English Techniques for Writing


Defining excellent fiction is as subjective as stating a preference for a particular kind of food: Some people may find certain books off-putting or bland, according to their to taste. However, there are several techniques that English fiction writers use to write gripping work that keeps readers turning pages.

Opening With Action

  • Although novels are frequently introspective studies into the interior emotional life of a set of characters, many English writers prefer to begin their stories in the midst of an action or scene. This abrupt beginning engages the reader more powerfully than an understated, action-free description of a character's thoughts or travails. Frequently the action is portrayed from an individual character's point of view, allowing the reader to fully immerse himself in not only the plot, but the emotional and intellectual nuances of the lead character.


  • Though dialogue is not strictly necessary within a piece of fiction, it often humanizes the individuals in the story and provides a kind of authenticity that draws readers in. Writers who craft "real-sounding" dialogue are frequently revered within the literary community for their ability to create three-dimensional characters. Too much dialogue, however, can make a written work seem skimpy or ill-suited to a prose form. The best writers balance the inclusion of longer descriptive passages with shorter bursts of finely crafted dialogue.


  • Foreshadowing is one of the best-known techniques in English fiction. Writers prepare the reader for an upcoming event by carefully laying clues in the text. Writers must be careful not to overemphasize a particular event by being too direct, but rather must intrigue the reader with more subtle hints. The adage "show, don't tell" applies to foreshadowing. Readers appreciate this technique, because it makes them want to keep reading in order to discover what event will occur.

Abrupt Reversals

  • When included in fiction, sudden betrayals, unexpected romantic partnerships and dramatic world events are often referred to as "abrupt reversals." This particular technique enlivens a work of fiction by destroying a reader's preconceived notions of what will and will not occur; however, it should not be used more than two to three times in any given work. Unlike foreshadowing, abrupt reversals have no clear precedent in the text but are portrayed in a manner that makes them plausible.


  • "Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries"; Christine L. Krueger, George Stade, Karen Karbiener; 2003
  • "Reader's Guide to Literature in English"; Mark Hawkins-Dady; 1996
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