Tag Archives: nonfiction

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book: 10 Crucial Steps

Have you ever thought about writing a non-fiction book?

Maybe you’re worried that you need to be an “expert”, or you feel daunted by the idea of writing so many words. But you can’t quite let go of that dream of seeing your name on the cover of a finished book.

You might have lots of different reasons for contemplating a non-fiction book. Maybe:

  • You want the book itself to bring in money – a perfectly reasonable ambition!
  • You plan to use the book to give you greater credibility and authority in your field – making it easier for you to get paid speaking gigs, for instance.
  • You want the book to essentially be a marketing tool for your business – this might be a short free ebook that you give away on your site, or a fairly cheap mass-market book that introduces new readers to you.

Whatever your reasons for writing, this post will take you through what you need to do – step by step – to write your book.

Step #1: Figure Out How You’ll Publish Your Book

This might seem like an odd first step, but it’s really helpful to have in mind how you’re going to get your book out into the world, right from the start.

If you know you’re going to self-publish, for instance, you’ll have full control over the project (and full responsibility for every step). If you definitely want to seek a publisher, you’ll go about things a slightly different way – publishers of non-fiction typically want to see an outline and a sample chapter, not a finished manuscript, so they can have input into your project.

If you want to supply the finished book for free (probably as an incentive to get people to join your email list), then that will also inform your choices during the next few steps: you’ll probably want to write something quite short and simple.

Of course, it’s possible that you’ll end up changing your mind at some stage – but by having a goal in mind at the start, you make it far more likely that you’ll see your project through to completion.

Step #2:  Decide on Your Core Topic

You may already have a particular topic or idea in mind for your book: if not, now’s the time to jot down lots of possibilities so you can choose the one that appeals to you most. If you already have an online audience (perhaps on a blog or through a Facebook page or group), you might want to ask them to help you choose between your top two or three ideas.

Many books are published each year on well-worn topics, like “how to be organised” or “how to lose weight”. If you want to write about something that’s already been extensively covered, look for a new angle on it. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a completely new approach – it could mean, for instance, having an unusual structure to your book. For those looking to write a self-help book, for instance, Lisa Tener has three tips you can use to make sure your book will standout and sell.

It’s important to choose a topic that you genuinely want to write about. You’re probably going to be working on this book for months – so don’t pick something just for the sake of it, or because you think it’s going to be a lucrative area.

Step #3: Brainstorm Everything Related to That Topic

At this stage of the process, your aim is to get as many ideas down on paper as possible. It doesn’t matter if some of them aren’t very good, or if they don’t really fit – you can get rid of them later! Just concentrate on scribbling down everything that could go into your book.

If you find yourself struggling at this stage, take a look on Amazon at some similar books, and glance at their Tables of Contents. Do they have chapters on any areas that you should probably cover too? Is there anything that you feel is missing – that you could cover in your book? You might also want to look at magazines related to your topic, including the letters from readers: these can give you good clues about the concerns and interests of people who enjoy your topic area.

Don’t worry if some of your ideas are ones that you don’t know much about: that’s where research comes in! At this stage, you don’t want to dismiss anything as “too hard”, so keep it all on your list for now. If you later decide that something is a bit beyond the scope of your book, that’s fine.

Step #4: Write a Rough Outline for Your Book (with Chapter Titles)

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Now that you have lots of ideas down on paper, it’s time to turn them into a chapter by chapter outline. (You might well also be splitting your book into parts, if it covers quite a broad topic.) It normally makes sense to have the more basic chapters at the start of the book, then the more advanced ones later, if the reader is likely to read chapter-by-chapter rather than using the index to go straight to whichever part interests them most.

It’s a good idea to give each chapter a rough title at this stage – see this as a working title rather than something set in stone. You can always change it later. You might want to think about making your titles consistent (e.g. all roughly the same length, all starting with an “-ing” verb).

You can also use the mind mapping technique to create your outline. Here’s how Reedsy describes it:

This is an approach for visual thinkers. On a piece of paper, draw a big circle and write your main idea in it. Around the large circle, draw a series of smaller circles with supporting ideas that connect to the main one. Next, draw and connect smaller circles around your second series, and put related ideas in those as well.

If you’ve come up with some ideas that don’t seem to fit easily, think about having an appendix to your book – if you’ve written a book that focuses on theory, for instance, an appendix might be a good place to give practical suggestions and tips.

Step #5: Develop Your Outline with Bullet Points for Each Chapter

While this isn’t the only way to write an outline, I think it’s probably the easiest! Once you have a list of chapter titles, go through and flesh out each chapter with a few bullet points indicating what you plan to cover within that chapter. You could think of each bullet point as a section of the chapter.

It’s up to you how much detail you go into – but in my experience, the more time you spend on this stage, the less time you’ll spend getting bogged down during the writing itself. If you flesh out each chapter in some detail, that’ll also help you spot potential sticking points (like chapters where you’ll need to do a lot of research, meaning you’ll want to get interview requests out well ahead of time).

If you’re planning to work with a publisher, they’ll almost certainly want to see a full chapter-by-chapter outline, with at least a brief overview of what you plan to include in each chapter. Different publishers want this done in different ways, so do take a look at their website for their submission guidelines. (If you don’t already have a specific publisher in mind, now’s the time to start listing possibilities. You might want to look at who’s published similar books in your area, or books on different topics that have a similar style or outlook to yours.)

Step #6: Come Up With the Structure for Your Chapters

Some authors of non-fiction have quite varied chapters – some short, some long, some heavily researched-focused, others more conversational … but usually, it’s a good idea to find a way to make your chapters reasonably consistent. That might mean starting each one with an “overview”, for instance, and ending it with some practical tips or further reading suggestions. You don’t necessarily have to write this in for every individual chapter in your plan: you might simply include a note about the structure at the start to help you stay on track.

If you’re working with a publisher, this may well be set for you, especially if you’re writing a book that forms part of a series. With my book Publishing E-Books For Dummies, for instance, my chapters needed to fit the “For Dummies” structure (with an “In This Chapter” list of bullet points at the start of each one, for instance, and “Remember” and “Warning” tips within the chapter text).

If you’re self publishing, or if your publisher is happy for you to structure the chapters however you want, you may want to think through the pros and cons of a few different structures. If you’re not sure how to come up with a structure, grab a few non-fiction books that you own, and look in detail at their chapters. Are there any patterns to the way the information is ordered?

