Transitioning from Writing Nonfiction to Fiction

Previously on The Writing Studio…

Some time ago I shared my decision about publication of my memoir. Since then, I’ve done lots of reading and research on orphanages in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Not much writing, other than taking notes.

My fingers itch to begin writing this novel. Yet, I’m stymied because I’ve written only nonfiction for several years. I’m proud of what I’ve written and published but I fear the quality of my work will falter with a new genre.

So I’ve also taken some time to read about the transition between nonfiction and fiction. Perhaps others of you have dabbled on both sides of the divide, and perhaps others are toying with the possibilities. Today I want to share with you what I’ve learned about writing fiction so far.

I tell myself writing fiction shouldn’t be hard.

And yet it is. Just because I write nonfiction, and I believe I do it well, doesn’t necessarily lead to my writing great fiction.

I sit down at the computer and, despite my research and understanding the story, I draw an absolute blank. How do I make my protagonist come alive? How do I set the scenes of the early 1900s? What does a four-year old boy think of being taken to a huge building called an orphanage? What do I put into my document? Please, somebody tell me!

Enter a time for reading about the nonfiction genre and a transition into fiction. What should I be aware of in writing my fictionalized story about my dad’s life as an orphan?

Here are some tips I’ve discovered.

1. Get to know your character by getting into his/her head–and working from there.

To catch your reader’s interest start in your protagonist’s point of view. Write through the eyes of your character, show his internal reactions. Readers want to establish an “up close and personal” relationship with your protagonist so make it easy for them to engage with the story and the character. Basically, make sure your readers are sucked into your story.

Show your character’s perceptions, reactions, thoughts, opinions and feelings about what’s happening in the scene. Don’t head-hop other characters’ feelings in the same scene. If another character’s viewpoint is essential to the story, then get in that character’s head and create a scene for that character.

2. Show, Don’t Tell.

How many times have we heard this advice? Too many to count! As the author, you shouldn’t step in and tell about the story, characters or something that happened. And don’t describe through your characters tell one another about critical events happening offstage.

The best way to bring your characters alive is to describe them realistically. Show their physical reactions, emotions, sensations, and facial expressions.

Using the five senses–see, smell, taste, hear, feel–describe your character’s responses and reactions. You don’t want to show only what your character sees, but what he feels, smells, and more.

3. Build in conflict and tension.

Without conflict and tension, even in the lightest of stories, readers quickly lose interest. No conflict, no story. Too little conflict and tension equates to boring. Build in conflict and change in each scene. Make sure every page holds tension, even if it’s only an undercurrent. Readers will keep turning pages with something sparking their interest.

4. Write snappy dialogue.

Give your character’s dialogue some attitude and tension. You don’t want your dialogue sounding as if the author is lecturing. A character’s words and speech pattern should reflect the character’s personality and background.

In dialogue, it’s perfectly okay to use partial sentences and even some imperfect English. Try to use partial sentences, short one- or two-word replies and questions, abruptly change topic, and allow your characters to fall silent.

It is good practice to read the dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural and authentic. Also role-playing can be helpful in determining the realistic sound of your dialogue.

5. Handling Time.

Most people wanting to write fiction would likely not be concerned with handling time within a story. However, time is essential to connecting with your reader. A writer must put events in logically presented sequential order. Unless, of course, your character experiences a flash back. When writing a flashback, you must make sure that you pick up the current story thread as soon as our character returns to real time.

6. Don’t Get Caught Up in Explaining Things.

When writing a nonfiction book or essay, it is normal to explain the facts surrounding your topic. But in a fiction story, it is not necessary to continue along in narrative explaining everything. If your fictional facts are drawn with clarity, the reader will understand the writer’s intentions. Good fiction writers allow their readers to walk into a scene and size up the details. Writers also expect that readers will discover their own truths.

Conclusion.

If you are considering a move from nonfiction to fiction, there are some good resources in the marketplace to read and study:

Most importantly, read all you can on writing fiction as well as reading good fiction. Both will help build your confidence and skills.

Do you have any tips to add about the transition from nonfiction writing to fiction writing? Please share in the comment section below.

