Tag Archives: Writing Tips

From One Writer to Another: A Short “How To” on Writing Fiction


I wrote this post for my friend and colleague Rachel Thompson’s BadRedhead Media blog several months ago. And now it comes home. 🙂


Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Do you have an idea for a great story? Does something inside push you to string letters together in complete sentences that end up filling multiple pages? Do you feel as if you’ll burst if you don’t stop RIGHT THIS MINUTE and record those scenes and that dialogue swirling round and round in your head?

Welcome to my world, and the world of so many others like me. Welcome to the world of WRITING. What do I do NOW? you may ask. I’m so glad you did. I have answers for you. 🙂 In this post, I’ll address writing historical (specifically, medieval) and fantasy fiction, as they are the setting/time period/theme of my current Work in Progress.

While writing fiction can be as simple as sitting down and setting pen or pencil to paper (or fingers to computer keyboard – whichever your preference), it isn’t always so. It surely wasn’t that simple for me. Oh, the words may flood your imagination and before you know it, you’ve written a complete chapter. Good for you! I sincerely hope it’s that easy for you. Quite often, though, research is necessary, even if it’s just looking up the meaning and best use of a word or phrase.

Research

If like me you write historical fiction, then your setting (geographical) may be a place that exists or did at one time exist in the real world. If so, you’ll need to be sure you know a few things either before you begin writing the story or at some point before you’ve finished your first draft:

  • Where in relation to the rest of the world that place exists (or did exist, if it doesn’t anymore). Part of my book takes place in medieval Silesia, Poland. While it still exists, the borders have changed over the centuries and today it’s divided between Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
  • Topography – mountainous, plains, desert, etc.
  • Climate(s)
  • Culture(s) – how the natives interact with one another and with foreigners/visitors.
  • Cuisine
  • System of exchange – bartering, coin money, etc.
  • Native/national costume/style of clothing (if any). I say “if any,” because in America for example we don’t have any one national style of clothing.
  • Weaponry, soldiers/armies, defense/offense, justice system
  • Sexuality – discrimination between the sexes, expectations and perceptions that separate the genders, local/national traditions/norms for single persons, married persons, etc.
  • Language(s), dialects
  • Medicine/healing
  • Travel between cities, towns, villages, countries

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. The necessity for research is one reason why some books and series take years to write and publish; all of the research that must take place before pen is even set to paper, research that continues while writing, and then the redrafting, polishing, editing and proofreading. If you’re going to spend the time and energy writing a story with the intention of publishing, then you want to be sure it’s your best work. Every time. Your writing skills may improve with each successive book – in fact, they almost certainly will improve. That doesn’t mean your earlier works weren’t your best; they were your best at that time.

all-great-literature

Historical Fiction

So. What will you write about? Will you write a coming-of-age tale? Will you write a swashbuckling adventure full of pirates and damsels in distress? Whatever you choose to write about, you’ll probably discover the truth of one of my favorite quotes of all time about writing. Leo Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” The first time I read this quote, I took it as a challenge – a challenge to find a book that WASN’T about one of those two stories. So far, every story I’ve read (literally thousands) has supported this statement.

All fiction is based on one of these two ideas, and you build upon them. Even if the story doesn’t begin with a journey or an arrival, one of those is still present. While, as Patricia C. Wrede points out, a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town aren’t plots per say, they ARE precipitating incidents that introduce the plot; they are where the plot begins. They are the foundation upon which all fiction is built.

Fantasy

And what about fantasy? On one hand, writing fantasy can be easy – it’s often make-believe, after all, and subject only to the limits of each writer’s imagination and motivation. On the other hand, it needs to be believable. And if your fantasy is set in the real world – sort of a small step off the beaten path – then you still need to research the setting, time period, etc. This is what I did in my book, SERPENT ON A CROSS, and its work-in-progress sequel, VEIL OF MENACE. I combined real-world historical events and places with fantasy, mythology and Jewish mysticism/esotericism. Some of the fantasy-related research that’s gone into this series is:

  • Eastern European (mainly Russian and Polish) mythology and folklore
  • Jewish folklore and superstition
  • Jewish proverbs
  • Jewish esotericism (NOT kabbalah – my story predates traditional kabbalah)
  • Other writers’ works on any of these subjects

The Actual Writing

Even though writing fiction may not always be as simple as sitting down and setting pen to paper, it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect; it shouldn’t be. In my case – because I love research so much – the actual writing was sometimes set aside in favor of the research. I finally had to make myself stop (or at least pause) researching and start (and finish) writing the story. Of course, my impatient characters often made their presence felt, usually in the middle of the night, not letting me sleep until I wrote down the scene(s) beating at my imagination.

As for what to write about, the sky is virtually the limit (actually, I’m pretty sure outer space still has vacancies as well). Write about what you know and want to share with others…write about things that scare you that you wish didn’t scare you…write about something you’re interested in learning more about.

One of the wonderful things about writing a story is that you will always learn something, whether about yourself as a person or as a writer, about the subject, about the location. Perhaps all of the above. Such a wealth of knowledge awaits you as a writer. What are you waiting for?

