Creative Writing Tips

When it comes to Creative Writing, we've been there, done that, now serving 22 tips in 4 categories ranging from H. Poetry to M. Archived Tips.

How do I improve my character development?

How to improve your character development?

People ask me this question a lot, and I generally don't know how to answer it except to say that the characters they’re working into the novel are unconscious representations of themselves. I used to struggle with character development. Then I realized that in a character based novel, the characters themselves make up the book, which meant that each of them would need to have a different personality offering of themselves various subsets of the plot. I like to use repetition when developing my characters. It’s a common tool. When you sit down to brainstorm, think of your novel like a movie, and use your words like a lens. Zoom in on the important aspects of each character, whatever they are. Zoom in closer on the more important ones. Your reader will see it if you write and place it well. The plot will work its way in once the character’s personality is clear to you, but that won’t happen until the characters and their internal/external conflicts are addressed. Authors often make the mistake of working characters into a novel. It’s the other way around in today’s novels. Characters create the setting, the plot…you create the characters. It’s also helpful to carry around scratch pads so that you can write down ideas. I used to carry one. If I saw someone walking down the street in a blue shirt and clown shoes and thought it would be neat in a story, I’d write it down. Just have fun, you’ll get to know your characters and the book will end up taking you to places you had no idea even existed.

How do you know when a story needs to be written?

How do you know when a story needs to be written?

Any author of any poem, short story, novel or novella, can say with a fair degree of certainty that being a writer makes up a significant part of their personality. Some would go as far as saying that being a writer is their personality, and that the rest just falls into place, which is exactly what a good story should do. I’ve seen many people over the years start a story and struggle to finish it. Most of the time they just throw it out or save it in a cardboard box with the rest of their would-be discarded material. Then they wake up at three o clock in the morning. They start writing and can’t stop. The story that’s supposed to be written is the one that comes out unabashedly, the one you write with no restraint. It’s the story that you can’t stop writing. While nothing that comes out can claim to be separate from expression of self, the story that needs to be written will trick your brain into working the deepest, most secret and intimate parts of yourself onto the page. It beckons, it longs. When you find that story, you’ll find your voice, and sooner or later you’ll stop asking where it is.

How do I format copy for an eBook?

How to Format an eBook for Publication

To properly format an eBook for publication, there are a few things to be done. First, since most people "scan" copy before they commit to reading the entire thing, keep your writing clear and concise.

Patience is short on the web, so get straight to the point. Online copy is a bit harder to read than print copy. Therefore, follow the list below in order to properly format and craft the piece:

1. Keep sentences short: no more than 15 -16 words each.
2. Have only two-three sentences per paragraph.
3. Skip an entire line between paragraphs.
4. Write in the active voice. In the active voice, the noun performs the "action." In the passive style, the action "happens" to the noun.

Example: In active voice, the sentence would read: "The ball hit Mary."
Example: In the passive voice, the same sentence would read: "Mary was hit by the ball."

It is important to write in the active voice. If not, you will sound quite boring. It is important to know that people expect web writing to be sharp and specific, as well as somewhat personable.

This article could be used as an example of how to format copy published on the internet. Use headings, bullet lists and subheadings where you can, and write to keep your reader's attention. Web copy is "punchy" in that it is not wordy nor does it ramble on.

It is also important to use simple, yet expressive words in order to get your point across.

By following these rules, you will be ready to publish your work.

How do I write a good poem?

A Poem Doesn't Need to Mean, it can simply be

A lot of people think that a poem should have some deep, hidden meaning, some lesson behind it that lends a moral or code of ethics to the world that we live in. Nothing could be further from the truth. A poem, as it stands, can be related to a picture, or music, or any other art form that you choose to embrace, because it's not necessarily what the poem is about that's important, but rather how it makes you feel. When you look at the more popular paintings and listen to the more popular symphonies by artists like Bach and Beethoven, it's almost impossible to discern what they mean. On the other hand they make you feel victorious, elated, sad, neutral, and perhaps even motivated. A poem does not have to mean anything, it can just stand as a picture or a piece of music put to words.


Writing Exercises

Below are several archived tips from the former “Writing Exercises” category. Though the following tips have all been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Writing Prompt: The Telephone Call

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a brief story which begins "in medias res" with a telephone call. Have one of the callers inform the other of some event that has taken place. Begin writing

after the call has begun and end it before the characters hang up. In other words, just focus on the dialogue and building tension within the scene. No more than 500 words.

A Word on Creativity Exercises

Tip edited by James Gapinski

These exercises are designed to boost your creativity and show you that the possibilities for story ideas are endless. For exercise purposes, try to keep them to 500 words or less. You may choose to develop them into full stories later, but for now just focus on the task described.

Non-Human Narrators

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story from the point of view of a non-human. This can mean an alien, an animal, or a chest of drawers. The unconventional source of narration frees your creativity and allows you to have some fun with the story. It gives you an excuse to play with dialogue or try your hand at being funny.

What are you most ashamed of?

