The Art of Storytelling: 5 Tips on Crafting Compelling Storylines

Posted on May 8, 2018

by April S

Are you an aspiring writer trying to get started on that next bestselling novel?Are you an experienced writer, but need a little help creating compelling storylines or dynamic dialogue?

No matter where you’re at in the writing process your Library can help! We have a ton of great writing resources to help you from start to finish.

5 Tips on Crafting Compelling Storylines

Tip 1: Avoid Common Plot Cliches

We all know a cliche when we see it in a movie or read it in a book. It’s important to think about how cliches annoy you when you come across them, so you’ll be less likely to include them in your own work. By writing a story that only you can tell, instead of borrowing from popular formulas, it will be fairly easy to avoid common plot pitfalls.

We read so that we can be moved by a new way of looking at things. A cliche is like a coin that has been handled too much. Once language has been overly handled, it no longer leaves a clear imprint. ~ Janet Fitch

Tip 2: Generate New Story Ideas by Asking – What If?

If you’re having trouble generating new story ideas – try the what if question game. What if you lived in an alternate universe? What if you had to change occupations? What if you were alive during the early 1900s? By asking a series of what if questions with your personal experiences and interests in mind you’ll be able to ensure your stories are coming from a place of sincerity.

Alternate history fascinates me, as it fascinates all novelists, because ‘What if?’ is the big thing. ~ Kate Atkinson

Tip 3: Use the Power of Emotion

Engage readers with emotional content. Readers that feel emotionally invested in the characters or story won’t want to put the book down. After all, emotion often overrides reason in the human brain (compelling reasonable people to stay up all night reading).

A plot is nothing but a normal human situation that keeps arising again and again….normal human emotions—envy, ambition, rivalry, love, hate, greed, and so on. ~ Louis L’Amour

Tip 4: Create Characters That Resonate With Readers

It’s important for readers to feel connected to your characters. Think about what you can do to make them seem more real to the audience. Research facts, build backstories and create character profiles to ensure they are truly authentic.

As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are. ~ Quentin Tarantino

Tip 5: Draft Dynamic Dialogue

Effective dialogue helps to bring characters to life and advance the story. Read authors renowned for dialogue to find inspiration when writing your own.

If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. ~ John Steinbeck

Craft Compelling Stories with the Help of These Great Books


The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings That Sell” by Paula Munier

Give your story its best start!

The best beginnings possess a magical quality that grabs readers from the first word and never lets them go. But beginnings aren’t just the door into a fictional world. They are the gateway to the realm of publishing–one that could shut as quickly as it opens.

In “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings,” author and literary agent Paula Munier shows you how to craft flawless beginnings that impress agents, engage editors, and captivate readers. You’ll learn how to develop the big idea of your story and introduce it on page one, structure opening scenes that encompass their own story arc, kickstart your writing with effective brainstorming techniques, and introduce a compelling cast of characters that drive the plot. You’ll also examine the best-selling novels from different genres to learn the secrets that experienced writers use to dive straight into a story.

With thorough examinations of voice, point of view, setting, dialogue and conflict, “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” is a must-have tool for luring your readers in with your opening pages–and convincing them to stick around for the ride.

Also available in eBook.


The Irresistible Novel: How to Craft an Extraordinary Story that Engages Readers from Start to Finish” by Jeff Gerke

Discover Your Voice and Enthrall Readers!

The craft of writing is filled with various debates: Should I include a prologue? Should I delete all adverbs from my manuscript? Just how much backstory–if any–can I include in my story? These questions–and their often-contradictory answers–can cause confusion, frustration, and even paralysis in the writer.

“The Irresistible Novel” frees you from the limits of so-called “rules” and instead provides you with a singular goal: You must engage your readers from beginning to end. Filled with down-to-earth discussions on the various debates of writing, as well as innovative research on neuroscience and reader response, this book shows you how to:

  • Navigate the various debates on writing fiction–showing versus telling, purple prose, outlining, writing description, and more–to decide what kind of novelist you want to be.
  • Hack your reader’s brain to hook her interest and trigger emotional engagement from the very first page.
  • Incorporate enduring elements of storytelling from masters like Joseph Campbell, Aristotle, and Carl Jung.

Readers want to be swept away by your stories. When you eschew the rules and focus on your readers’ desires, you’re free to write truly irresistible fiction.

Also available in eBook.


Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel” by Cheryl St. John

Craft an Emotionally Charged Story That Will Resonate with Readers.

