover, and even do some marketing.


Writers on Writing
A review of the book, "Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times," edited by John Darnton. The book consists of essays by prominent writers including Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara Kingsolver, Rick Bass, Scott Turow, Gish Jen, Jane Smiley, and Elie Wiesel.


Interviews with Novelists
Some of the most important advice on writing I've gotten not from articles or books, but from talking with other writers. Share this experience in the following interviews on literature and craft.


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