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.

Windows 10 and a 2-Day Conference and Geek Squad, Oh My!! and Lessons Learned

Drawing on a line from the movie, The Wizard of OzI kept running the title for this post over and over in my head to the cadence used in this scene.

No, I haven’t faced anything nearly as frightening or deadly as lions, tigers and bears in recent days. But Microsoft’s Windows 10 soured my technology tastes just before a two-day writing conference. Hurrying home on Saturday, I planned to spend Sunday getting Windows 10 up and running, only to decide the Geek Squad would be my best bet. And then they took longer than first thought.

A Word on Windows 10

Attributed to WinBeta
Attributed to WinBeta

My purpose here is not to speak negatively about Windows 10 or Microsoft’s decision to upgrade to a new version of its operating system. Frustrations grew out of my haste in choosing to upgrade before all the bugs were worked out.

Husband Bob and I had upgraded his computer to Windows 10 without a hitch. Only one little problem after the upgrade finished, and it was such a minor issue it only took seconds to correct it. Why would it not go the same on my laptop?

Well, it didn’t. Nobody knows why Windows 10 chose to destroy and almost annihilate my poor Lenovo laptop. Suddenly, in the middle of the upgrade, the screen flashes as if it were a neon sign directing consumers to a favorite local pub or special event.

Nothing would make it stop or clear its throat but shutting down the computer. And nothing I tried that long Thursday evening would bring it back to life.

Earlier in the day, I backed up to a thumb drive all manuscript files as well as other projects not yet completed before attempting the upgrade.

I should have known better than to rush into this the night before my conference began. And I strongly recommend giving it some time to work out all its little issues, obviously some larger than others.

Willamette Writers Conference 2015

Day 1 (Friday)

Attributed to Willamette Writers
Attributed to Willamette Writers

Despite the events of the night before, the first day of the conference, including a 50th-anniversary celebration for Willamette Writers, dawned glorious and energizing. A keynote speaker Friday morning woke us up with an inspirational sharing of his own story as a writer and the truth of the hard journey writers often face.

My schedule for the day included back-to-back workshops, most focusing on the mysterious world of self-publishing. I met Carla King briefly as she facilitated a panel discussion of three writers who have self-published. Later in the day, I listened carefully to Melissa Hart‘s three-hour presentation on writing and publishing a book-length memoir. Well worth every minute spent with these two women.

I did reserve time for one writing workshop in the morning hours led by the keynote speaker, Bill Kenower, founder and editor-in-chief of Author Magazine. Listening to Bill both in the morning and in the workshop was like an instant makeover of my perspective on the writing life and where I am in my journey. Thank you, Bill!

This doesn’t include nor give credit to three wonderful women writers I met on Friday–Karen Garst, Cecelia Otto and Nikki Martin. We enjoyed conversation and chatter over lunch and drinks, and I hope to continue to connect with each of them.

I went home at the end of the day filled with motivation, encouragement, inspiration, and a notebook stuffed with notes and handouts. I determined not to even cast a glance toward my laptop.

Day 2 (Saturday)

A slight change in my schedule found me sitting in Larry Brooks‘s presentation on getting to that “true final draft.” Larry is a consummate teacher and lover of words and writing. His passion for the subject he’s teaching combined with his own best-selling books make him the perfect writing teacher.

Larry’s genre is fiction, primarily suspense and thriller stories. He has also written nonfiction but instructional nonfiction on the subject of, what else, writing. However, I had heard so much about his teaching that at the last minute I switched workshops to experience him in action firsthand.

I was not disappointed. And as Larry moved through a topic about which he gets excited, humorous, flippant, and sarcastic at times, I knew I was listening to someone who really knew his craft. By the end of the 90 minutes, I saw the connection between what he was teaching and my work in writing memoir. Following the workshop, I told him of the connection I had made and we discussed it for a few moments. I’m glad I attended Larry’s session.

Then another panel but this time with editors who wanted to share how writers should write to please editors. It was a lively and fast-paced panel discussion, including a freelance editor who also works for a local house, a traditional house editor working from home here in Portland, and lastly another traditional house editor working in-house. Their processes were very similar with respect to agents and writers, with the major difference being in their respective proximity to their personal editorial teams.

In that last session on what editors want to see, I may have met a potential writing/critiquing partner, Linda Atwell, also working on a memoir project. Networking and meeting up with new people is a huge benefit to conference attendance.

One last workshop on print design with Cheri Lasota, a young woman well-versed in book design and design software. In fact, Cheri’s knowledge coupled with her enthusiasm for writing and publishing almost demolished the six minds sitting in the room with her. There was no way we could absorb everything she wanted to share, and we were all grateful when she indicated she would email us her slides. Whew!

Another workshop was available but after that last one, it was time to head homeward.

Geek Squad to the Rescue!

Attributed to BestBuy
Attributed to BestBuy

After a good night’s rest, I arose on Sunday determined to conquer Windows 10 and resurrect my Lenovo laptop. After preparing breakfast and seeing Husband Bob off to church, I settled into the task. Online I found many sites offering instructions on reverting back to Windows 8.1 and then installing the Windows 10 upgrade again. These were daunting words. They meant others had met a similar problem.

I followed their instructions to the letter multiple times. Not once did I ever get a positive response. Around noon, I caved in and called the Geeks over at the Squad.

The “agent” assigned to “my case” quietly checked the laptop out with a few almost doctoral sounding hmm’s and aah’s. Finally, he tells me he’s keeping my laptop for the next couple of days. With disappointment, I left alone.

Patience has not been a longstanding virtue of mine, so Monday and Tuesday weren’t especially easy for me. I now had all this new knowledge and inspiration to complete my manuscript, but I couldn’t get to a computer to get it done. Finally, late Tuesday afternoon another “agent” called to give a status update. And late Wednesday afternoon, I picked up my laptop and gently brought it home.

But I still had work to do. All applications and software loaded on my laptop after I purchased it were wiped out and needed reloading. Guess how I spent my Thursday? After several hours, I had things back pretty much where I wanted them, and today I typed this post on my newly restored Lenovo laptop upgraded to Windows 10 and operating quite well.

Lessons Learned

⇒ Never, I say, never again will I rush into a Microsoft upgrade. In an earlier life working in a law firm, I had gone through many such upgrades, always before any bugs were worked out.

⇒ Never again will I attempt such an upgrade the night before the first day of a conference. It causes frustration, loss of sleep, and a bad start to the next morning.

⇒ Never will I miss attending the Willamette Writer’s Annual Conference, if I can help it. Too valuable to miss.

⇒ Beginning now, I will work on exercising greater patience in all areas of my life.

Do you have any similar stories to share about computer failures or upgrades or other crises happening just before a writing conference you’d like to share? Leave them for us in the comment section below. We’d love to hear your stories too.