Two Smart and Simple Ways to Make Your Fiction More Original

If you’re writing a novel or a short story and want it to stand out, it’s essential that your writing be original. Here are two simple and effective ways to get you headed in the right direction.
Publish date:

If you’re writing a novel or a short story and want it to stand out, it’s essential that your writing be original. Here are two simple and effective ways to get you headed in the right direction.

Phillip Lewis was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, where he served as editor in chief of the Campbell Law Review. He now lives in Charlotte. THE BARROWFIELDS is his first novel.

Phillip Lewis featured
The_Barrowfields jacket

The first and most critical step in making your fiction writing original is to find your true voice—a voice that is unique to you. Of course, this is easier said than done. Most writers read a lot, and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself inadvertently emulating the style of someone whose writing you admire, or even the style of the book you’re currently reading. Spend the summer reading Hemingway, and your autumn novel might start to sound like Ernest, but not in a good way.

Here’s what I’d recommend: Stop all your fiction reading for at least a few days or a week (as difficult as this sounds). Then, when you have a quiet moment, sit down and write something for yourself that no one else will ever see. In other words, write it knowing that you’re never going to show it to anyone, and that you’re going to destroy it by fire or by swallowing it or something as soon as it’s written, posterity be damned. This step is important, because otherwise you’ll be too caught up trying to make it pretty on the off-chance that after you die, someone will find it in your desk or wherever you’ve conspicuously left it and read it and think you were eloquent—and this, unfortunately, will be fatal to the exercise.

[The 7 Rules of Dialogue All Writers Should Know]

So with the idea firmly in your mind that you’re the only person who will ever read what you’re about to write, describe in detail a painful emotional experience. If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve been abandoned by a loved one on more than one occasion, and this subject matter is as good as any. Don’t try to write it as literature, or with any artificial beauty or grace; discard all pretense. Just write down what you recall of the experience and your feelings about it, and do it as honestly as you can. This, I can just about guarantee you, will result in a voice for your writing that will be new and fresh and unique.

Now, instead of destroying it, take what you’ve written and keep it somewhere safe so you can refer back to it from time to time. Remember the honesty with which you wrote. Remember the conviction. Remember the voice.

Second, when describing anything, avoid resorting to common similes, metaphors, comparisons, idioms, clichés, or figures of speech. These are shortcuts you shouldn’t take. Linguistic mechanisms like this too often result in novice writers using what George Orwell called “dying metaphors,” meaning turns of speech that, by overuse, have become so incurably stale or shopworn as to be effectively meaningless. These moribund metaphors are murderous to originality. You can’t be original if you’re writing what so many others have written countless times over.

[How to Overcome Rejection by 200 Literary Agents (& Still Land a Book Deal)]

Don’t write, for example, that the night was “eerily quiet,” or that “the wind howled,” or that “her golden face was like the sun.” The very first time someone described the wind as howling (probably in one of the discarded books of the Bible), I’m sure it was haunting to contemplate. But ten million children’s Halloween books later, the efficacy has been lost and now it’s just an empty phrase.

Similarly: Imagine you’re describing a character in your novel and you want to say she is sitting there quietly, perhaps in a state of anguished contemplation. You might be tempted to write something like “She was [as] quiet as a statue” (thank you, William Ernest Henley, for that one). While this imagery is surely superior to quiet as a mouse, to reflexively grasp for what is now a well-known simile to depict our lovely yet brooding protagonist here is letting yourself off easy, and your writing will suffer for it. Instead, try to describe her first without metaphorical devices. You’ll find it’s hard to do, but once you manage to do it, your description will be far more original and evocative for the reader.

If you write with your own voice and steer clear of meaningless metaphors, you will be well on your way to the originality needed to get your writing noticed.

If you're looking to master everything from dialogue to different
styles of grammar, you'll get the best tools available for writing
fiction in this Write Great Fiction Collection of 12 great writing resources.
Click here to buy it now


If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at


FightWrite™: Crime Fiction and Violence

Author and trained fighter Carla Hoch answers a writer's question about writing from the perspective of criminals and when best to utilize a fight.

Poetic Forms

Sedoka: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the sedoka, a 6-line question and answer Japanese form.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Dream Sequence

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let your characters dream a little dream.

WD Vintage_Armour 12:03

Vintage WD: Don't Hide Your Light Verse Under a Bushel

In this article from 1960, poet and author Richard Armour explores the importance of light verse and gives helpful hints to the hopeful poet.


Tessa Arlen: On Polite Editorial Tussles and Unraveling Mysteries

In this article, author Tessa Arlen explains how to navigate the differences between American and English audiences and create a realistic historical mystery.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 547

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a lazy poem.


Denise Williams: Romance, Healing, and Learning to Love Revisions

Author Denise Williams recounts her experience with writing her first book while learning about the publishing industry and the biggest surprise about novel revisions.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 13th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.