Recommended Reading

Some general research recommendations (all of which I have read) for writing fiction and fantasy:

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Filed under books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, How To, Reader, Reading, Research, writer, Writing, Writing Tips

Guest Post: 4 Top Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Writing by @BadRedheadMedia


Photo Source: Unsplash.com/Annie Spratt

Photo Source: Unsplash.com/Annie Spratt

If you are a nonfiction or memoir author, one of the issues I hear from multiple authors (and experienced myself) is giving ourselves permission to write the hard stuff. Many people will never put pen to paper because sharing the intimate details of their lives or a particular experience is simply too terrifying a thought.

I’m here to tell you how to overcome that fear and start writing.

Let’s deconstruct.

Fear

What are you so afraid of? Most writers are terrified of sharing the truth of their experiences, for a myriad of reasons:

  • What will my family and friends think?
  • Will people judge me?
  • Will anyone believe me?
  • Will I lose my job?

And these are all valid. However, keep in mind that you can still write about your experiences and nobody has to see them. Just start writing. Get the words out. Journal, write a letter, share your story on your blog or as a guest post anonymously, whatever – just get it out of your head and down on paper. Nobody is watching you or hovering over your shoulder. Take those fears, lock them in a drawer, and put away the key. They’ll be there waiting when you’re done.

Vulnerability works in your favor when writing memoir and nonfiction.

An author told me the other day that she could write for weeks nonstop if she could just get over that fear of someone reading it, so keep this in mind: nobody has to read your journal or first draft. Do what I call the “word vomit” and simply release your mind dump. It’s so incredibly freeing. I’m giving you permission right now.

You’re an adult, and you are allowed to write like one. Own your story…which leads me to my next point…

Feel It

If, at some point, you take that word vomit and decide you do want to create a book out of it, the only way you’ll be able to connect with your readers is to dig deep into what you’re feeling as you write it. Harness your raw emotion. If you don’t feel it as you write it, we won’t feel it as we read it.

As I counsel my author clients (and remind myself): write what scares you.

Here’s my biggest tip as you write your initial first draft: do not self-edit. Those stories have been circulating inside you for years, waiting patiently for you to bring them out. Honor them and let them have their say.

write-what-scares-you-rachel-attribution

Structure

Real-life experiences (in my case, I write about surviving childhood sexual abuse and the after-effects) can be brutal, joyful, horrifying, and thought-provoking – often a combination of them all. Give your writing some kind of structure after your initial draft.

Once you allow yourself to write out your experiences, some kind of structure will usually emerge. Note: working with a professional editor helps immensely at this point.

In my own case, in writing my first Broken book, Broken Pieces, I discovered that surviving abuse isn’t a linear, chronological process. My editor and I decided that the best way to present the book was in pieces (as referenced in the title), so the reader would feel the same kind of frustrations and sense of discord I felt as I experienced it.

In the second book, Broken Places, I found my work centered more around mind, body, and soul, so that’s how we structured the book. I didn’t discover that until after I had written most of the book and released everything I felt. The lesson here: trust the process.

If you simply cannot move forward without a full structure, that’s okay, too. Everyone works differently. Nonfiction and memoir tend to be a more internalized process, so my advice here is to not hold back, whichever way you go.

Trust

Trust your voice. It may sound cliché, but the truth of it is, many people will give you feedback on your work but ultimately, it’s your name that goes on the cover of that book. It’s your work.

That said, I do believe it’s critically important to work with a professional editor (like Wendy, who’s awesome), or someone else who does this for a living; not Aunt Edna who used to teach English back in the day. Ask people to beta-read for you. Send out ARCs. Send your work to trusted critique partners.

Why is this important? Because readers, book bloggers, and book reviewers will buy, read, review your work, and leave reviews. You don’t want any surprises. Sure, not everyone will love your work and that’s okay, too – that’s their right.

Keep in mind, once your book is out there, you’re no longer invited to the party. Don’t take it personally – publishing is a business. Be professional and keep on writing.

 

The only thing stopping you from writing is some unknown, nebulous fear and it’s up to you to wrangle it. Remember, nobody will see what you are writing unless you allow it, but even you can’t see what you’re writing unless you start.

So, go.

__________________________________________________

Rachel-Thompson1Rachel Thompson is represented by literary agent Lisa Hagan, and is published by ShadowTeamsNYC.

She is the author of the award-winning, bestselling Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in both the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Book Festivals), and the bestselling, multi award-winning Broken Pieces (as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed).

Rachel’s work is also featured in several anthologies (see Books for details).

She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), Feminine Collective, IndieReader.com, 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly,

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live weekly Twitter chats, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish (Tuesdays, 6pm PST/9pm EST), and #BookMarketingChat, co-hosted with author assistant Melissa Flickinger (Wednesdays, 6pm PST/9pm EST).

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Author Contact Information:

Author Site: rachelintheoc.com
BadRedhead Media Site: badredheadmedia.com
Twitter: @RachelintheOC
Twitter (Business):
@BadRedheadMedia
SexAbuseChat:
@SexAbuseChat
BookMarketingChat: @BkMarketingChat
MondayBlogs: @MondayBlogs 
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Goodreads
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4619475.Rachel_Thompson
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Filed under Editor, Emotion, Guest Post, Life, Memoir, Nonfiction, Real Life, Writing, Writing Tips