I'm a student at Case, and while we of course have an English department, it seems the only kind of writing classes/courses available are for learning to be either a "literary" writer, or a "scholarly" writer. I'm not interested in either of those alternatives -- I'd like to write something that's simply entertaining. The best resource I have yet to find is the LiveJournal of Jim Butcher, which goes over practical fiction construction in some detail (it helps that he's my favorite author :P ). I'm interested in any tips for getting started, perhaps classes or anything, which might be helpful in writing entertainment.

Not saying I want to be an author someday -- Programmin' is my trade. But I'd like to have a nontechnical hobby too :)

  • Literary writing courses should teach you the details of how to construct an entertaining story. If they don't, they aren't teaching literary fiction either. Have you taken these courses and found them not helpful? I'd give one a shot before writing them off.
    – justkt
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 13:16
  • @justkt: Every such course I've ever taken doesn't talk about the story; they talk about the language the story uses, and then try to claim the author is always saying something completely different than what they're actually saying. (Example: Color X is symbolic to Idea/Object Y) They've never said one word about developing a character, or writing a story. For that matter they never asked us, the students, to write a story at all -- only read others'. That all said, that was before I came to Case; it might be different. But I don't want to waste an entire class slot if I'm not sure. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 15:13
  • my classes in creative writing, fiction writing, creative non-fiction, etc. at my undergraduate institution weren't like that at all, but they were also all taught by people who were deeply suspicious of post-modern literary criticism and tended to follow new criticism if anything at all. Maybe you should try asking some English majors.
    – justkt
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 15:45

8 Answers 8


The Writing Excuses podcast. These guys cover topics related to composing good narrative fiction. It is by far one of the best resources that I've found.

  1. Read more
  2. Write more

I also strongly recommend National Novel Writing Month. Not only will it give you a boost of confidence to finish, showing you that you actually are capable of writing something resembling a novel, but it should also give you a nice (very) rough draft that you can either burn and use for inspiration on #2, or spend some time crafting into something readable.

Find someone who doesn't know you to read your work and give feedback. A local writing group is great if you can find one, otherwise you can find them online.

Check out some writers' blogs - John Scalzi has a good one where he often talks about the act of writing, and I'm sure there are plenty more.


Sure there are :) Here's some resources I've found to be extremely helpful:

  • Orson Scott Card's Character and Viewpoint is one of the best creative writing books I've read. He talks about character creation and "interrogating" you character for detail and color; about coming up with story concepts with "why," "how," and "what might go wrong" questions; about how and when to convey "boring" detail, and lots of other great stuff. It's the most insightful and inspiring books on writing that I've had the pleasure to come across; I really cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • Jim Van Pelt teaches creative writing, and he's got a great blog over at LiveJournal. He's particularly good at simple exercises for constructing plots - like his plot daisies or his seven-sentence stories. Very worthwhile.
  • Mette Ivie Harrison has great advice on what makes stories work, about strong romantic relationships, and about the importance of dedication and persistence. You can read her column at IGMS, and/or her LiveJournal (where she also gives a unique take on some other interesting subjects). She writes about writing in a frank, practical, down-to-earth manner which I find both refreshing and helpful.

Also, there's a cool site addressing all kinds of questions about fiction-writing right over here :P


The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Plot! It would be pulpy hyperbole to say that this is the very essence of entertaining and exciting genre fiction; but there's nothing wrong with a bit of pulp. It's a short piece that reads like being constantly punched in the face. That's because there's a lot to it. It's a "how" piece of writing but the depth is contained in the "why".


You need to look at what you like to read and read what you would like to write, preferably from several authors. Now you have a style you can learn from, ranging from how descriptions are done to dialogue style and character development. This gives you something to aim at.

Also keep an eye out for things about your favourite authors you always thought could have been done better. These give you something to distinguish your writing from others.


Creativity is in small things. In 37 plays, Shakespeare didn't have one original plot.

Orwell said, "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." He was talking about avoiding clichés but it's my -- okay, unsupported -- theory that creativity is just the radical avoidance of cliché.

  • Hmm.. not a bad answer, but not exactly what I'm looking for. Perhaps I wrote the question poorly. What I mean is that (for example) I have an idea for a book. But I don't know how to effectively develop a plot or a character. I have the idea, but I don't have the "story craftsmanship". When I say "creative writer" I mean "writer, but not literary or scholarly or technical", I mean "writer, of what might be called 'commercial fiction'". Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 16:11

Playing table-top role-playing games is great way to work out those creativity muscles

If you're not familiar with role-playing games, have a look here. I really recommend this hobby as a way to enhance your creativity and writing skills (yes, it can do that to!).


I would say that if you're a coder by trade, then creative writing is very similar to creating a complex piece of code.

If you woke up tomorrow morning and decided to write a word processor in go (or some other random language you didn't know) It is unlikely that you're first few iterations would be anything to do with the word processor you want to write. It would be small test pieces to help you understand how the language worked.

Then once you had a decent grasp of how the language fitted together, you'd probably start planning the structure of the program, perhaps using the various source control and methodologies that are available.

So when you start writing a story use the same methodology you would use to write code. Pull out your favourite agile management tool (etc) and start creating a plan just as you would a piece of software.

So decide what the overall purpose (plan) of the story is, what does it need to convey from beginning to end. Then break that down into smaller pieces, maybe using a beginning / middle / end layout.

It is as much about understanding your approach and process as it is about sitting down and writing. If you're a coder you already have a very strong set of methodologies that you should be extremely familiar with. This is head and shoulders above what most writers can bring to their first pieces.

Mostly though, take your time, get to know yourself, and your own style, use the tools you have available (I actually store most of my writing in Github - it is a fantastic resource for managing creative writing) In time your confidence with this new language will develop and it will all compile a little more frequently!

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