Tips for Writing Great Stories Faster

Write great stories faster, an essay by award-winning novelist Christine Nolfi.How do career novelists produce one page-turner after another? No one earns a living as a novelist (or a journalist, for that matter) without learning a few tricks to keep the words flowing.

I’ve never experienced writer’s block, probably because my career began in PR. I wasn’t paid unless I delivered the press kit or the article—or the cross-your-eyes-and-snooze product descriptions for ABC Widget Co. The rush to meet deadlines taught strategies I use to this day. They’ll work for you too:

Empty Page? No, Thanks.  The most experienced scribe feels trepidation at the sight of a blank page waiting to be filled. As you develop your novel’s plot, invite the characters to chat with you. Write down random dialogue, events and POV descriptions (of other characters or events) directly into your document. Long before I begin writing in earnest, I produce a jumble of pages beneath Chapter One. Then I cut and past these snippets into the developing story.

As work progresses, continue adding random paragraphs and compelling fragments. On a conscious level, you may adhere to linear thinking: “Paul meets Sarah in Chapter One. In Chapter Two, he crashes the car…” But your creative well, the lifeblood of your art, resides in your subconscious mind. Learn to welcome these random snippets even if they don’t appear to make sense. Paste them inside your document behind the chunk of completed chapters. You’ll be astonished at how often the oddball thought becomes a key component of your plot.

Slam on the Brakes!  Whenever possible, finish your workday in the middle of dialogue. It’s easy to pick back up the next day (or the next weekend) if your characters are interacting. Halting work in the middle of an argument works beautifully. Stop typing right after Character A gives Character B the fifth degree. Then begin your next writing session with Character B’s response.

Or stop in dialogue right after Character A reveals stunning news. You’ll slip easily into Character B’s shoes, and not waste time staring at your computer thinking, “I have no idea where this story is going.”

Stop Working. Start Playing. If you’ve ever followed my conversations with other writers on Twitter you know I’m a big believer in turning off your internal editor.

Throw the parent and adult aspects of your ego out the window, and let your imaginative child steer your writing. Original thought, eureka moments, grab-a-hanky prose and laugh-out-loud passages begin with your inner child. So does the sex scene so hot you had to take a cold shower after typing the last word. And the striking prose sure to win the Pulitzer.

Here’s the thing: storytelling is a form of seduction. The aspect of your personality that’s determined to analyze sentence structure or count the number of adverbs in a chapter is not what will have readers clamoring for more. When I was a kid, I had every other child on the street convinced that fairies left pots of gold for us to discover. And that I could fly. And that the other kids would also fly once we found the purple peacock hidden on Englewood Road and plucked a magical feather…

With me so far?

Leave the Freudian analysis and all your grammar books locked in a safe until after you’re written the first draft. The entire draft. Ignore this rule, and you shall never learn to fly.

The Going Nowhere Story.  Too many novels die in Chapter Five (or Six, or Ten) because the writer has no real direction. Don’t stop writing—improvise. Add a bridging conflict, a smaller problem your characters will solve in several chapters. Put your feet up and write longhand, first person, in the POV of a character. Take a walk. Skip to the last chapters, and write them down. Do anything but abandon your heart’s work.

Remember: there’s nothing you set down on paper today that can’t be edited, revised or removed during the read-through of your initial draft.

Photo © Dreamstime

About Christine Nolfi

I owned a small public relations firm in Cleveland, Ohio, but closed it fifteen years ago after I traveled to the Philippines and adopted a sibling group of four children. I've been writing novels fulltime since 2004. If you enjoyed this post today, please follow me and subscribe to my blog.

Comments

  1. Ethan Jones says:

    Loved the article, Christine. Thanks for sharing your great expertise with us. Ethan

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Ethan, I meant to write the post several months ago after a young writer asked for tips on how to keep the words flowing. She’d written several chapters and grown frustrated. No doubt most writers stumble across these tricks after producing several works.

      Many thanks for reading.

  2. Some really good advice there :D

  3. I have taken to immediately jumping into the next story when I finish one. My mind is already in rapid fire allowing me to get past the idea of a blank page.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Then you’ve discovered your process, Jon. Rapid fire thinking is great way to skirt self-doubt and continue the creative process. Editing can come later.

  4. Great post — I agree wholeheartedly. I keep paper beside me during the night so I can jot down thoughts if they come to me during the night. This past week I was in a blogging challenge – writing a post a day on a one word subject we were given. I loved it – my fingers do the thinking — all I got to do is start to type. Thanks for the insight, the confirmation and the encouragement.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Carol, the blogging challenge sounds like an ideal way to write with one’s internal editor turned off.

      Many thanks for reading along.

  5. While we write nonfiction, many of these ideas apply, especially the empty page. Just getting anything on the page to start the process, get things flowing, is huge. Glad to see I’m not the only one with dozens of crazy, disjointed snippets at the bottom of my pages as I go along.

  6. I particularly liked your advice about stopping midway between exciting dialogue, kind of like halting just before the cliff-hanger, because it gives you the incentive the next day to keep on writing. And it also keeps different ideas whirling in your head which you can jot down during the day and place into your manuscript when you sit down to do the serious writing.
    My problem has always been that when I’m on a roll, I just don’t want to stop until all the exciting stuffs written on the page—as if I fear that it might fade away, evaporate like mist, be gone forever leaving me feeling let down. Of course, the fear is unfounded, but it’s there.
    I’m also fortunate in that I’ve never experienced writer’s block. There’s always so much to add to the story, the problem is often reducing the size, getting rid of unnecessary words.
    All valid points you have raised, thanks for posting

    Alex George
    Author: Under the Dragon’s Claw
    authoralexgeorge.com

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Alex,
      Go ahead and finish the scene then add this habit to your writing schedule: begin future scenes in bits and starts whenever they pop into your head. A few paragraphs of narrative, a page of intense dialogue–whatever comes to mind. The strategy may not work for debut novelists but writers with several published works can easily use it. Later, rearrange the scenes to better fit your plot.

  7. Christine you are awesome! I love your Tips for Writing Great Stories Faster articles.
    Thanks for sharing your great expertise with us

    Maria

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Maria, I hope the tips help you to forever avoid the dreaded writer’s block–and produce quality work at an accelerated pace!

      Many thanks for reading.

  8. Chandler Brett says:

    Drawing up a roadmap for the novel as a whole, and each chapter individually, also helps prevent aimless spinning of the wheels. Conceptualizing or consulting the map the night before you write gives the mind time to play in your world before you bring it to final form.

  9. I loved the article. I have been writing (still part-time) since 2008 and enjoy it every day. I liked your thoughts on starting and stopping. You make a good point about stopping in the middle of a conversation. One problem I have, is that it may take so long to finish a book that my character suffers personality changes from the beginning to the end and I have to learn to be more consistent. I don’t read much romance, but will add yours to my list.

Speak Your Mind

*