Step #7: Write the First Draft of Your Book

This might sound like a huge step – and it is! But with your full outline already in place, you’re in a great position to power through the first draft: essentially, you’re just filling in the blanks in your outline.

There’s no “right” way to draft a non-fiction book, and different authors take different approaches. Some like to put the outline into a new document and gradually expand it, adding more and more material with each pass through. Others work from Page One to The End. Still others pick and choose which chapters to write, selecting easy ones for the weeks when they’re quite busy, and trickier ones for the weeks when they have more time.

However you decide to write your draft, give yourself a deadline. If you’re working with a publisher, you probably already have a deadline for the finished manuscript – but I’d strongly advise setting your own “internal” deadline, with plenty of buffer room in case things go wrong! If you’re going to be self-publishing your book, it’s still important to have a deadline – otherwise it’ll be all too tempting to put it aside whenever you’re “busy” (which could end up being most of the time).

Step #8: Take a Break … Then Begin the First Revision

Once you’ve finished your first draft, take at least a few days off: you don’t want to dive straight into edits without giving yourself a bit of breathing room. This space between drafting and editing is important – it gives you a chance to mentally recharge, and it helps you to come back to your book with fresh eyes.

If you can, print your manuscript (if you want, you could get it bound into a book by a print-on-demand company like Lulu – you can keep your book private so no-one else can buy it). Or if you prefer, transfer it onto your Kindle or tablet. That way, you can read it through in a similar way to how a reader would experience it.

As you read through, focus on the “big picture” of your book (though it’s also worth noting any typos you happen to spot). Think about things like whether you’re missing any key information, whether you need to re-order any of the chapters so the book flows more smoothly, and whether there are chapters that need to be cut out of the book or merged together.

Step #9: Edit Your Book, Line by Line

I always advise doing separating line editing from content editing (you might want to think of them as “nitpicky editing” and “big picture editing”). After all, there’s not much point carefully honing every sentence in Chapter 7 if you later decide that Chapter 7 doesn’t belong in your book at all!

Line editing means going through each chapter, line by line, and checking that everything reads smoothly. (If you’re working with a publisher, chances are that they’ll have an editor doing this – you’ll probably still want to do a quick line edit of your work before sending it to them, though.)

When you’re editing at this stage, look out for things like whether your tone and voice is consistent, whether there are any paragraphs that are too long / too short, whether you’ve been consistent in how you’ve used acronyms and capitalisation, whether you’ve phrased things in the best way, and so on.

Step #10: Fact-Check Your Manuscript

This is something your publisher will normally cover – but if you’re going it alone, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve double-checked every fact yourself. Depending on what you’re writing, these facts might be statistics, famous quotes (not infrequently misattributed, online), technical instructions, tourist information … almost anything.

You’ll probably want to use a printed version of your manuscript for this, so you can read through carefully and highlight anything that you need to check. Even “facts” that you’re sure you know are worth double-checking, just in case.

With non-fiction books that involve science, psychology or similar, you’ll be expected to cite your sources (probably through footnotes or endnotes) and you may well need to give a bibliography of works you consulted. Obviously, if you’re self-publishing, you make the rules – but keep in mind that readers may review your book negatively if the content is dubious in any way.

 

Hurrah! After probably months of working on your manuscript, you’re done. At this point, you’re probably waiting eagerly for the publication date (either one set by your publisher, or the one you’ve chosen for self-publishing it).

I wanted to finish with a few key tips that can apply at several different stages of the writing process – I hope these help you to stay on track as you complete your book.

Five Key Tips for Finishing Your Book

Tip #1: Commit to a Regular Writing Schedule

Chances are, you have a lot of commitments beyond writing your book – you probably don’t have hours of free time every week to work on it. This means you need to consciously make time: perhaps working your book first thing each morning (e.g. from 6am – 6.30am) or writing during your lunch break while you’re at your day job. Figure out a writing schedule that suits you (you don’t have to write daily), and stick to it as best as you can. Self-Publishing School has a great piece with more best practices for writing a book and keeping motivated.

Tip #2: Keep Your Target Reader in Mind

When you’re writing non-fiction, it can be tricky to know how to phrase things: do you sound too stuffy? Or are you being too light-hearted for your audience? It helps a lot to have a target reader in mind: the “average” reader for your book – e.g. a dieting book aimed at “a busy 50-something woman with grown-up kids” will probably be quite different in tone than one aimed at “a 20-something single man who feels dieting ‘isn’t for him’ but really wants to lose weight”. (You might even want to pick a real person you know, and imagine you’re emailing them as you write.)

Tip #3: Get Feedback from Your Existing Audience

Many non-fiction book authors start out with a blog – and this gives you a ready-made audience for constructive feedback! You might even want to ask if anyone would like to beta read all or some of the finished manuscript. (Beta readers provide feedback, usually for free, on draft material.) You can also test things out on your audience – through writing a blog post or even a tweet on a particular idea that you’re considering including in your book.

Tip #4: Track Your Progress with Your Book

When you’ve been writing for weeks and you still have months to go, it can be very tempting to give up on the whole idea of writing a book! But by tracking your progress as you go along, you’ll be able to see that you are getting closer to the finish line. Many authors like to write down their daily word count, perhaps aiming to beat a set target or even their running average. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to see how just 100 words here and 200 words there really do add up.

Tip #5: Be Willing to Pay for Help

If you plan to self-publish, you’ll almost certainly want to pay for some help along the way. (The exception here is if you plan to give away your book for free, which means readers won’t have such high expectations of production standards.) At the very least, I’d recommend paying for cover design; you’ll likely also want to pay for editing and/or proofreading. Even if you’re aiming for traditional publication, you might want to consider paying for help from a freelance editor, or from someone who can review your outline and draft chapter(s) before you submit them.

 

Writing a book is a big commitment of time and energy – but it could potentially be life-changing. Hopefully, with the steps above, you can see how getting from “idea” to “finished book” is manageable if you work step by step. Good luck!

 

By By Ali Hale
Source: dailywritingtips.com

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6 Questions to Help Nonfiction Writers Find Their Niche

Today’s guest post is by Erica Meltzer of The Critical Reader.


In 2008, I took a trip to the bookstore that altered the course of my career.

