Different Ways to Write Fiction

Different Ways to Write Fiction

“John Irving once told me he doesn’t start a novel until he knows the last sentence. I said, ‘My God, Irving, isn’t that like working in a factory?'”—Tom Robbins

There are probably as many different ways to write fiction as there are novels on Amazon.

SOME FICTION AUTHORS write with structured outlines and in-depth character analyses, knowing exactly how the novel will end. This is a logical and practical way to work through a story. Some very successful indie authors write formulaic genre novels they know readers want because that’s what is trending. It’s possible to achieve high sales and make a good living writing for the market.

Some authors start with an idea and let stream of consciousness take them on a ride. Even though they might begin with a protagonist in mind, without the tight reins of a planned-out story, that protagonist will undoubtedly develop a unique personality as though she is writing herself and her own dialogue. Secondary characters crop up and insert themselves, veering off on their own colorful tangents. Really surprising scenes appear. The ending always changes, or isn’t thought of at all, and it somehow connects invisible threads in the story. Such a writer will feel he or she isn’t writing at all—just watching as the story unfolds by itself.

There are countless mashups in-between.

“You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”―Truman Capote

I don’t mean to suggest that writing a novel is easy, however it’s done—it’s not. Rewrites and edits and changing things up that don’t fit and days when the muse is absent can be challenging, hard work, sometimes agonizing and even painful. You might be floating on pink, puffy clouds sipping nectar-of-the-gods one day and slogging through mud in flip-flops the next. Yes, it can be what normal people call work, but crazy authors call bliss.

“Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.”—Charles Bukowski

What I’m getting at here—and this is the juicy bit—is there is magic in writing. No matter how structured you like to be when writing that novel, and even if you’re writing genre fiction for a specific demographic at a specific point in time when this or that is trending—it doesn’t mean you can’t let a little magic into the mix.

Don’t Choke out the Magic

Leave a door or two open for the muse to waltz in, take hold of your story and shake it up a little. So you took a side road from your outline, you added a bit that goes against the popular grain, a character pops up you hadn’t planned for—let it flow. You can always slash it later. Generally, with novels, there should be a good deal of merciless slashing in the rewrite phase. But in the first draft, let writing be loose and inclusive, not tight and exclusive. You can still work from an outline, still follow your plan, still write for the market, but don’t forget that you are you—and you have a uniqueness that needs a little room to stretch and express itself.

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”―Stephen King

On the other hand, it’s all good. Okay, so you don’t want to take chances on risky adventures into the labyrinths of the imagination, when you have a deadline, bills to pay, marketing to do, a book to finish. I get it.

In fact, I have a twinge of envy for indie authors who can keep pumping out books for the trending market. Though I must add a caveat here and express my absolute loathing for the romance “billionaire” genre. Aside from the absurdity of it, and the fact that it was born out of that hurl-it-against-the-wall book—Fifty Shades of Stupid, or something like that—I feel it’s the epitome of selling out as a writer.

No offense to anyone capitalizing off that massively successful, massively horrid set of “billionaire” books, and you’re probably laughing at me all the way to the bank, because from a business standpoint it’s smart.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”―Cyril Connolly

Okay, so that was a bit harsh Cyril. Because we all should do whatever the heck we want in this life. There is no right or wrong way. What works for me does not necessarily work for someone else. And it’s completely unique in every case.

Writing a novel can be a deliciously rich experience—full of surprise, pain, elation, love, hate, illumination, self-discovery, excitement, frustration, challenges up the wazoo, and a host of other descriptors. It just depends on how crazy you want to get. Personally, I like to get as crazy as possible, and being structured gets in my way.

Whatever you choose to do in your writing, I will leave you with the wise words of one damn sexy dude. (They’re not really his words, but let’s pretend they are—after all, we’re talking about fiction here.)

do whatever blows your skirt up

From Traditionally Published to Self-Published

From Traditionally Published to Self-Published

The business of writing and selling a book is easier and harder than ever.

Self-publishing is accessible to anyone now, but getting the job done well can be a crazy challenge in many ways. I was a traditionally published author and illustrator when I decided to self-publish. It nearly ripped my brain to shreds trying to jump over the hurdles I encountered.

How I ended up self-publishing . . .

While freelancing as an illustrator, I started writing short stories as a creative outlet. This led pretty quickly to a practice novel—which, being my first attempt, sucked, but it was a great learning experience. In the meantime, a publisher I was illustrating for asked me to write a how-to book. So my career shifted slightly to include professional writing.

I found my voice in my second novel. Skip to my third novel and now I have an agent. But publishing was in the middle of a huge industry change. The advantages of being traditionally published were quickly being outweighed by the advantages of self-publishing—unless your name was Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell. I regrouped and got serious about publishing my own books.

Creating the ebook.

I thought, This is going to be easy. Boy was I wrong. I was used to working with a whole publishing team, and I was suddenly faced with having to do everything myself. The first task, after gobs of rewrites and paranoid edits, was learning to properly format an ebook.

It was a nightmare of epic proportions and serious brain-shredding.

Just trying to get a solid overview of the whole shebang in the scattered, disconnected book-publishing help section on Amazon scrambled my brain, and sent me scouring the Internet for clearer, straight-to-the-point information that didn’t leave out crucial bits. Of course, this was also like slogging through mud in torrential rain, and I was lost in rabbit hole after rabbit hole, trying this and then that, discarding it all as inferior, getting blown off by the Amazon support team, and frustrated with no clear path in sight.

I spent months researching ways to properly format with Word, freeware, apps, code, add-ons, advice from every YouTube author dishing it out, and something always went wrong. I’d upload a ms. to Amazon KDP, and on some device the formatting was lost, messed up, or my book just looked like crap. 

(It must be noted at this point that I am a perfectionist and I don’t give up dammit. Being an artist, I want things to look the way I want things to look, down to every detail. But I am also an entrepreneur/freelancer and I know the value of cutting losses and compromise. Hence, a sometimes grisly conflict of interest.)

After months of agony, I stumbled upon some luck.

I finally found a YouTuber, Joanna Penn, who interviewed Brad Andalman, one of the two creators (both Brads) of Vellum, an ebook and print book formatting app. I will do another blog post in more detail on the awesomeness of Vellum, but now just let me say, What a relief! And, Wow! And, My formatting troubles were over.

(Just one note on Vellum: It’s for Mac only. Trust me, it’s worth buying a used Mac just to take advantage of this stellar app.)

Vellum not only solved all my ebook formatting issues, it solved a number of other problems as well, such as, Amazon’s iffy book-preview feature, and, how to create the print version. The Brads really know what they’re doing.

That solved, now what?

Well, the thing no artist wants to do: market. So I entered my first self-published novel, How to Rate a Soulmate, in two literary contests as part of my newbie-self-published-author marketing plan. One yielded a really cool 5-star review based on an unpublished draft, and the other a first-place win in the romance genre with the finished print version. 😀

I’m still slogging through effective marketing strategies, much in the same way I slogged through formatting options: learning curves up the wazoo; shredded brain.

And so the journey continues.

Read the first chapter of How to Rate a Soulmate free, here.

Buy it here.






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