Randy Ingermanson is the award-winning author of 6 novels and is known around the world as “the Snowflake Guy” in honor of his “Snowflake method” of designing a novel. He publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world’s largest electronic newsletter on fiction writing. Randy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and sits on the Advisory Board of American Christian Fiction Writers. He has taught at numerous writing conferences around the country. Most recently, he’s the author of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, which is currently #1 in the fiction writing category on Amazon. Visit Randy at his website.
How I Became a Dummy
I’ve always had a thing for simplicity. Even when I worked full time as a computational physicist, I always looked for ways to make the physics “as simple as possible, but no simpler” — to quote Einstein.
One of the reasons my Snowflake method is so widely used around the world is because it really is about making things simple. You start with one sentence that defines your story, then you build out from there. Ultimately, you’ll create a beautiful and complex story, but you can always understand it in terms of one simple sentence.
Here’s an example of a simple sentence that summarizes a 400-page novel in only 11 words: “A physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.”
That’s it. Nothing fancy. Yet there’s a whole story hiding behind that. Some people think it sounds like a good story. Others aren’t interested. That’s the point of the one sentence storyline — it separates people instantly into two classes — “interested” and “not interested.”
The storyline above is the summary of my first novel, TRANSGRESSION. I’ve used that storyline hundreds of times at book-signings and conferences when people asked me what my book was about.
I believe that if you’re writing a novel, you should always look hard for a way to condense your story down to one sentence. If you do that, you can use that storyline to interest an agent. Your agent can use it to interest an editor. Your editor can use it to interest the publishing committee (the people who make the ultimate decision on whether your novel gets published). Your editor can use it to fire up the marketing department and the sales team. The sales team can use it to sell more copies to the purchasing agents who make decisions for bookstores and chains of bookstores. Ultimately, if you can communicate a strong and simple storyline to readers of your novel, they can use it to explain your story to their friends. And word of mouth is what sells copies.
Simplicity is power.
I’ve been writing fiction since 1988, and one of the driving forces in my life has been the quest for simplicity:
* What makes a great story world?
* What makes a character real and three-dimensional?
* What makes a great plot?
* What makes a great scene?
* What makes a great paragraph?
* What makes a great theme?
Let’s be clear on one thing: Part of great fiction is that special “oomph” that every writer brings to the table. I can’t teach you how to be special. Luckily, I don’t need to. Everybody is special in some way, and it would be foolish for me to teach you how to be yourself.
But part of great fiction is just knowing the tricks. That’s what I teach — the tricks of fiction.
Writing fiction is a bit like doing magic. Anybody can saw a lady in half. Anybody can make an elephant disappear. Anybody can pull the ace of spades out of a well-shuffled deck. If, if, if they know the trick.
I’ve been teaching the tricks of fiction pretty much ever since I got published. I’ve been teaching them at conferences, in my critique group, on my Web site, in my e-zine, and on my blog.
For years now, I’ve been thinking hard about what I teach, always trying to make it simpler. I have a selfish reason for this. I want to write fiction better. I learned a long time ago that the best way to really learn something for myself was to teach it to others.
Early this year, the publisher of the “Dummies” books decided to do a book titled WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES. They asked one of their veteran authors, Peter Economy, to do the book. Actually, they asked him to find a coauthor to do the book, because Peter isn’t a fiction expert himself. He’s an expert in presenting things in the Dummies tradition — which has a long tradition of elegance and simplicity.
Peter Googled the phrase “writing fiction” and found my Web site immediately. He liked what he saw, so he called me and asked if I was interested in the project. I was.
That’s how I became a Dummy.
It’s been an interesting year. The schedule for WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES was extremely tight. The publisher wanted to bring the book out in November/December. That meant we needed to finish the book by the end of July and get it edited by early September.
We did it. 122,000 words. 384 pages. It was hard, but we did it. I had to cut back on blogging and sleep and other nonessentials, but we did it.
We did it because I’d already spent over 20 years simplifying every part of fiction writing down to the core tricks.
Fiction writing has one simple goal: Give your reader a “powerful emotional experience.” Do that and you win. Fail to do that you lose. Every trick I teach is designed to do that.
WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES is available now in bookstores and online stores. Amazon lists it at $13.59 for the paper book and $9.99 for the Kindle edition.
I’m running a “book rush” this week on my Web site. If you buy WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES on or before Wednesday, December 9, 2009, you get 9 electronic bonus goodies — including a brand new 80-minute lecture by me on “Strategic Self-Editing.” I’ve never taught this subject before. It’s not even presented this way in my book. It’s new. I created this lecture just for the launch of the book. You get it free if you buy the book before the deadline.
For all the pesky details on WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, check out this page on my Web site
The tricks of the trade to writing compelling, concise fiction.
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