I was working as a freelance tutor and had recently been hired to help prepare a student for the Writing (grammar) portion of the SAT. In need of practice material, I went down to my local Barnes & Noble and began flipping through the standard prep books. As I read, I grew increasingly frustrated: in some, the questions were too easy, in others too hard. Some of them targeted concepts that were not tested, or omitted concepts that were tested. And overall, the tone and style seemed somehow…off.

I’d had a handful of gigs writing practice questions for various test-prep companies, but until that point, it had never occurred to me that I could publish my own materials. But as I stood in Barnes & Noble flipping through those books, I thought, “I can do so much better than this.”

Although it would be more than three years before my first book, The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar came out, I stumbled upon a couple of key lessons about the business of bookselling that day:

  • First, no matter how many books have been written about a topic, there is probably some important facet that has not yet been covered thoroughly or well.
  • Second, a key driver behind success is understanding how you fit into the existing landscape, what distinguishes your work, and why it is likely to appeal to a particular audience.

One of the downsides self-publishing is that you don’t receive support or feedback from publishers about how best to position yourself; as a result, you must be willing to devote time to investigating your market and analyzing your role within it. I write nonfiction, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here, but that said, much of what I discuss here can be applied to fiction as well.

Even if you do not go so far as to type up an actual document, you should be able to answer the following questions.

1. How saturated is your market?

You can get a good sense of the answer to this question with just an eyeball test: do the books on your topic cover a shelf in the bookstore? A couple of shelves? An entire bookcase? (Or, if you’re looking online, how many pages of titles come up when you type in the category?)

If there are already dozens of books available, you’ll need to spend some time reading through them in order to understand what’s been done. As a general rule, the more that’s been written, the more specifically you’ll need to define yourself. For me, this happened to be a straightforward matter: as someone whose verbal score was more than 200 points points higher than her math, I had never been able to tutor all sections of the exam and was in no position to author a general SAT book. If I wanted to write a halfway decent guide, I would have to focus on the verbal portion only.

2. Where are the niches?

Unless you are capable of offering a truly unique perspective, you should avoid aspects of your subject that have already been written about extensively. Instead, try to tailor your expertise to important but neglected sub-topics or sectors of your market. Grateful readers become loyal readers (and are more likely to leave glowing reviews).

For my first book, I deliberately chose to focus on a relatively overlooked portion of the SAT. Although there were several combined reading/writing guides available, there was not one guide that dealt exclusively with grammar in an in-depth way. Having spent years mastering everything from relative pronouns to the subjunctive in various foreign language classes, and then teaching those same concepts over and over again in context of the SAT, I was exceptionally well positioned to write a serious grammar book aligned with the exam.

In addition, there was almost no material designed specifically for students aiming for top scores. Even if they made up only a small percentage of the 1.5 or so million annual test-takers, they still numbered in the tens of thousands and, as I learned when they began contacting me via my blog, they were desperate for challenging material.

In fact, this group proved so enthusiastic that I barely needed to spend money on marketing: both students and parents discussed my books extensively on highly trafficked websites, allowing me to build readership naturally. I followed the same subject-specific approach for my following books, first moving to the more daunting SAT reading and then repeating the process for the English and reading portions of the ACT.

Note: If you’re not sure how to go about matching your expertise to your readers’ needs, spend some time reading through websites and blogs devoted to your topic in order to get a feel for what issues readers face and what questions aren’t being answered. While writing my books, for instance, I spent hours reading a popular test-prep forum so that I could address students’ questions and misconceptions directly.

3. Who are the major players in this genre? Is there a single title or set of titles that dominates the market?

Regardless of what you intend to write about or how many books have already been devoted to that topic, you need to understand your competition. Even if you do manage to suss out a neglected corner of the market, your book will almost certainly overlap with other titles, some highly successful.

The question is: why do the top-selling titles do well? Do they sell briskly because they have a devoted following (as evidenced by hundreds of enthusiastic reviews) or do people buy them merely because they are the only books available (as suggested by a smaller number of lukewarm or generic reviews)?

If the former, you shouldn’t expect to seriously compete, at least not right away; if the latter, you might have a better chance of breaking in. I was lucky in that most of the top-selling titles in my genre held that position simply because there were few alternatives; given the option, many readers were happy to try something new.

4. Are any successful titles self-published?

The appearance of self-published books among the more popular titles signals that readers are open to trying works by less established authors. While it isn’t always possible to tell whether a book is self-published, check the book’s copyright page to see if an established publisher is listed.

If your market is dominated by traditionally published titles, you are not necessarily at a disadvantage. Because traditional publishers are by necessity driven by their bottom line, they are less likely to take on potentially risky projects. As a result, there may be ample room for new voices or fresh takes on familiar material.

When I finished my first book in 2011, for example, the same few names had essentially defined the SAT/ACT market for decades, and there was plenty of room to shake thing up—even though the market appeared closed from the outside. The standard books were written either by tutors who knew the tests well but weren’t particularly well versed in the actual subjects, or by classroom teachers who knew their subjects well but had limited knowledge of the exams.

With the advent of platforms like CreateSpace, tutors who were also math or English experts could publish materials that had been extensively tested with students. Because those books did well, other tutors were encouraged to publish guides, fundamentally reshaping the market. Today, about 10 of these books typically rank among the top-selling SAT/ACT guides on Amazon.

It’s gratifying to know that I’ve played a role that shift: shortly after his first book was released, the author of the top-selling ACT Science guide informed me that my books had inspired him to go ahead and write his own. Like me, he had noticed a gaping hole in the market—there was not one guide devoted solely to that subject—and decided to plug it.

5. What do the existing books do well, and where do they fall short?

As you read, notice—and preferably jot down—what aspects you find most enjoyable and engaging, and which ones you find wanting. While it is important to consider obvious factors (content, tone, style, and flow), you should also consider subtler issues such as formatting and font. When I went through the existing SAT prep books, for example, I noticed that from a visual standpoint, their questions often looked nothing like those on the exam. As a tutor, I understood that students were frequently thrown off by deviations from the actual test and wanted to practice on material that felt authentic in form as well as content. As a result, I made sure that my practice questions were identical in terms of font, size, and spacing, to those on the real exam. That kind of subtle attention to detail helped reader feel that my books were preparing them for exactly what they’d face and made them more inclined to trust my work.