Misplaced Your Writing Groove? A Lesson in Getting Your Groove Back

Have you ever taken a substantial block of time away from your writing? Maybe a lengthy break away from your blog? Or has a family crisis interrupted the latest draft of your manuscript, and getting back to it seems impossible?

The last 20+ months for me have been what seems like a never-ending break from not only my writing but also blogging and social media, not to mention life in general. How do I recapture my momentum in those areas? How will I manage to return to what I was as a writer pre-January 24, 2016?

Initially, it didn’t seem so serious. Then the chronic pain hit with an intensity I couldn’t rise above. My pain management doctor, doing what he thought best, prescribed an opioid (more on this crisis in another post later). Literally, my head space didn’t cooperate when I wanted to write. It was as if I’d lost the ability to focus on taking my thoughts and putting them down in written form.

Now I am somewhat improved and working toward regaining physical stamina and strength daily. I also want to return to doing what I love most–writing, whether it’s on my memoir or a blog post or a simple Tweet. Some days these tasks are still hard. Too much brain time can be as tiring as physical activity.

Doctors tell me that the amount of inactivity requires an equal or greater amount of rehab to regain the physical strength and stamina. A reduction in mental activity over time will likely require similar rehab to regain flexibility and creativity.

What am I going to do? What could you do if confronted with this kind of downtime?

Let’s take a look at some options I’m attempting to use in my daily attempts at writing:

  • Accept that your writing habit has been disruptedLike a runner who doesn’t run for three weeks, you are out of shape and so is your writing. That runner will run at least three weeks before regaining his stride and pace. Initially, your writing will seem inadequate or inept. Don’t be hard on yourself. Writing is going to seem harder. Ease back into it. Don’t try to pick up where you left off. This is going to take time.
  • Make drastic changes in your expectations. If you have been writing a certain amount of time (i.e., two hours, 60 minutes, etc.) each day, scale this back to a segment of time that seems stupidly easy. Say three to five minutes. The same applies to those who write a certain number of words per day. You will want to follow the same exercise. Set goals that allow you to hit the ball out of the park.

  • This is the hard part of this new goal. Take slow, easy steps in increasing your time or word count. Don’t move too quickly. Stick with your new goals for at least 10 days. This will ensure you experience feelings of success and motivation. Both are necessary to feel good about your writing.
  • Increase your goal, either timed or word count, slowly. This will likely feel painfully
    S-L-O-W. After the first 10 days increase by 50%. At the next 10-day mark add another 25%, and lastly, after yet another 10 days add the last 25%.
  • Understand that whatever you can write is better than not writing at all. So write daily. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s quote below. If all you can write is one true sentence, then accept that as your success for the day.

These are the five principles I’m putting into practice. I’m tired of struggling to find blog post topics and content. I’m tired of thinking about picking up my manuscript and beginning to rework it. I want to be actively engaged as a blogger and a writer.

I’ll keep you posted on my success in finding my writing groove, and I will share more suggestions of how I’m going about it.

Have you ever faced similar struggles? How did you cope with them and make a comeback in your writing? Sharing here may help someone else. 

Planning Ahead for 2015 While Building in Flexibility

If you read my last post on January 1, you know what happened to my 2014 goals. When I sat down to set out my goals for 2015, I kept in mind what last year did to my plans. I kept focused on what I committed to in that same post on January 1. My goals for 2015 are simpler and shorter than last year’s, beginning with a focus on the mandate I set for myself of facing frustrations and interruptions with flexibility.

Photo by ScottieT812 
Photo by ScottieT812 

While I will never meet the physical flexibility seen here, I realize I need more attention to flexibility during my daily scheduling.

Goals for 2015 include:

Goal #1:

As mentioned above, more flexibility in dealing with daily demands and schedules. I have more than writing to attend to each day: family relationships, preparing meals, household chores, laundry, errands, exercise, and professional reading.

In order to get these all done, I need to realize I cannot commit every day 100% to writing. In 2015, I intend to select one day from Monday through Friday and devote it to my book. The schedule will be kept free of distractions.

