Five Things I Relearned to Be A Fiction Writer

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

When I started writing fiction, I did what everyone does when at the start of a journey.

I looked forward.

With an excited deep breath, I developed my story ideas, built my platform and sought to be inspired by best-selling author blog posts, while dreaming of joining them.

But when I got that one judge’s feedback on my first fiction ACFW competition, I realized I didn’t need to look forward, I needed to look back.

I had been writing professionally for twenty-five years (I’m a freelance journalist and copywriter when I want to get paid for writing) when I felt the nudge to write fiction. I thought it would be an easy transition; an extension of what I was already doing. After all, I’d clocked up thousand-word days for decades.

But while the judge in the Genesis contest loved the story idea and characters, they were politely enquiring as to my grasp of the English language. So why the harsh feedback? With me, writing fiction was a whole different kettle of fish, and that kettle was half-way around the world. That was what the Genesis judge didn’t know – I wasn’t speaking American English because I’m not American.

I’m an Aussie, born in the land of Hugh Jackman and Thor.

That may not sound like a big deal as our cultures are similar, but my readers spell differently, use grammar differently and have different turns of phrase. While I could write blindfolded, there were ten-year-olds in Boston whose American English was more consistent than mine.

Let me show you what I mean: colour, recognise, finallist. This Australian English spelling has served me well since I was a sports journalist at nineteen, but to my readers’ American eyes they’re mistakes that wouldn’t get me past round one in the Wenatchee School District Spelling Bee.

So I realized I would have to relearn the very skill I’d honed over a career because my new marketplace demanded it. It was like jumping into the driver’s seat after spending years behind the wheel, but needing a driving instructor because now I was driving on the other side of the road.

I needed to do more than just type with an American accent. There were five things I needed to relearn, and I’ve found that other authors have had to relearn them as well.  This might be your experience too.

  1. Unlearning some of what you’ve learned. I once had an English teacher who claimed Shakespeare was the pinnacle of great writing and all fiction should aspire to follow the Bard. That’s just not true. I truly admire Shakespeare’s turns of phrase and mastery of language, but I’m writing contemporary fiction, which requires different structure and different pacing. “Out damn spot!” would only work if my antagonist had a naughty dog and liked cussing.Another teacher taught us to be as descriptive as possible, even if it took pages to paint a picture, and demanded ten variations of the word “said” in every piece. Again, not useful for my genre and I don’t even use those tags anymore. The key to unlearning was a shift in focus towards what my potential readers want and away from some kind of English Literature professor ideal.
  2. Cherrypicking the best knowledge from school. There are some things that haven’t changed from high school English – the basics of grammar, spelling, and style. I scoffed at our journalism professor when he held up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style back in 1990 and told us we’d need this for the rest of our lives. He was right, only for me, it has taken on greater significance. I need it for a writing career of a different kind, and I’m glad I kept the book. But the biggest lesson was one I learned on day one of my journalism studies: know your audience. That advice is very relevant now. What they think matters and a focus on them is absolutely critical when producing a story that captivates them from the front-of-book dedication to the epilogue.
  3. Unlearning what you’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes you have to unravel the lessons picked up in the workplace. If you’ve written in business, you would have adopted business writing style or had any creativity beaten out of you with the constant “that’s just how we write things here around here!” I’ve had to do this based on my work in the corporate world, where some clients have a style which tempts me to break rules I once held as sacrosanct. Deprogramming takes a while, and means when you get serious about fiction, you need to …
  4. Learn to care again. One of the issues I find with writing today is the sacrifice of quality for speed. I run corporate workshops about writing and run headlong into this belief that good writing is an optional extra; the fact it was written was enough for the box to be ticked. Why it matters has been lost due to the choking grip of time. I found when I changed gear to fiction that I needed to care again about getting it right – that my half-thought-out 11p.m. tweet dropped into the rushing rapids of social media wasn’t good enough.The corners I had cut to keep clients happy needed to be stuck back on. I had to remember my first love for language, and realize that it mattered, even if it did add some time to the process.
  5. Going against the flow. Life wants you to do things faster. Social media demands responses in an instant. I’ve spent a career meeting deadlines that pop up like targets on a shooting range, but I had to rethink my approach to time. My writing requires the exact opposite of a fast-lane mentality. Storylines don’t emerge, they percolate. My characters don’t always leap onto the page, sometimes they distill over two drafts. For my second manuscript, which my agent currently has in front of several publishers, I wrote the opening line last. The hook took that long to come.

The feedback from that judge hurt when I read the scoresheet, but as more water has passed under the bridge and I’ve waded deeper into the waters of fiction writing, I’ve realized just how valuable it has been. It has forced me not to just to rethink but to relearn writing in a way that’s seen my writing develop to a point where it’s on the cusp of fulfilling its potential.