And finally…

6. What do you do better, or know more about, than anyone?

In other words, what specifically can you offer readers that will cause them to bypass other works and zero in on yours? Obviously, this isn’t a zero sum game—readers will often buy multiple books on a given topic—but you must know what sets you apart. All the market research in the world won’t matter unless you are genuinely invested in your topic and able to write about it with ease and (ideally) flair. Readers almost certainly won’t be passionate about your book unless you are as well. This is the biggest question you need to answer, preferably before you even write a word.

Source: janefriedman.com

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Nonfiction Writers: Beware the Curse of Knowledge

Today’s guest post is excerpted from Writing to Be Understood by Anne Janzer (@AnneJanzer) a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies, writing in the voice of countless brands and corporate executives.

Few of your readers care about what you know, no matter how many years you have spent accumulating that wisdom. They care about what they need or want to understand.

You share much in common with your readers: you both live a world with numerous, competing demands on your attention, limited time for “deep reading,” and perhaps a longing for simplicity and clarity.

How do you provide the right amount of information without either oversimplifying the subject or overloading the reader? You’ll have to decide what to include and what to leave out. The more you love your subject, the harder this decision can be.

Beware the curse of knowledge

Think of a well-known, familiar song, like “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Sing it to yourself in your head. Then, find a friend and ask them to guess the song as you tap out its rhythm.

You won’t expect them to get it right away, but you might be surprised and frustrated by how long it takes them to correctly guess the tune rattling around in your head. At least, that’s what psychologist Elizabeth Newton found when she tested this very thing.

In 1990, Newton was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University. She conducted an experiment in which half of the participants (the tappers) were asked to tap out the rhythms of common songs, while the other half (the listeners) guessed the songs. The tappers estimated how long it would take the listeners to name the right tune.

The people tapping were inevitably surprised by the listeners’ inability to hear the tune that matched the rhythm. It seemed obvious to the tappers. This study illustrates a phenomenon known as the curse of knowledge, or the challenge of getting out of our own heads.

Once we know something, it’s difficult to remember not knowing it. We take our knowledge for granted.

We can spot other people suffering from the curse of knowledge pretty easily. We’ve all seen it:

  • The physician who speaks in medical terms you don’t know
  • The academic author who writes a paper, intended for a general audience, filled with terms that only a graduate student would understand

These people aren’t trying to hoodwink or confuse you. They simply forget that you don’t know what they know. 
It’s much harder to detect symptoms of this tendency in our own behavior. When smart, caring people write incomprehensible stuff, the curse of knowledge is usually to blame. It plagues experts who write for the layperson, or the industry insider addressing an outsider. 
Of course, a few knowledgeable and expert communicators avoid the curse of knowledge with apparent ease, but let’s consider them outliers and confess that the rest of us struggle with it. The greater your knowledge, the stronger the curse.

Nonfiction writers confront this problem in many phases of the work. For example, we cannot proofread our own work effectively because we already “know” what’s on the page. We use terminology that readers don’t know because it is habitual to us. 
You can defeat the curse of knowledge during later phases of the work by enlisting others for editing and proofreading. But you must avoid the curse earlier still, when deciding what to cover and how to approach it. Get outside your own head.

Go wide or go deep

Before you write a single word, you face a fundamental decision about exactly what you want and need to cover. Answer these three questions.

  1. Breadth: Will you cover a single issue or a wide range of topics?
  2. Depth: Should you dive into details? How many are necessary?
  3. Background: How much does the reader already know, and how much will you need to backfill?

These decisions depend almost entirely on your readers. For a distinct, well-defined audience, you may be able to cover a wider range of concepts related to your topic. When addressing a general audience, you may choose to focus on the most important things, and avoid excessive detail.

The final form also matters. A book gives you more room to roam; readers expect a greater breadth or depth of coverage.

If you are expert in a topic, you may choose to cover it in great detail. For example, masterful biographers like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Walter Isaacson do deep dives into their subjects’ lives, creating works that span several hundred pages. If that’s your approach, you will need to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the reader’s interest. The depth of a treatment can narrow the potential audience of readers.

For some books, breadth is part of the essential value, as in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. As the title promises, it describes a massive topic in a slim volume. Tyson went wide, not deep. Writing about complex topics effectively at this level is a rare skill. Tyson deploys analogies with care, frames the content in a human context, and shares his personal enthusiasm and sense of wonder to guide the reader through the universe. The book is a masterful example of writing about a complex and abstract topic.

There’s no easy answer to the question of how broad or deep your treatment should be. It depends on your purposes and the needs of your audience.

Self-indulgent writers include everything they feel like covering. Thoughtful writers who seek to be understood focus on fit and purpose. Sometimes you have to let things go or put them aside for another project. Focus on serving your reader.

Simplicity vs. oversimplification

Designers, businesspeople, and others often refer to of the KISS principle, which is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

As a design philosophy, Keep It Simple, Stupid makes sense. Don’t create systems that are more complex than necessary. However, people mistakenly apply the KISS mantra as a filter in other fields, including political messaging, sales materials, and descriptions of technology.

Simplicity isn’t always the answer. The KISS mantra can become a convenient excuse for hiding complexity that you would rather people not see, such as:

  • Removing transparency from investments, because investors don’t need to know the possible risks
  • Not disclosing details of policies because voters won’t bother with the fine print
  • Not communicating to patients the complete range of treatment options available or the potential risks of a recommended course of action, for fear of delaying the preferred course of treatment.

Taken to the extreme, the KISS mantra shields us from the complexity that we should understand. 
Certain readers crave simplistic explanations or easy answers that spare them the cognitive work of understanding things that don’t hold their interest. Others, however, may suspect that you’re hiding important details or talking down to them.

When explaining complicated topics, beware of the boundary between simplicity and oversimplification. 
We want to believe that the world is simple enough for us to understand. We like to think that we don’t need layers of experts arbitrating between reality and ourselves, but when we ignore the true complexity of situations, we can inadvertently mislead readers.

Sabine Hossenfelder has heard some pretty wild theories about physics—hypotheses that she believes arise from the oversimplification of scientific topics for the general public. Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and writes about physics for publications like Forbes and Scientific American. She is also author of the book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.

Her insight into the dangers of oversimplification, however, arises from years spent running a “Talk to a Scientist” consulting service, which she started as a graduate student and still maintains today on her blog, BackReaction. For a small fee, members of the public can pose questions about physics, neuroscience, geology, and other topics, or submit their own ideas about physics. Those theories are creative, interesting, and often not grounded in scientific reality.