Emotional impact shouldn’t be dropped into your novel as an afterthought or forced upon your story with a pair of pliers and an iron grip. It should be carefully sewn into the fabric of the story to create tension-filled moments that will keep readers turning pages. In “Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict,” you’ll learn how to:

  • Layer emotional moments and deep connections to create a tapestry filled with conflict, pathos, and genuine feeling
  • Create emotional depth, conflict, and tension in your novel by carefully crafting your plot, characters, setting, word choice, and more
  • Learn what makes readers “tick”–and what will elicit the strongest emotional responses
  • Write believable, emotional scenes and dialogue–and trim away the sappiness

When writing a novel, your ultimate goal is to make readers smile, weep, rage, and laugh right along with your characters. “Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict” will show you how to evoke a multitude of feelings in your readers–and keep them coming back for more.

Also available in eBook.


The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers” by Matt Bird

You’ve just boarded a plane. You’ve loaded your phone with your favorite podcasts, but before you can pop in your earbuds, disaster strikes: The guy in the next seat starts telling you all about something crazy that happened to him–in great detail. This is the unwelcome storyteller, trying to convince a reluctant audience to care about his story.

We all hate that guy, right? But when you tell a story (any kind of story: a novel, a memoir, a screenplay, a stage play, a comic, or even a cover letter), you become the unwelcome storyteller.

So how can you write a story that audiences will embrace? The answer is simple: Remember what it feels like to be that jaded audience. Tell the story that would win you over, even if you didn’t want to hear it.

“The Secrets of Story” provides comprehensive, audience-focused strategies for becoming a master storyteller.

Armed with the Ultimate Story Checklist, you can improve every aspect of your fiction writing with incisive questions like these:

  • Concept: Is the one-sentence description of your story uniquely appealing?
  • Character: Can your audience identify with your hero?
  • Structure and Plot: Is your story ruled by human nature?
  • Scene Work: Does each scene advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
  • Dialogue: Is your characters’ dialogue infused with distinct personality traits and speech patterns based on their lives and backgrounds?
  • Tone: Are you subtly setting, resetting, and upsetting expectations?
  • Theme: Are you using multiple ironies throughout the story to create meaning?

To succeed in the world of fiction and film, you have to work on every aspect of your craft and satisfy your audience. Do both–and so much more–with “The Secrets of Story.”

Also available in eBook and eAudio.


Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction” by Jeff Vandermeer

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, “Wonderbook” energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, “Wonderbook” includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface” by Donald Maass

Engage Your Readers with Emotion!

While writers might disagree over showing versus telling or plotting versus pantsing, none would argue this: If you want to write strong fiction, you must make your readers feel. The reader’s experience must be an emotional journey of its own, one as involving as your characters’ struggles, discoveries, and triumphs are for you. That’s where “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” comes in. Veteran literary agent and expert fiction instructor Donald Maass shows you how to use story to provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers.

Topics covered include:

  • Emotional modes of writing
  • Beyond showing versus telling
  • Your story’s emotional world
  • Moral stakes
  • Connecting the inner and outer journeys
  • Plot as emotional opportunities
  • Invoking higher emotions, symbols, and emotional language
  • Cascading change
  • Story as emotional mirror
  • Positive spirit and magnanimous writing
  • The Hidden current that makes stories move

Readers can simply read a novel…or they can experience it. “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” shows you how to make that happen.


Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction” from the editors of Writer’s Digest; foreword by Cheryl St. John

Write authentic dialogue that invigorates your story!

Exceptional dialogue isn’t just important when writing fiction–it’s essential. In order to impress an agent or editor and keep readers turning pages, you need to deliver truly standout dialogue in every scene. “Crafting Dynamic Dialogue” will give you the techniques and examples you need to impress your readers.

This book is a comprehensive guide to writing compelling dialogue that rings true. Each section is packed with advice and instruction from best-selling authors and instructors like Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Sims, Steven James, Deborah Halverson, James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, Cheryl St. John, and many others. They’ll show you how to:

  • Bend the rules to create a specific effect.
  • Understand the role of dialogue in reader engagement.
  • Use dialect and jargon effectively.
  • Give every character a believable, unique voice.
  • Set the pace and tone.
  • Reveal specific character background details.
  • Generate tension and suspense.
  • Utilize internal dialogue.

Whether you’re writing flash fiction, a short story, or a novel-length manuscript, “Crafting Dynamic Dialogue” will help you develop, write, and refine dialogue to keep your readers hooked.

Also available in eBook.

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative” by Chuck Wendig

Hook Your Audience with Unforgettable Storytelling!