The next year, that same manuscript was a Genesis finalist, and I was on my way. I hope the judge was the same person and noticed the difference.


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.

That Time When I Killed My Love For Fiction

by Erica Vetsch, @EricaVetsch

I’m so excited to be blogging at Novel Rocket and getting to know the readers here better. I hope, along the way, we can learn from each other and become friends!

I’ve been writing fiction for…well, if I am honest, for most of my life, though not much of it in the early years ever made it onto a page. I did write a novel in a spiral notebook when I was fifteen—in that loopy, teenaged-girl script—but that story was pretty awful and should stay tucked away into a drawer.

When I first started writing for publication more than a decade ago, I was so green, I didn’t know there even were how-to books on writing, that writing better fiction could be learned, nor that with the burgeoning of the internet, so much instructional information on writing fiction was out there to be discovered.

I thought you just wrote down what you ‘saw’ in your head, and that it would make sense to everyone who read it and that they would love it.

Um. Yeah. Like I said, I was as green as the fairways at Augusta in early April. (For the non-golf fans among us, that super green!)

After my first contest entry results, (YIKES!) I quickly saw there was MUCH I needed to learn, so I dived right in, as I tend to do with most everything in my life. And I nearly drowned myself in information. Every book I found at my local library on how to write fiction, every blog post I read on an author or agent’s site, every workshop I attended or listened to online seemed to have a different slant, or view, or method of writing fiction.

Scrivener, snowflake, three-act structure. Plotting, pantsing, moral premise. Character first, plot first. Write from the middle, write from the end, write linear, write in layers. The hero’s journey, the LINDY-HOP, the Break-out Novel, a Novel in 30 Days, NaNoWriMo, and so many more.  All this information was coming from successful novelists, so they must be right…right?

I’ll admit I became paralyzed by the multitude of opinions and options available. Which one was right, since it was clearly impossible to incorporate them all? Where should I place my focus? The target seemed elusive and mobile. What even defined ‘Good Fiction’?

The more I tried all these methods, the more convinced I became that I was a terrible writer.  I no longer wrote for the joy of telling a story. My writing became academic, stilted, trying to follow everyone else’s methods and roadmaps for their stories.

When I first started writing fiction, I finger painted the words on the page for the sheer thrill of relating the vivid images in my head. The longer I studied how to write, the more my writing became ‘paint-by-number,’ filling in the prescribed areas with the prescribed colors, turning out a product that looked like the picture on the box, and had very little to do with the story in my head and heart.

My reading also suffered. I went from being a heart-in-my-throat-can’t-wait-to-turn-the-next-page-stay-up-all-night-three-books-a-week reader to a clinical, blue-pencil-wielding editor of every book I picked up. I began to notice every time a ‘rule’ was being broken, every time someone head-hopped or went overboard on description or started a scene with a dream or split an infinitive. There was no pleasure in reading because I couldn’t focus on the story. I could only see the possible method the author used to get there…or didn’t use, since they were clearly breaking one of those ‘rules’ I had so recently learned.

I began to wonder if I had ruined storytelling for myself. How could I rediscover the joy of both writing and reading if neither one was fun? If every time I picked up a book or sat down at the computer, all I could hear were the experts telling me how to do it?

I had to turn off the noise.

Not that it was easy. Well, putting away the how-to books was easy, but subduing the writer’s doubt that had risen up to swamp my enjoyment of writing was terribly difficult to accomplish.

I started with a new story idea, and every time I was tempted to criticize myself, I shut that down with the promise that anything I was doing ‘wrong’ now, I could put ‘right’ later. I reminded myself that I couldn’t edit a blank page, and that getting the words out was the most important thing. I told myself I had to trust my instincts, that I didn’t need to know the reasons why I was writing something the way that I was…I could figure that out later. And I told myself I was discovering my own method of writing a novel, which would be different from anyone else’s.

And to my amazement, my ‘discovery draft’ fell out of my head in just about five weeks. I lived that story, both when I was sitting at the computer to write it, and when I was away from the screen, letting the scenes and characters and events scroll through my head.

I was excited to write!

When I typed THE END, I knew there was still work to do, things to tidy up, but now, I could enjoy that as a separate process from the story-telling. I had broken through!

My joy of reading returned. I was less critical of other authors and less critical of myself. Because I realized that my process was my own, and that my process wouldn’t be static. My way of writing a novel, while largely solidified after more than thirty published works of fiction, is still changing and growing. And it is unlike any other. I could now go back to all those writing how-to book and glean what I found helpful and discard the rest. I could experiment with those methods while not shackling myself to them. I was free!

So, if you’re struggling with all the information put forth by authors, agents, publishers, creative fiction professors, et. al, or if you feel as if you’re not doing it ‘right’ when it comes to writing fiction, here’s my advice.

Relax.