She blames this, in part, on the tendency of journalists covering the field to simplify the message so much that they mislead readers.

In describing the experience of running the physics help line, she reports, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that journalists are so successful at making physics seem not so complicated that many readers come away with the impression that they can easily do it themselves. How can we blame them for not knowing what it takes if we never tell them?”

Deciding what to include

Deciding what to cover and what to leave out challenges everyone. Writers, speaking coaches, and others share their advice about striking the right balance.

When you’re an insider in an industry, seek advice from those who are outsiders. Just make sure you find the right people to ask.

Linda Popky could be considered a Silicon Valley insider. She was named a Top 100 Women of Influence by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, and works with tech companies as the founder and president of Leverage2Market Associates. She’s also the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing That Matters.

When writing about topics in which she has expertise, Popky takes care to counteract her insider status. “There are two dangers to knowing your subject matter well. First, you think everyone else knows it already, and as a result, no one understands what you write. Or, you think that nobody knows this stuff, and you go into excruciating detail.”

She handles the situation by finding other people to give her an outsider’s perspective. The key, says Popky, is getting feedback from the right individuals. “You need people who understand the audience and provide the right level of feedback at the right time. Find individuals who can express themselves and identify when something doesn’t work for them. They need the honesty to say if something is confusing.”

Source: janefriedman.com

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Un-dead Darlings

Please welcome guest Barbara Linn Probst to WU today! Barbara is a writer, teacher, researcher, and clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. She holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a dedicated amateur pianist. She is also the author of When the Labels Don’t Fit–a groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please visit her website: http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

Un-dead Darlings

Kill those darlings.

We all know the cliché (actually, it was Faulkner, not Stephen King, who coined the phrase) and, accepting its wisdom, do our best to kill those beloveds no matter how much it hurts. Sentences, paragraphs, whole scenes – deleted, leaving a cleaner and stronger narrative.

Deleted from the story, but not from our laptops or minds. Many of us (okay, me, but I bet I’m not the only one) squirrel them away, hoping we’ll be able to squeeze them into a future manuscript.

Of course, that rarely works. Unless, by some amazing chance, a grandfather scene exactly like the one I just deleted is precisely what the new book needs, the darlings need to stay in their coffins.

However, there are other possibilities for this excised material if we abandon the idea of keeping our darlings intact as chunks of prose and consider, instead, what they indicate, arise from, and serve.

A good way to do that is by adjusting the lens and zooming in or out. Zooming in means identifying small bits of language that can be extracted from their context. An image, a descriptive detail, a noun or verb that captures a particular sensation – that may be all that’s worth saving from the passage.

In stockpiling these usable phrases, it’s important to note their referents so you’re clear about how they might be used later. Does a phrase denote arrogance, the experience of unexpected emotional softening, a sense of foreboding? Later, you might be searching for a way to convey that very quality, and you’ll have a private dictionary to turn to. Retaining the meaning, along with the words, also helps to check the tendency to insert a phrase where it doesn’t really belong, simply because you can’t stand not to use it somewhere – the hallmark of a soon-to-be-dead-again darling.

Zooming out, in contrast, means stepping back from the specifics of what you’ve written to its source. What was that grandfather scene really about? Was it remorse at having taken someone for granted, nostalgia for a sense of safety that’s no longer possible? Perhaps it was the yearning to be someone’s favorite again, or the memory of a child’s frustration in not understanding an older person’s allusions. What was the feeling at the scene’s core, and why did it matter to my character? What purpose did I think it would serve in the story?

These sensations, intentions, aversions, and desires are only accessible when you zoom out and view the passage from a wider perspective, letting the trees blur so you can see the forest – that is, ignoring the words so you can perceive their source.

You may not need to retain the specific words and sentences. Often, in fact, it’s best not to – since they can influence, limit, and obstruct your vision – but their source can become a wellspring for fresh material. By letting go of the verbal formulation and connecting, instead, with the origin of the deleted material, you’re free to discover new possibilities.

To give an example:

In my earlier now-abandoned novel, the adult daughter of the protagonist was writing a master’s thesis on Georgia O’Keeffe.  The “reason” I had her doing that (ouch) was so I could sneak in a backstory scene in which the protagonist came upon O’Keeffe’s Black Iris and had a profoundly transformative experience. The adult daughter’s thesis served no real purpose in the story, however, nor did the museum scene. They were, appropriately, killed off.

Yet there was something about the O’Keeffe painting that stayed with me – something it implied and evoked that I needed to express. It noodled around in that murky in-between part of the brain where creativity often occurs and then burst into life unexpectedly a year later, providing the genesis for the (much better) novel I’m currently working on. Without that now-dead darling, the new novel wouldn’t exist.

Zooming in and zooming out are inverse processes. In the first, context is discarded, freeing the words from their moorings; the focus is narrow, precise. In the second, words themselves are discarded, freeing the intention that gave rise to them; the focus is wide, diffuse, not yet confined to a specific manifestation. In neither case is the “darling” preserved intact, in the hope of shoe-horning it into a new slot. We’ve all tried that, and it doesn’t work.

We need not adopt either strategy, of course. Darlings can stay dead. But that would be a shame, since they often contain much that’s of value. That’s why we love them.

Do you, like me, have a file of deleted material?

What life might the material still contain if you approach it in a fresh way?

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LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD

“The sooner growing older is stripped of reflexive dread, the better equipped we are to benefit from the countless ways in which it can enrich us.” ―  Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Time to Tell the Stories

Don’t tell me I am too old for that.

I know how it feels, perhaps you do too……to be 60, 70, or even 80, reminding yourself that you can no longer do what you once could, wondering if you should even try.

It is instinctive, I suppose, the need to push back against those perceived limitations. Accepting that ‘age-based’ prognosis feels so much like giving up, as though my forty-year-old mind is surrendering to my eighty-year-old body. After all, I arrived at retirement years ago knowing there were still things to do, feelings to experience, mysteries to explore…along with the surprising realization that there were stories I wanted to tell.

Scratching the Writing Itch

To be sure my literary adventures, the stories I wanted to tell, have taken me down roads less traveled, but that has been the beauty of it. In this day of high-tech, low-cost Print-on-Demand publishing my storytelling efforts have not been held hostage by agents, publishers, critics, or my modest bank account. I am writing to please myself…and thankful for the opportunity to do that, even when I am my harshest critic.

