Eric Bourland's Home Site

Advice on writing fiction

Develop an interesting story that your readers will like, and that you will enjoy telling.

Have at least one likeable character, and preferably several.

Villains can be likeable.

Each character needs a distinct voice.

Characters should learn.

Show, don’t tell.

Avoid lazy words.

Make a general plan and fix it up as you go.

Set up scenes in advance. Put objects and people and clues in place before they are needed.

If you need a coil of rope and a pot of boiling lead, put them in place before you need them. Come prepared to your own scene.

Give the reader something to do besides just read: give her a puzzle to solve, or invite her to ask a question or to have an opinion about something.

Spend time on research, and accumulate a research library built with real books. Put the library in your office near your desk.

Be prepared to write even if the power goes out and the internet gets blown to pieces.

Get an authoritative, prescriptive dictionary. You will need to do some hunting to find a good one, since most are out of print. Mine is a Webster’s New International Second Edition from 1938. You can find them on eBay or Abebooks or the like. Dictionaries have personalities. Find one that feels right to you.

Read, a lot. Read books and stories that bring you real pleasure.

Read stories published before the popular internet came along (roughly 1994), and stories published after. Which do you like more?

To this reader, stories published in the age of the internet seem anxious and less fun.

Write every day, when your mind is fresh. Mostly that means early morning. Get up, get some coffee, go to your office, get to work.

Take care of yourself; get your sleep, eat right, get some exercise, get a little sun. Do not neglect your family and friends, or you will regret it.

Don’t get too concerned about being a writer. Instead, do your research, make a plan, and let your characters tell your story for you. Keep a low profile. In time your work will speak for you.

Try cutting out adverbs. Suddenly, awkwardly, actually, already, and so on. It’s a way of trusting the reader.

The reader is smarter than you think. The reader can tell when you’re anxious, and when you’re having a good time.

Be aware of the Bechdel test. Look it up, if you don’t know what it is. Consider how your story might be improved if you applied Bechdel.

Read stories to children.

Ride the bus sometimes and listen to the people.

— EB