Preach some truth to yourself. All those rules and processes and ways to do things? They’re like the pirate code. They’re guidelines. Suggestions, really. They are someone else’s way of getting the story in their head onto the page.

Write your story. Write it the way you write. If you like to plot, then plot it! If you like to free-wheel it, then dive in and see where the story takes you. If you like first person, third person, past, present, or whatever, write that way. You can clean up the story afterwards, shine it up, edit it, and if you’ve broken a rule or two, decide if you did it on purpose or if it needs to be tidied up.

The more you write, the better you will hone your instincts, and the less editing you will need to do later, but if you’re just starting out, and you’ve gorged on all the ‘how-to’ books you can stand, it’s time to put them away and just WRITE!

TWEETABLES

That Time When I Killed My Love For Fiction @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

Has learning how to write killed your love of writing? @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

Learning to love fiction all over again. @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

____________________________


 My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, TX

Fashion artist Priscilla Hutchens has a grudge against the army that has ruined her family and taken the people she holds most dear. When her twin niece and nephew are left orphaned at Fort Bliss, Texas, she swoops down on Fort Bliss to gain custody of them immediately.

There is just one thing standing in the way—Post surgeon Major Elliot Ryder, who is also the twins uncle, also claims the children and thinks he knows what is best for them.

Priscilla and Elliot will cross swords, but each will have to lay down arms if they are to find a lasting peace on which to form the family both are longing for. Who will win the battle? Or will a truce be called for the sake of love and family?

ERICA VETSCH can’t get enough of history, whether it’s reading, writing, or visiting historical sites. She’s currently writing another historical romance and plotting which history museum to conquer next! You can find her online at www.ericavetsch.com and on her Facebook Page where she spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME! www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/  

Plotting with Passion

by Dawn Crandall, @dawnwritesfirst

Hello, my name is Dawn, and I am a Plotter. Of the first degree.

Even before I started to write my very first novel, which also became my award winning debut novel, The Hesitant Heiress, I’d tried out many plots in my “before writing” writings. It’s just something I love to do, and as I’ve learned over writing my four published novels, it makes things easier in the long run. It might be partly because I write my historical romances from deep first person point of view from only the heroine’s side. Because of this, I need to figure out all of the other associating characters just as well, and also make it so the reader will be able to get to know them as well as the heroine does as the book unfolds.
Since all of my characters so far have been a part of a four book series, there is oftentimes a continuation of one of the main character’s arc throughout at least one other book. I’ve been thinking about them often as I’ve been writing the first books, but not enough to really get into what makes them tick. And that’s what my extensive outline is for.

Outlines come in all shapes and sizes, but mine are written over a few months time (because I’m doing this author thing at the same as being a stay-at-home mom of two very young children… which is a bit nuts). They end up being about ten pages single-spaced and written in third person—I basically tell the story in generic form to myself and describe what’s happening from both the hero and heroine’s perspectives. This especially worked out well last year since I got pregnant with my second son a few weeks after my publisher had received the proposal for The Cautious Maiden, and then a few weeks later when I was about 12 to 28 weeks pregnant (the entire second trimester, fortunately!) as I wrote out the novel.

First of all, I start with a page numbered 1 to 30, because that’s usually about how many chapters I’ll end up with. Then I name the chapters. And then I brainstorm, piecing together things I see happening, moving those pieces around and trying to get everything to flow just right for “twists and turns” that lead to a highly satisfying ending. And because the love story and the spiritual arcs of both the hero and heroine are a huge part of my novels, I very carefully decide when momentous happenings (like some really great kissing!) and self-discoveries come up.

Over the years my outlining process has evolved. It wasn’t nearly as organized as all this when I was figuring out The Hesitant Heiress, but it definitely came to this point while discovering the story in my latest release, The Cautious Maiden. It had to be! I’d written my first two books before getting pregnant for the first time; wrote the third a little before, a little during and little after my first pregnancy; and then wrote the fourth on my iPhone 6 Plus while very pregnant AND with a two year old running circles around me.

It’s definitely time consuming, but it gets my story to a place where I don’t have to think much about it as I’m writing it—I can strictly be in character. Which is a really difficult thing for me now that I have children, especially since I have ADD. I’m seriously the worst person at organizing almost anything… except this organizing a novel thing!

TWEETABLES

Plotting with Passion by Dawn Crandall (Click to Tweet)

I am a Plotter. Of the first degree. ~ Dawn Crandall (Click to Tweet)

I’d tried out many plots in my “before writing” writings.~ Dawn Crandall (Click to Tweet)



THE CAUTIOUS MAIDEN
,
Whitaker House, October 2016

Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents’ New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks—but when Violet’s own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries.
In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance—Vance Everstone.
As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU.
With danger stalking her and a new fiancé who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust—and who to leave behind.