Yet those less-traveled highways offer their own storytelling choices. One fork in the road may have me creating a warm and fuzzy, happily-ever-after tale, while the next one leads to twists, turns, and dangerous intersections…where unseen troubles may lurk.

Late-Life Fiction

Perhaps you can guess which path my late-life travels have taken.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davis I call it Late-Life Fiction. It’s an obscure corner of the storytelling universe that feels like home to me.

In the course of twelve Tanner Chronicles books, my fictional friends have faced a litany of October and November challenges…good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. Still, like real life, a healthy dose of caring love can soften even the harshest trauma. Consider, for instance, stories that include:

* Returning to the scene of an earlier desertion
* Wooing the stroke-stricken lady who was his high school crush
* A Second Chance pursuit has men playing with guns
* The down and out couple who are Going Poor together
* An infatuated pair too timid to take a relational chance.
* Life, love, and frustration with an Alzheimer’s spouse
* Life partners lost and found
* Second loves found, then lost

Even the longest journey may begin with a single stumble.

The November Adventure Stories

I have spent the last couple of weeks exploring the possibility of a new ‘November adventure’ story. In the process, I have paused a time or two to ask myself if I am on to something real. Or is the story I have in mind more apt to be cataloged under ‘Adult Fantasy’? In that case, I probably ought to turn up my oxygen, lay back, and chill out.
We all understand, of course, that ‘adventure’ is a relative term. I know beyond a doubt that the septuagenarian friends whose story I will be telling are more timid than bold, and more tentative than confident. But they have been around the block a time or two, and are the sort who keep trying, even in the face of long odds.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisStill, the questions remain. Can I imagine, and then tell, a convincing story about a handful of seventy-five-year-olds who are inexplicably convinced that they still have things to do, to see, to learn, and become?

Am I the only one?

Before long the next round of questions had bubbled to the surface. Am I the only November remnant, male or female, who harbors childish notions of how much potential Becoming remains at my age? Am I whistling in the dark …unwilling to face the reality of a worn-out, used-up life standing at the edge of a steep and slippery slope?

Of course, it is an ego thing …telling a tale about old folks who are unready to cash in their chips so soon, reluctant to discard the dreams they have nurtured for so long. From beginning to end my goal will be storytelling, not literature. I aim to make it quality storytelling.

Once Upon a Time, We Were…

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisAny story that deals with what my creaky old friends can still do, and not do, will necessarily include age-appropriate depictions of the dynamic, idealistic young men and women they like to believe they once were.

Will I be able to put into words the challenges my November Knights and their ladies face? Will their geriatric capabilities be enough to win the day?

How about telling your own story?

Now or Never

What if you are among the multitude of October wannabe writers, most of whom do not share my unorthodox interest in Geriatric Adolescent fiction? Let’s say that your sort of story takes you somewhere else. Well, my friend, you are in luck. For no matter what you write, today’s self-publishing universe has a place for you.

First, however, let’s begin with this bit of cold reality. The latest numbers I have found indicate that more than 700,000 different e-books were self-published in the US in 2016. That’s right……a couple thousand a day, every day of the year. That, my friend, is serious competition, which ought to temper anyone’s expectations of finding an audience. Of course, your book might be the one that rises above the crowd, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In my aging mind, the best approach to that reality has been to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, and take pride in my creations. At the end of the day, if they make a dollar or two, that’s great. If they don’t, I am still left with what I wanted.

I have charged ahead knowing that everyday people in every corner of the world are writing and self-publishing a growing tide of novels, family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, even coloring books. Best of all in my tired old eyes, publishing an original novel in e-book and paperback formats and scoring your own Amazon Author’s page can be done for next to nothing. I have done that twenty times, beginning at age sixty-nine. You can too.

Rattle Those Bones

What’s in your closet?

Forty-five years ago our family moved to England so I could write the novel I knew was in me. We spent most of a year there, living out my foolish notion that serious writing required an exotic locale. Turned out that Winchester filled the ‘exotic’ bill much better than my original typed manuscript, which lay on a closet shelf for more than forty years before I resurrected it, whipped it into shape, and self-published it three years ago. As literature, it may have left something to be desired. As a memento of a particular time in a special place, it means a great deal to me.

By the time I was through with that project Roma was suggesting that we create a new story, recounting our family’s English adventure…the life we lived there, the sights we saw, the mistakes we made, and the life-long friends we met. The two of us spent a few months creating the story, before ordering five copies of the handsome paperback edition for Christmas gifts. Our total investment, from beginning to end was $37.00.

Is This the Day?

What is your life calendar telling you?

I cannot in good faith recommend late-life writing and self-publishing as the means to strike it rich. Yet, as an affordable and satisfying creative experience, it hits all the right notes for me.

Storytelling has allowed my June/July mind to engage with my October/November body, as I depict the forces of late-life playing in the lives I am creating.

That has worked for me.

Hopefully, others will find my results worth reading.

By Gil Stewart
Source: twodropsofink.com

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The 3 Secrets to Addictive Fiction

In today’s unbelievably competitive industry, how can you make your fiction the best?

Addict your reader.

Make reading your stories and novels an addictive experience. The reader who is addicted to your writing will plunge into your fiction and then fight to stay there forever.

But how can you addict your reader to your stories?

Use the secrets that all great authors have used throughout the ages to give the reader exactly what they want. There are literally thousands of these secrets, but in my work as an independent editor I have prioritized them and categorized them into the simplest possible arrangement—three basic categories.

I teach fiction through its three aspects:

1. character
2. plot
3. prose

However, beyond than that, I teach the secrets to making these three aspects addictive:

1. unforgettable character
2. inescapable plot
3. mesmerizing prose

 

Secret #1 Unforgettable Character

The most fundamental truism of fiction is that all great plot grows out of character.

You can design any type of plot you like. However, if it’s not grounded in the character of your protagonist, it will be nothing but a mish-mash of events from which the reader can disengage at any time and walk away.

On the other hand, you can design almost no plot at all, and if it’s grown entirely from the character of your protagonist, the reader will not only be addicted to your work, they’ll convince all their friends and relatives to become addicted as well.

