How to Write a Story that Sells

Get creative story ideas, write your own book!

Want to write a good book? Check out these tips on how to write a story that captures readers' attention from beginning to end:

How to Write a Story #1: Know Your Market, Get Story Ideas and Outline Your Plot

The first step is to know who you are writing for, and what your readers want; this may lead you to novel ideas for stories.

Work on your plot and prepare your story outline before you begin writing. Need help with these preliminary steps? Visit How to Write a Story: Part I

How to Write a Story #2: Plan Your Settings

Familiarize yourself with your story setting. Draw a detailed map of the location, complete with buildings, roads, waterways and other relevant features. Draw a plan for every important building, such as characters' homes, offices or schools.

As you write, add in details as they appear in the story. This is especially important if you're thinking of writing a series; you don't want readers to spot inconsistencies from one book to the next.

If you're writing for young children, keep the setting simple; limit the number of locations, for example home, school, playground, friends' homes. Too much movement among places confuses young readers.

Older children, teens and adults, however, require more diversified settings to add interest to the story. You can move your characters from quiet villages to bustling cities, and across continents. You can take them back to ancient times or forward to a future world, or transport them to other worlds - there's no limit to the settings you can dream up.

How to Write a Story #3: Flesh Out Your Characters

Give your characters names; as soon as they're named, these people will come alive for you. Characters' names should suit their personalities and roles in the story, and should not be too similar: for example, Bill and Will, Sarah and Sally - otherwise, you may confuse your readers.

Create characters that are true-to-life - not too unbelievably good or wicked. Give them virtues to warm the reader's heart, and faults so that your audience can identify with them.

Let your imagination work on your characters as you go about the normal course of your day. Visualize their physical appearance, personalities, mannerisms, peculiarities, how they think and react to situations, and the way they interact with one another, until each character comes alive for you.

For more creative story ideas on developing characters, visit How to Create Captivating Characters.

How to Write a Story #4: Whose Viewpoint? Decide Who's Going to Tell the Story

From whose viewpoint are you telling your story? The viewpoint may be that of the main character, two or more characters, or an omniscient observer.

The main character: this is the viewpoint most favored by writers and readers, and the one that works best for short stories and stories for young children. The reader sees through the eyes of the main character, identifying with him/her, and sharing his/her thoughts, feelings and inner struggles.

The main character may tell the story as a first- person ("I") or third-person ("he"/"she") narrative. Children generally prefer the latter, as they tend to confuse the "I" in the story with themselves. Teens and adults, however, often enjoy the intimacy of a first-person narrative.

Two or more characters: different viewpoints can add interest and depth to a story. One approach is to have the hero and heroine, or the hero/heroine and villain, take turns to tell the story. Another way is to have the spotlight fall momentarily on one or several minor characters, letting them have their say in a few paragraphs (which should be set apart from the rest of the text by one or two line spaces).

Make the "voice" of each viewpoint character distinct. The contrasting diction and points of view heighten the tension, and add drama to the story.

The omniscient observer: here, the reader gets the story from a detached narrator who knows the whole situation. Unlike the two previous approaches, which are influenced by the biased perceptions and emotions of the viewpoint characters, this viewpoint is objective and comprehensive. However, because it is so detached and impersonal, readers may not be able to identify with the characters and may lose interest in the story.

How to Write a Story #5: Begin with a Bang

Start strong: surprise, excite, intrigue or otherwise grab your reader's attention and make him or her want to continue with the story. Some effective story openings...

Dialogue between characters: use this to arouse interest in the principal characters, introduce the problem or set the scene for the reader.

Plunge into the action: this makes for a fast-paced, exciting start that pulls readers into the story right away.

Introduce the main character: tell the reader about the protagonist and his/her problem, or portray the protagonist in a situation that reveals his/her personality or problem.

Readers starting on a book need to orientate themselves quickly to the setting, time, cast of characters, and what is happening in the story. Set the scene as concisely and unobtrusively as possible, preferably as part of the action or dialogue.

Give only as much information as is necessary for the reader to understand what is going on at each stage of the story. Never try to give all the background information in one indigestible dose.

How to Write a Story #6: The Middle is Where the Plot Thickens

Good plot development is essential. A plot (with or without subplots) consists of a problem or problems leading to a conflict, with the suspense building up to a climax.

The middle is where you develop your characters, and have them grow and learn from their ordeals and mistakes, so that at the end of the story they become wiser, stronger or better in some way.

This is also where you display your main character's lovable qualities or vulnerable side, that will help readers to identify with him or her.

How to Write a Story #7: Leave the Reader Satisfied

End with a conclusion that satisfies readers. This doesn't necessarily mean a cliched "happily-ever-after" ending (although a happy ending is important in children's stories), but rather one that feels right - that answers the underlying questions posed by the theme(s), resolves the major issues and conflicts, ties up the loose ends, and satisfies the reader's innate sense of justice.

The last impression is always the strongest one: you want readers to close your book with a happy sigh; to say, "Wonderful story! I'd love another one." (By the same author, of course!)


Once you've followed these steps and completed your story, consider self-publishing your book to get your work out to your readers!


For creative writing techniques and more tips on how to write a story, visit:

Creative Story Ideas: Conflicts, Cliffhangers and Climaxes

Creative Writing Tips: Want to Write Well?

Creative Writing Tips: Top Secrets of Top Authors

Creative Writing Tips: Effective Word Choice - Denotations and Connotations

Creative Writing Tips: Imagery Helps Readers See, Hear, Feel

Creative Writing Tips: Sparks Fly with Dramatic Dialogue

Creative Writing Tips: Vibrant Verbs Get Readers' Attention

Creative Writing Tips: Word Music Infuses Stories with Drama, Emotion and Lyrical Beauty


Writing for children or teenagers? Visit How to Write Stories Kids and Teens Want to Read.

Legal issues concerning writers: for tips on how to write a book without getting sued, go to Avoid Defamation of Character


Return from How to Write a Story to Creative Writing: Write to Win Hearts.


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