Tip edited by James Gapinski

The superlatives in our lives--the most frightening, most hilarious, etc.--are the seeds for our stories. Try writing a story about something from your past that you are ashamed of. Don´t write about something that happened within the last year--it must be something you have gained perspective on.

Beauty and the Beast: The Magic of Character Pairs

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Sometimes you can create fictional magic just by placing two opposing characters in the same room. Consider opposites or "incompatibles" from real life that might make sparks on the page.

Personalities that breed conflict create increased readability.


Tip edited by James Gapinski

Take a few moments and answer the following questions about the protagonist in your story. This will help you generate ideas about where the story will go and how it will develop during revision. Keep in mind that there may and can be multiple answers for each.

* What does my character want?

* What does he or she fear?

* How does he or she deal with his emotions?

* What are his or her social and intimate relationships like?

* What are his or her past experiences, and how does he or she regard them?

* What does he or her view (or not view) as personal responsibilities?

* What elements of the spiritual does he or she exhibit, and how does he or she deal with them?

* What does he or she do for a living?

* What does he or she do for leisure?

* What failures does he or she secretly feel accountable for?

* What biases or prejudices motivate his or her behavior?

* Are there any "catch phrases" or verbal quips that are unique to him or her?

* Does he or she dream at night? If so, of what?

* Where does he or she go in daydreams?

* What strikes him or her as humorous/non-humorous?

* What does he or she take seriously or fail to take seriously?

Other Resources:

The University of Iowa Writing Center: "Writing Exercises for Creative Fiction Writers - Characertization."

Point of View

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story that employs more than one point of view. The exercise focuses your attention on point of narration, so that you are conscious of things like physical observations, language, and personal biases unique to each individual character.

Other Resources:

Writer's Digest: "Fiction: Point of View," by Steve Almond.


Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story in which one character tries to "sell an idea" to another. Focus on the verbal exchange as one character attempts to persuade the other, and on heightening the tension throughout the scene. Begin in medias res, don´t worry about getting us in to the scene.

Other Resources:

Poe War Writer's Resource Center: "12 Exercises for Improving Dialogue," by J. C. Hewitt.

Writer's Write: "Screenwriting Writing Exercises - Dialogue," by Stephen J. Cannell.

Barnes & Noble: Write Great Fiction: Dialogue, by Gloria Kempton; 2004 (book).

The Liar

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story in which one character is clearly lying. This can be either the narrator or another character. You´ll want to focus on peeling away the layers of truth and untruth--the non-liar(s) will inwardly and outwardly wrestle this out.

Writing Prompt: The Dinner Party

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story centered entirely around a dinner party. One of the characters should be mysterious in some way, inspiring the other guests to ponder and discuss him or her.

Character Driven Plot

Tip edited by James Gapinski

A good plot always traces back to character elements. Characters find themselves in situations and must act and react to those situations as best they can. Consider this as you construct the plot of your story.

As a pre-writing exercise, make a list of situations your character might find him or herself in. Then, in a separate column, try and predict what might happen based on what you know about the character.

Writing Prompt: Given First Line

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story beginning with this line: "I didn´t hear you come in last night."

Other Resources:

Short Story Ideas: "First Lines"


Word Magick

Below are several archived tips from the former “Word Magick” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Crystallize your adjectives

Modifiers should only be used when the noun they describe can't stand alone. The object of good writing is to get sentences distilled to their simplest, most resonant forms. When you must use an adjective or an adverb, make it a sharp one that makes the noun stronger. Carefully edit your writing for modifiers that don't add anything.

Connect with words, create better fiction

Words are the electrons and protons of fiction. Therefore, it is important to connect with them, explore them, tap into their subtler meanings. The next time you edit a story, focus closely on each and every individual word. Are they as specific as you can get them? Do they roll around on the tongue, or evoke sensory responses? Do they contribute to the punch and flow of your writing? If the answer to any of these is no, begin making lists of "fatter" words that could replace the weaker ones.

Thought, energy, and writing

Words are thoughts in concrete form. And what are thoughts but energy rising in your mind to produce an idea and an accompanying emotion? Think about this when you choose words. You aren't just saying something. You're giving the energy of your unique thoughts a form and a shape that only you can give it. This is why spells and religious chants/songs have such meaning for their creators as well as their receivers, and why they are powerful. Writing is a sacred act, and therefore each word you put on paper must be the best, most descriptive, most concrete you can choose. If you're not careful, you might end up saying something you didn't mean or want to say!

Keep Track of Interesting Words

As a writer, you should develop a curiosity about the origins, meanings, and various connotations of a given word. Try devoting a page or two in the back of your journal to interesting words you run across in your reading. Writing them down will make it more likely that you incorporate them into your writing.

Succinct, simple words

Words should act as a switch, clicking on an image or idea. They should be specific and succinct. Phrases such as “he was her everything” are simply too vague, allowing the reader to insert his own interpretations of what you mean to say.

Vocabulary Enrichment Resources

Below is a list of books that will help you improve your writerly vocabulary.

The Highly Selective Dictionary of Golden Adjectives for the Extraordinarily Literate, by Eugene Ehrlich.

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Sheri Ann Richerson