Ask yourself:

How did James Bond become a cultural icon, although his plots are repetitive and he must frequently be rescued by a young woman he’s just met? What made Agatha Christie a phenomenon of her genre, although her mysteries so often hinge on her villains’ implausible acting skills and even authorial cheating? Why do we still love Cathy and Heathcliff, although Wuthering Heights is so bizarrely organized and consists almost entirely of a laundry list of inhuman behavior?

Because Bond, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Cathy and Heathcliff are the unforgettable characters from which their plots grow.

This means that character is where we always start.

So how do we make this character unforgettable? That work is based upon the character’s conflicting internal needs. These needs must be internal or they won’t be powerful enough to fuel an entire novel. They must conflict, or there won’t be any climax to this story. And they can be explored most effectively through the three basic human needs: love, survival and justice.

There’s a lot to discuss about a protagonist’s conflicting internal needs. And I’ll teach you all about them in my 2nd guest post for Write to Done: The 2 Steps to Creating Unforgettable Character.

Secret #2 Inescapable Plot

Now what is this unforgettable character going to do?

A story—short fiction or novel—is, at its most fundamental, simply an opportunity for the reader to spend time with your unforgettable character. To make friends with them. To bond. To allow this character to become a part of their life.

This means you must design a plot that gives the freest possible reins to the protagonist’s character—exploring it, exposing it, delving into it to reveal its most intriguing and hidden facets.

The paperback genre industry of the early 20th century can teach us everything we need to know about how to design plot. Those authors cranked out their genre novels regularly and reliably, treating fiction as a day job to which they showed up and worked five days a week, 45-50 weeks of the year.

What do readers get out of genre fiction?

A plot that hooks them quickly, takes them for a thrilling whirl, then throws them off a cliff.

This is rooted in our human addiction to things that come in threes: the simplest construct that exists that also retains a crucial layer of complexity.

And this is why I teach three-act structure: Hook, Development, Climax.

Within these three acts, we can refine our design based upon the importance of climax. Each act has a unique purpose, to which we can devote a full half of that act. And each act also needs a climax, to which we can devote the other full half of that act. That’s how important climax is.

Once we have these six structural pieces, we can refine our design even further by breaking each piece into six more pieces. In this way, we can quickly and easily design a plot of 36 pieces along a specific pattern.

I call this holographic design.

The reader has already unconsciously adopted this pattern through the reading of their first great story. It’s what they expect. Because it’s great storytelling. And, through proper design, it’s what we can regularly, reliably give them.

But how do we turn this simple design into a rollercoaster ride, one that will keep the reader addicted on every single page? There’s a counter-intuitive trick to this that gives your plot the essential contrast that throws your entire design into three-dimensional relief, gripping your reader, meeting their unconscious expectations, and making your plot inescapable.

I’ll teach you all about this in detail in my 3rd guest post for Write to Done: The 4 Steps to Designing Inescapable Plot.

Secret #3 Mesmerizing Prose

Finally there is the writing of this character-grown plot.

How do you turn a brilliant, well-developed idea into a novel of some 70,000-100,000 words—a novel that the reader can’t forget, can’t escape, can hardly put down even for a minute? Because 70,000-100,000 are a whole lot of words. And the reader has a life to live.

How do you write a novel that’s mesmerizing? One to which the reader is addicted?

You’ll hear a lot in the writing community these days about how to make time to write, how to write faster and more efficiently, how to get your manuscript finished. This advice is mostly about time management, on the assumption that your life is not set up for endless hours in front of the keyboard. However, focusing upon time management misses a crucial element of writing: you write because you love to.

Truly, if writing is not the one thing you love to do above all else, then go find out what is and do that. Life is too short for wasting on doing things you don’t love.

And if writing is the one thing you love to do above all else, then you don’t need time management. You need stamina. You need to stay in touch with your passion. You need, especially, to know what you’re doing.

Only through a combination of your passion and an understanding of your work can you make your time at the keyboard as productive as humanly possible. Only in this way can you produce manuscripts full of life, while also devoting yourself to the life that is your own.

Your first goal, of course, is to get a draft written. But there are tricks to the efficient writing of a first draft. And there are certainly techniques to editing that draft into polished prose.

I’ve developed a set of guidelines that I use for writing quick first drafts and then turning my clients’ drafts into powerful professional prose. And I often teach my clients these guidelines. Of course, I never teach them all—those are my trade secrets. But I learned them all from the published works of great authors. And you can too.

All you have to do is study in-depth hundreds novels line-by-line and practice for thousands of hours in order to discover what makes writing clear, strong, and vivid. Mesmerizing.

To which authors and stories are you addicted? Why?

By Victoria Mixon
Source: writetodone.com

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Write Fictional Characters as Complex and Realistic as You Are—The MBTI for Writers Series

What’s the secret to writing fictional characters readers fall in love with? What makes us reread our favorite novels, revisiting the same characters through the years like old friends?

Some writers are naturals at it. Lifelong people watchers, they seem to “get” how other people work without trying. So of course their fictional characters are complex and realistic. Of course their characters leap off the page.

But not every writer is an expert in people.

That doesn’t mean your characters are doomed to be cardboard cutouts. There’s hope for the writers who have something to say but aren’t sure yet how to create characters realistic enough to say it.

If you struggle to create characters who are complex and distinct. If you find yourself scratching your head at every plot turn, unsure of what your character would say or do or think next—then you know the struggle.

You know what it’s like to want your character to become so real, she takes over the story—but every word you write just reminds you she’s still a stranger.

So how do you flesh out a character who falls flat? How do you fix cliched, unlikable characters? How do you define characters who are too predictable or distinguish the ones who act just like every other character in the story?

There’s a tool for that.

It’s called MBTI. And it’s your new secret weapon for creating fictional characters as complex and realistic as you are.

This is The MBTI for Writers series.