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them. Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens. Using a mix of personal stories, pop fiction examples, and traditional storytelling terms, New York Times best-selling author Chuck Wendig will help you internalize the feel of powerful storytelling. In “Damn Fine Story,” you’ll explore:

  • Freytag’s Pyramid for visualizing story structure – and when to break away from traditional storytelling forms.
  • Character relationships and interactions as the basis of every strong plot – no matter the form or genre.
  • Rising and falling tension that pulls the audience through to the climax and conclusion of the story.
  • Developing themes as a way to craft characters with depth.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, comic, or even if you just like to tell stories to your friends and family over dinner, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling – and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide To Classic Writing Techniques” by Nancy Lamb

When you consider the thousands of years of storytelling that comprise our literary tradition, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the shadow of so many works. But there are common threads that link all stories–from “Beowulf” and “Hamlet” to “Gone With the Wind” and “The Godfather” to the story you’re drafting right now in your head. These threads form the foundation that supports story–a foundation Nancy Lamb shows you how to access and master.

Whether you’re writing a novel, a memoir, or a screenplay, “The Art and Craft of Storytelling” offers time-tested ways to translate a concrete idea into a polished work. In this book, you will find strategies for:

  • Creating a successful a beginning, middle, and end while moving smoothly from one stage to the next
  • Crafting memorable characters, choosing the best point of view for your story, and constructing authentic, compelling dialogue
  • Integrating and navigating the more subtle elements of story, such as voice, tone, premise, and theme
  • Understanding genres and subgenres and how they apply to your story
  • Structuring plots that transform a ho-hum story into a page-turning read

“The Art and Craft of Storytelling” gives you all the tools you need to contribute your own story to our great tradition, to open new worlds to your readers, and to introduce new ways of thinking. This is the power and purpose of story. And by your writing, this is the tradition you honor.

Spellbinding Sentences by Barbara Baig (eBook)

Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers” by Barbara Baig

Elevate Your Writing From So-So To Spectacular!

Great writing requires more than an original idea, compelling characters, or a scintillating plot. An author needs all of these to be successful, but writing–and writing well–also demands an entirely different skill set. “Spellbinding Sentences” arms you with the tools you need to master the power of the English language.

In this book, you’ll learn the different qualities of words and the many ways those words can be combined to create sentences that hook readers. You’ll emulate sentences from your favorite writers, practice proven techniques, and develop your skills one step at a time. The result? Your ability to craft excellent sentences will become second nature–and those sentences will hold your readers spellbound, page after page.

Barbara Baig’s Spellbinding Sentences is a tribute to the pleasure and vitality of the English language. Never prescriptive and always clear, this enlightening book is sure to help all those wishing to add grace and strength to their writing. ~ Jane Brox, award-winning author of “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light,” one of TIME magazine’s top ten nonfiction books of 2010″

“Spellbinding Sentences” is sophisticated and down-to-earth at the same time. Barbara Baig has distilled decades of experience into this wise book.” ~ Edward Dolnick, New York Times best-selling author of “The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece

Learn More About the Art of Storytelling With These Helpful Articles

Three Powerful Ways to Brainstorm New Story Ideas – Well-Storied

5 Golden Rules for Writing Authentic Dialogue – Writer’s Edit

5 Elements for Crafting a Compelling Story Your Audience Will Love – Write to Done

5 Tips For Creating Characters Readers Can’t Wait to Come Back To – The Creative Penn

5 Tips on Writing Dialogue – NY Book Editors

7 Simple Ways to Make a Good Story Great – Writer’s Digest

Ten Authors Who Write Great Dialogue – LitReactor

10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Dialogue – Write to Done

10 Tips to Avoid Cliches in Writing – Writer’s Digest

The 7 Tools of Dialogue – Writer’s Digest

Emotion vs. Feeling: How to Evoke More From Readers – Writer’s Digest

Novel Settings: 7 Tips to Get Setting Description Right – Now Novel

Some of the Greatest Writers of Dialogue (And What We Can Learn From Them) – Gizmodo

Story Plots: 7 Tips for Writing Original Stories – Now Novel

Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right – Jane Friedman

Toledo Library Blog Posts on Writing

Writers on Writing: Tips for Aspiring Writers

5 Tips to Improve Your Writing Skills

Top 5 Reasons to Join a Writing Group

Memoir Writing Resources

How to Write a Novel in a Month

Learn How to Publish a Book

Developing Characters That Resonate With Readers

Writer’s Block

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