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.

When Is It Time to Take a Breather?

You’ve worked for weeks to meet a deadline. Day in and day out, almost 24/7 at the computer. Your agent is pushing, and so is the publisher. And your editor is dragging with the last revisions.
Not to mention your blog schedule is scantily filled, and your writing isn’t at the top of your game. Then there are the stresses of home, finances, kids and well, just life in general.

By Korall (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
By Korall (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

You feel like burying your head in the sand and not coming up.

So, take a breather! Give yourself a break!

Did I hear you say, “I can’t?”

Oh, yes, you can, and you should.

It is at this point you should take a breather. Step away from the computer, the desk, the stress and strain. Treat yourself to one or more of the following:

  • Take a short walk, maybe just a couple of blocks, breathing deeply as you go.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea or pour a cup of coffee and go sit under your favorite tree and savor the joy of the moment
  • Clear your mind of all that calls your name and close your eyes for 10 minutes or so while doing some deep breathing exercises.
  • Stand up where you are and do some stretching — neck, shoulders, arms, fingers and back. Remember never to sit for long periods of time no matter the deadlines.
  • Do something else you love to do for a while — gardening, painting, needlework, reading, listening to music.
  • Call a friend and make a date for lunch, something to get you out.
  • Better yet, as soon as those deadlines are met, take a weekend or a week, and step away for a little longer.

And the list could go on but I think you get the idea here. Nothing is as unhealthy as pushing yourself beyond your own mental and physical limits. Only you know what they are, but train yourself to recognize the right time for a breather. Usually it’s when . . .

  • You lose focus on what you’re writing. The constant and intense attention given to your writing will tire you much more quickly than you can imagine. Usually, your writing slows down and/or it seems your eyes can’t grasp what you’re looking at on the screen or on paper. Take time to close your eyes and breathe deeply.
  • You feel your hands or fingers cramping from long hours of typing. Or maybe it’s a stiffness in the neck and shoulders. For me, it’s usually the lower back that gets tired. Time for stretching exercises!
  • You realize you haven’t spent much time with family, children or friends. This is a part of who we are, and without time with the ones we love we soon become less of who we are and want to be. Make time for an afternoon strolling with your best friend, husband, wife or kids through a park.
  • You feel like the world is on your shoulders. Well, it may seem that way, but really it’s not the world — it’s your world. Time to look at how the household chores are shared and who can do some of the things you usually do, especially if there are responsible children or teens in the home. Give yourself a little less responsibility for things others can do.

Please note that I’m not any better at taking care of myself. I’ll sit for hours at the computer writing, and then wonder why everything feels so stiff. I am not a trained expert on this topic, but learned some of what I’ve shared when I underwent two spinal fusions, and still I don’t pay much attention to what I learned.

My goal is to take better care me of me so that I can finish my book, support my blogs, communicate with online friends, and spend time loving my family and friends.

I truly hope you do the same. All you have to remember is when to take a breather!

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Resource for Every Writer

Today I’m reviewing The Emotion Thesaurus on my book blog, Found Between the Covers.  I hope you’ll join me there to finish reading this review.

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The Bookshelf Muse
The Bookshelf Muse

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Publication Date: May 6, 2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Authors

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them. This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.(Image: The Bookshelf Muse; Synopsis: Amazon.com)

My Thoughts:

The Emotion Thesaurusis an important writing resource for anyone preparing written materials for a book, newspaper column, magazine article, blog post, and yes, even a book review, if that written piece includes references to persons and their emotions.

I became familiar with the work of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi at The Bookshelf Muse by way of an online search for writing tools and resources. The Bookshelf Muse is Angela and Becca’s brainchild and a rich resource for writers of all genre.  It was on their blog that I discovered The Emotion ThesaurusIf you’re not familiar with The Bookshelf Muse or The Emotion Thesaurusplease follow one of the links provided.

(Read the rest of the review here . . .)

Zany Characters to End the Month

Z is for zany, and Z is the last post in the A to Z Blog Challenge 2013!  Reaching the end entitles the blogger to feel a bit zany, a bit like a clown ready to turn cartwheels, wear brightly colored costumes, and dance around in circles!

But before we call it the end, let’s take a look at the word “zany” and how it’s use in character development.  It is possible that clowning around isn’t the only thing a zany can do!

zany | adjective

1.  ludicrously or whimsically comical; clownish.

zany | noun

2.  one who plays the clown or fool in order to amuse others. 3.  a comically wild or eccentric person. 4.  a secondary stock character in old comedies who mimicked his master. 5.  a professional buffoon; clown. 6.  a silly person; simpleton. 7.  a slavish attendant or follower.

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Dictionary.com provides many definitions of zany, including both adjective and noun.  As you study the word “zany” and its definitions, note the connections it makes with other words we’ve talked about this month:  Whimsical is part of the adjective definition, “whimsically comical,” and all the definitions under the noun group are reminiscent of the jocular.

We are all familiar with circus clowns, and

Clowns in Circus Makeup and Costume
Clowns in Circus Makeup and Costume

with the buffoons who entertain between acts at Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil Clowns
Cirque du Soleil Clowns

But what if you’re not developing a character who is actually a circus clown or performer?  A character who is an ordinary person who just happens to be someone who clowns around.

Instructor Trilby Jeeves leads a Buffoonery workshop at the Harbour Dance Centre, Vancouver BC, Canada David Buzzard Photography buzzard@direct.ca www.davidbuzzard.com
Instructor Trilby Jeeves leads a Buffoonery workshop at the Harbour Dance Centre, Vancouver BC, Canada David Buzzard Photography buzzard@direct.ca http://www.davidbuzzard.com

Your character here develops around the type of clown he or she is.  For example, a buffoon, according to its definition, can be either a person who enjoys amusing with tricks, odd gestures and postures, and jokes OR a person who is “given to coarse and undignified joking.  Here’s a photo from a Vancouver buffoonery workshop led by Trilby Jeeves, master of buffoonery.

Trilby’s website provides an overview of this type of buffoonery and an interesting tidbit on the history of buffoonery.  From the site and this photo, you get a pretty good idea of what lengths someone will go to in order to be a buffoon!

Taxi Cast on the Set Christopher Lloyd is front row, right.
Taxi Cast on the Set Christopher Lloyd is front row, right.

The definition of a “comically wild or eccentric person” took me back to the sitcom Taxi and its cast of eccentric characters.

My favorite of them all was Christopher Lloyd (front row, right), who went on to play eccentric characters in Back to the Future and many other films and TV shows.  His character was always oddly out of synchronicity with everyone else with a flair for eccentricities beyond the imagination.  His speech pattern, demeanor and walk spoke comical eccentric before he ever opened his mouth.

Your eccentric comic or zany will have mannerisms different from the norm in such a way to make them seem comical to others.  And perhaps their dress, hair or makeup will be similar in its deviation from the standard way of dress.

My hope is this brief overview of the word “zany” will be helpful.  Amazingly, zany is the shortest word in the 26 and yet had the longest list of definitions.  I could drag this out with more examples, but do not see the need.

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Note:  I am traveling April 25th through 29th and will not have Internet access.  I will respond to your comments as I can when I return.

Image attributions may be found by clicking on the image.

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