Dawn Crandall is an ACFW Carol Award-nominated author of the award winning series The Everstone Chronicles, which consists of four books: The Hesitant Heiress, The Bound Heart, The Captive Imposter and The Cautious Maiden.

A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn’t begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream. It didn’t take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do.

Apart from writing, Dawn is also a mom of two tiny little boys and spends a lot of time slowly renovating an old brick farmhouse in northeastern Indiana.

Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency.

If you’d like to learn more about Dawn and her inspirational historical romances, links are below:

Facebook – www.facebook.com/dawncrandallwritesfirst

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bilhmv

Author Website: www.dawncrandall.blogspot.com

My Book Review Blog: www.APassionforPages.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/dawnwritesfirst

Twitter: @dawnwritesfirst / www.twitter.com/dawnwritesfirst

Micro-Tools of Suspense

By Ronie Kendig

Microscopic. Micro-changes. Micro-expressions. They’re little pieces that cumulatively make a big difference. That is true of writing and of suspense as well—we have micro-tools for fine-tuning suspense (a scene or a whole novel). 

Suspense is not merely someone or some city in danger. There is more involved in creating suspense than putting a weapon in a villain’s hand or having the heroine fighting for her life. Outside the plot and your characters, suspense is nuanced throughout a story using many techniques, but we’ll focus on two: word choice & placement, sentence/paragraph length and pacing. 

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite. ~C. S. Lewis 

The point? Be intentional with your words. Word choices should: 

  1. Reflect the pace – the more general the word, the more benign the impact. Make them matter!
  2. Reflect your character – your characters should not all sound alike
  3. Reflect the mood – use more intentional words to mirror what your character is feeling of what’s being done to them. Our word choices change when we’re frustrated or angry; so should your character’s words. 

Consider word choice placement. In my “Mind Magic” workshop, we talk about “white/negative space,” a marketing/design concept that capitalizes on the negative (white) space of a design, letting the audience’s brain naturally fill in the rest. Also, speed readers are often taught to read the beginning and end of a sentence, and the beginning/end of a paragraph and then let their brains fill in the rest.

Negative Space forms face

By being intentional with word placement, writers can use the white/negative space concept to capitalize on what readers’ brains do naturally—fill in the rest—to create hooks. We’re taught to do this at scene and chapter breaks, but we should also be more intentional with word placement throughout our scenes and chapters. We have stronger words now that we don’t want to bury in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. If you have to, rearrange so the stronger words are more easily detected and a quick (often unconscious) first impression of what’s coming is engaging. 

Another topic in the “Mind Magic” workshop is length, which applies to blogs, articles (ahem), books, speeches, and so on. Ultimately, no matter if it’s a sentence or a paragraph, length determines viability and interest. Think about Twitter, which restricts tweets to 140 characters. Today’s society wants things faster, and we need to keep that in mind when writing scenes. Here are a few tips for brevity in writing:  

  1. Monitor Sentence/Paragraph Length – Make it as simple as possible for a reader to move through and enjoy your story. Sentences should be a natural length and there should be a variety of lengths as well. It’s a good idea to break narrative passages into smaller chunks and ensure that each is vital to the story.
  2. Fragments Are Our Friends (Sometimes) – it’s okay to cut a sentence short if it fits the character, pacing of a scene or chapter, or the mood (more suspenseful). Fragments are wonderful for creating a jarring presence, which is perfect for action or surprise. 
  3. Shorter Sentences Create Movement – Shorter sentences are read faster (obvious, huh?) paragraph and a sentence are great ways to increase the reading speed, giving the reader a sense of faster movement with the characters. 
  4. Longer Sentences Allow for Breathing – if you’ve amped up a scene and sliced/diced sentences, then draw it back down after with longer sentences that allow your readers’ breathing to slow. Think of it as the giddy (or nervous) exhale of relief after a roller-coaster ride.
Suspense nuances really ratchet up the tension and your reader’s heart rate! Were these tips helpful for you? Do you have a question for Ronie to address about writing suspense? Comment below! 

TWEETABLES

Micro Tools of Suspense by Ronie Kendig (Click to Tweet)

Be intentional with your words~ Ronie Kendig (Click to Tweet)

* * * * * 

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. Ronie can be found at:
     Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction)
     Twitter (@roniekendig)
     Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/RonieK)
     Instagram (@kendigronie)
     Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/roniek/)!

DOWNLOAD Ronie’s newest release–the FREE digital prequel novella, THE WARRIOR’S SEAL! 

CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE (Tox Files #1) releases Dec 6th and was given 4.5 stars & named a TOP PICK by RT BookReviews!

“…fast-moving, roller-coaster thriller…” ~Booklist

Kendig keeps the tensions high and the pace lightning fast, with military action scenes worthy of Vince Flynn.” ~Publishers Weekly