Fictional Characters Made Easy: What We Cover in MBTI for Writers

  • What exactly MBTI is (the quick and dirty version for writers)
  • A simple overview of the 16 MBTI personality types (i.e. what’s really going on inside the heads of each personality type)
  • Quick tips for getting into each type’s head so you can see the story through their eyes—even when the character is NOTHING LIKE YOU (Because what better way to know how they would act and respond to the plot than to see the world how they see it?)
  • How to use each of the 16 MBTI types as a character mold to build out an endless cast of truly unique, surprising, and ultra-realistic fictional characters your readers will love (and love to hate)
  • What so many people get wrong about MBTI and how writers can use it to their advantage
  • Ways to build out each personality type so each one is new and unique—no matter how many times you’ve reused the mold

Series Contents

Out Now:

Coming Up:

  • See Through Your Character’s Eyes: How to ‘Experience’ the 8 MBTI Functions Like Your Fictional Characters Do
  • How to Make Each Character Type Unique—Even If You’ve Used That Type Before
  • 11 Smart Reasons to Create Your Next Fictional Character Using MBTI
  • Do You Really Understand Your Character? Cheatsheets for Writing Each of the 16 MBTI Types
    • ENTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFP Character Design Cheatsheet
  • Common Arguments against MBTI (And Why They’re Dumb)

Source: mandywallace.com

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Creative Nonfiction Is Not All About Make-Believe

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Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 4:46 PM at Editors Only

A publication that offers lessons about writing and process and depth of coverage.

By Peter P. Jacobi

“The time I remember is when I’m about 8 years old,” writes Victoria Blake in a recent issue of Creative Nonfiction. “My mother is serving pork chops 1950s style — bone in, with a little bit of applesauce. In my family, I’m known as a ‘picky eater.’ For example, I eat only the very outside of the meat because the bone terrifies me. There’s a chalky spot in the center which — I know now but didn’t know then — is marrow.

“The bone is unyielding and hard,” Blake continues, “under the tines of my fork — a hardness that, in an instant, conjures the image of a whole skeleton, then an animal walking, an animal eating, an animal living. And that’s when my mother says it: “You should know where your food comes from, Tory. If you don’t eat it, you won’t get any dessert.”

Read the rest at Editors Only

 

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Making the Switch from Nonfiction to Fiction Writing

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Another great post by JOANNA PENN SEPTEMBER 29, 2013

I started out writing non-fiction with no thought of even trying fiction, mainly because I thought I had to write like Umberto Eco in order to be considered a literary success.

penBut, I decided to give it a try for NaNoWriMo 2009, and I haven’t looked back! In this article Jodie Renner, editor, author, & speaker, talks about how to make the switch.

You’re already confident with writing nonfiction, so making the transition to fiction should be no big deal, right? Not. There’s actually a significant learning curve to recognizing and mastering the essential elements of writing fiction that captivates readers, sells well, and garners glowing reviews.

As an independent editor specializing in popular, fast-paced fiction, I often receive manuscripts from professionals and others who write a lot of nonfiction and are attaching a draft of a novel or short story. They often assume that since they’re used to writing, the transition to fiction will be easy.

Not so.

Nonfiction writers and first-time novelists often don’t realize the importance of issues they’re simply not aware of, so they ask me for “just a light copyedit.” When I start reading their manuscript, I often notice right away the story seems to lack sparkle. It doesn’t engage me and make me want to keep reading.

The writers, although accomplished in their field, have little or no concept of the critical aspects of point of view and showing instead of telling.

Other issues I see are writing that is just too “correct” and distant for storytelling, with stilted dialogue, too-frequent author intrusions, and bland, neutral narration. Finally, the writing often meanders along at too leisurely a pace, lacking sufficient conflict, tension, intrigue, and general zing.

The following tips, for anyone wanting to master the art of storytelling, will help you bring your characters and story world to life by loosening up your language, getting up close and personal with your characters, lettingthem tell the story, and showing their emotions and reactions. Of course, you’ll need to start with a charismatic protagonist, a critical problem, plenty of conflict, and an intriguing plot.

1. Get into your character’s head – and stay there.

Start right out in the point of view of your protagonist and show the events through his eyes, with his internal reactions. Forget omniscient point of view – it’s no longer in favor, and for very good reason. Readers want to get “up close and personal” with the main character, so they can become emotionally engaged and sucked into the story.

Show your character’s thoughts, perceptions, and inner reactions to what’s going on right away, so readers can identify with her and bond with her. Don’t head-hop to other characters’ thoughts within a scene. To get into the head of others, like the antagonist or love interest, give them their own viewpoint scenes.

2. Stay out of the story as the author.

Let the characters tell the story, in a natural way that is authentic to the story world you’re creating. This will keep the readers immersed in the fictive dream. Don’t interrupt the story by stepping in as the author to explain things to the readers. In other words, avoid info dumps and other author intrusions.

3. Make sure your story has plenty of conflict and tension.

Conflict is what drives fiction. No conflict = no story. Not enough conflict and tension = boring. Every scene should have some conflict and a change. Every page should have some tension, even if it’s just an undercurrent of unease, disagreement, or resentment.

4. Loosen up your language.

Again, “let the characters tell the story.” Forget perfect English, complete sentences, convoluted phrasing, or fancy-schmancy vocabulary. Use direct language and strong imagery, in the character’s thoughts, colored by their personality, education, background and attitudes. In other words, stay in your character’s mood and voice, using words and phrasing they would use, which also fit the overall tone of the story, rather than a more correct, neutral language.

5. Show, Don’t Tell

Don’t step in as the author to tell your readers about your characters or their background or to relate something that happened. And don’t have one character tell another about a critical event that occurred offstage. Show important scenes in real time, with action and dialogue.

Also, to bring your characters alive, be sure to show their emotions, internal and external reactions, and physical sensations.

Evoke all or most of the senses. Don’t just show what the character is seeing. What is she hearing, smelling, feeling? Even tasting?

6. Use snappy dialogue.

Dialogue needs lots of tension and attitude. Be sure your dialogue doesn’t all sound the same – like it’s the author speaking. Each character’s words and speech patterns need to match their personality and background.

Avoid complete sentences and perfect English in dialogue. Use frequent partial sentences, one- or two-word questions and answers, evasive replies, abrupt changes of topic, and silences. Read your dialogue out loud, perhaps role-playing with someone else, to make sure it sounds natural and authentic.

Also, skip the “Hi, how are you?” and other blah-blah lead-up and filler. Cut to the chase in your dialogue.

7. Even your narration should not be neutral.

Avoid bland, authorial narration.

Any backstory should be the character’s thoughts, colored by their feelings about it, and keep it to a minimum, preferably with flashbacks in real time. Even your description, exposition, and narration should not be neutral – these are really the POV character’s observations, and should reveal their personality, goals, attitude and mood.

Do you have any more tips to share for nonfiction writers or anyone else just getting into writing fiction? Please do leave a comment below.

Jodie RennerJodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER, both available in e-book and trade paperback.

For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons pen by Gregory Wake

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