An Inadequate Attempt at Categorizing the Skills of Writing

While I was reading "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle and "The Art of Fiction" by Ayn Rand I started to think about the different specific skills of writing that could be chunked down so that they could be studied, practiced, and then reassembled back into the total act of creating fiction. I came up with a list of 25 before I realized that they might not all be useful. But, I think that if I do a little work I may be able to come up with a reasonable list that could be very useful in helping to develop the skill of writing.

I'm not sure how to categorize or organize these ideas and skills yet. I've tried a few different ways, but I'm not particularly satisfied. Let's see if we can come up with just the essentials.

Conflict is probably the most important aspect of a story. The conflict of values between people or within people. You could detail a story where a person doesn't have internal conflict and doesn't conflict with another person, I guess. Maybe it is just a person against nature, but in that case it seems more like vicarious accomplishment (or failure) rather than the experience of a story. I like some autobiographies, but I don't think I want to create them. And, a major part of what I like in peoples autobiographies are their conflicts with other people, but mostly the conflicts within themselves. So first, conflict. I think designing conflict is a skill that can be learned. Having an intention, stakes, and an obstacle are pieces that go into conflict.

Next, I'm going to go with characterization. What I really care about concerning characters is their motivation. He did this, then he did this, then he did this doesn't really engage me. I want to know why he is doing what he's doing. What's driving him? pulling him? What does he need? What does he want? Revealing a character is something that can be learned. All of human psychology seems to go into characterization.

Alright, we have two major make or break points. I want to keep that going. There can be a lot of details to writing, as there is to any skill, but most of those are just a part of these major skills. For instance, having a strong ending is important. Ernest Hemingway wrote the end to "A Farewell to Arms" 47 different times. That's amazing! A strong ending is really a piece of plotting, isn't it? If a plot veers off on an odd tangent then I'm going to set the book down and not come back to it. The plot staying on point is a make or break piece of writing. I think a lot of different pieces go into plot, but as I look through a list I've written I think that some of the pieces should go under style. Maybe just scene, suspense, beginning, climax, and ending should go under plot.

I can tell if I'm going to like a novel within a few lines. I'm not analyzing how the plot develops, what the major conflict is, or if the author reveals the characters motives at that point. I'm only really getting the style within those first few lines. That seems to be enough, so maybe style is a much more important skill than I was initially thinking. I'm fairly flexible on which viewpoint or tense is used. After that I think the style mostly has to do with what content is focused on and which words are used. It seems that this may be the category that has the most pieces: paragraphs, sentences, transitions, dialogue, indirect dialogue, foreshadowing, immediate scenes, narration, exposition, description, flashbacks, metaphors, and similes.

I'm not sure that breaking this skill set down like this is helpful. There is so much flexibility to writing. No one writes in a conscious fashion, by thinking through each word as they write it. They let it flow out of them, then they go back and edit. That's when they do their analyzing. Some people don't stop for an entire book, like Stephen King. Others stop after each page, like Dean Koontz. I need to come up with a better way of conceptualizing these skills so that I can start to subconsciously integrate them. I will keep thinking about it. You are welcome to see what I come up with at, and you can help fund this ongoing endeavor at

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