Goal #2: Thanks to the artists and writers cooperative where I had registered for a writing class held September-November, I will be able to restart that class in April. Surgery and recovery interrupted my attendance, and the group was fair in extending a large part of my registration fees to join back up in January or April. I chose April to ensure I was fully healed. Returning and finishing this class is important to me.

Goal #3: Work diligently at building platform as I anticipate completing, publishing and marketing my memoir. My newsletter has gained some momentum but not what I’d like to have seen so I need to educate myself on how to increase readership. I’m also leaning more toward using Twitter as my primary social media outlet, and I’ll need to come up to speed there. Sitting on a shelf nearby is the idea for another eBook for my newsletter subscribers, but that is not a definite goal for 2015.

Goal #4: With completion of the class addressed above, I hope to have finished the second draft of my memoir. It is my further hope that I will be able to work with my class instructor in finalizing that draft and readying it for editing and later publication. However, this is not a deadline item and will never be as there are too many changes that can occur in the editorial and marketing process.

Goal #5: In 2015, I want to increase my participation in this writing community I so thoroughly enjoy. My ability to get around and read every blog post has fallen by the wayside, and I’m looking to find a better method for reading and commenting on others’ work. I also want to continue my efforts in supporting other writers by reviewing their memoirs here and other genre on Goodreads and Amazon.

These are all the 2015 goals I intend to set out in black and white. As I said in my last post, there is only one me in each day I’m given and only so much time in that one day to work at the things calling my name. To attempt more would be the closest thing to implosion of a human I can think of at the moment.

I leave you with a quote from William Edgar Stafford, Poet Laureate of Oregon from 1975-1990:

I embrace emerging experience. I participate in discovery. I am a butterfly. I am not a butterfly collector. I want the experience of the butterfly.

Stafford’s words speak to the way I want to live 2015: emerging, discovering, experiencing.

How will 2015 play out for you? Have you set goals, made resolutions, or cast a list of to do’s in stone yet? Share how you’re forecasting your new year.

A Review of 2014 Goals | A Look Back Before Moving Forward

Photo by Wendy Longo photography 
Photo by Wendy Longo photography 

Last year at this time I set goals and not resolutions. At the time I established the goals, it seemed a long list for one human.

As I review that list now, it turns out those could not have been truer words.

Christmas Day 2013 found my husband in excruciating pain that would last until back surgery in March 2014. At the same time, what I thought was allergies turned out to be a respiratory problem with a long recovery time.

With Bob’s home chores falling to my shoulders as well as his health care and my own, the writing life seemed to disintegrate before my eyes.

About the time the dust began to settle, I had the opportunity attend the annual Willamette Writers Conference. Local Portland writer and teacher, Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbirdand several other books, facilitated two of the sessions I attended. I had met Jennifer before but not in the workshop environment. Jennifer excited me with her mode of teaching, her excitement about the written word, and her palpable desire to help others achieve their dreams.

By the end of the next week, I had registered to take one of Jennifer’s upcoming classes at a local writers’ cooperative. I made it to two sessions, and a bomb dropped the last weekend in September. Pain I hadn’t experienced since spinal fusion riddled one side of my body. A multitude of tests showed no reason for the pain. I had to decide whether to continue the class or taking care of myself. The latter won out. Dropping out was a huge disappointment.

Finally we insisted on another test, and a diagnosis took me into surgery. I am recovering well, and I feel better than I did 18 months ago. That in itself is a bonus.

I share all this with you to underscore the truth of goal-setting, making resolutions, resolving to adhere to a set daily schedule and/or to do list: [tweetthis]A writer’s “other life” doesn’t always cooperate with the plans for the writing life.[/tweetthis]

Lesson learned: I am one person with one life with days presented to me singularly to accomplish what I can. When all the parts of my life and days gifted don’t mesh, I will attempt to be flexible and set frustrations aside knowing there will be tomorrow.

Based on this newly ingrained bit of wisdom, I will be setting goals for 2015 and selecting a word to focus on as I move forward through 2015 while remembering what 2014 has taught me.

What about you? What did 2014 teach you that will impact how you plan as a person and/or a writer for 2015?