You’re writing fiction. You must engage your readers, and keep them turning the pages. How do you do that? In this guest post, Yuwanda Black shows you how.
I’ve been a freelance writer since 1993. I’ve been writing ebooks since 2002. I started out writing non-fiction, how-to ebooks, mostly covering topics related to freelance writing, internet marketing, SEO writing, etc.
In 2013, after I saw the profits a friend of mine made from a romance novel she banged out in a couple of weeks, I decided to give fiction writing a try – for the first time in my life. And let me tell ya, it’s a whole different animal.
Here’s My Formula for Writing Non-Fiction
In my opinion – and I think most writers will agree with me – writing fiction is much harder than writing non-fiction. In non-fiction, you cover facts.
- You basically list what you want to cover;
- Organize it into an outline;
- Conduct some research to back up what you’re saying;
- Throw in some personal experience; and
At least, this is my formula. Bam. Boom. Whammo. Book done!
My Formula for Writing Fiction
Well, to be honest, when I wrote my first romance, there was no formula. I wrote from personal experience, then when I went to write my next one, I was like, “Dear lord, what now?”
I knew practically nothing about character development, story sequence, how to draw a reader in and make them care. In short, I had to hunker down and do the real work of writing. I had to learn how to write fiction.
Writing Fiction: 4 Tips that Breathe Life into Your Stories
If you write, you know that this is a lifelong thing. Now, over 40 fiction books later, I have picked up a few good writing habits. Following are four that will help suck readers into your story from the very beginning.
1. Hook ’em!
Stir an emotion. Give the reader something to ponder, wonder about, question, get mad about, want to know more about – something! As Angela says in the post, FICTION RESEARCH: IMAGINATION WINS:
Fiction is all about emotion. It’s your job to get your readers feeling. So you need to feel, first.
If you do this, you have a chance of hooking them into wanting to read further. A good example of this is Pulitzer prize-winning author Alice Walker’s, “The Color Purple.” Following is how the book starts.
You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.
I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.
Tell God what? What would kill her mammy? She’s only 14. What happened to her? Who’s that talking to her?
Immediately, all these questions run through your mind when you read these first few sentences. You’re hooked, at least for a few more pages. You want to at the very least find out what she’s talking about.
2. On Characters
One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in the last three years in the hundreds of articles I’ve read about how to become a better writer is to fully develop your characters.
What I mean by this is, I actually write down personal traits – from the physical, to the emotional, to their background, their hobbies – everything. It might look something like this …
Name: Lisa Smith
Profession: Legal Secretary
Where Born: New York, NY
Where Lives Now: Phoenix, AZ
Personality: Eg, Leans towards shy and introverted, but has a no-nonsense side.
Insecurities: Has never felt smart enough; mother used to always tell her that she’d better find a nice man to marry cuz she’s never gonna make it on her brain-power.
Hobbies: Martial arts (Tae kwon do); starting taking class to lose a few extra pounds. Wound up liking it; now is two levels away from a black belt.
Greatest Fear: That she’ll wind up alone, just like her mother.
As you can see, it can get very detailed. When you know who you’re writing about, the writing is easier because a fully formed character will “guide you.”
Sometimes, I swear, characters take on a life of their own. They do things and I’m like, “Whoa, I did not see THAT coming!” And yet, I’m the “author.”
It’s magic when this happens and that’s why I like to say that sometimes, I’m just the conduit through which the story flows. Some books literally write themselves and it’s due in part to the fact that the characters are whole – so whole that they can tell the story better than you!
3. Write “In Color”
On my bucket list is a visit to Scotland? Why? Because I love historical romance novels. I’ve probably read a few hundred of them since my teenage years. Many of them were set in the Scottish Highlands.
All the years later, the imagery I read in so many novels still stand out to me. I can picture the heroine, her skirts flying as her horse’s hooves pound the hills of the Highlands, taking her away from danger.
Much like doing character sketches, make whatever place you’re talking about come alive. Be specific in details, eg, “the peeling blue of the paint on the wall. As I raked my nails across it, it flew off in tiny shards, like the breaking of my heart as each word rolled off his tongue.”
Don’t’ get nauseating with it; so bogged down in detail that you turn the reader off. But do give enough detail so that the reader can picture the place you’re talking about, even if they’ve never been there.
4. Don’t Tell, Show
One of my sisters took a writing class once at the New School in New York. She said one of the exercises the professor gave the class was to write a paragraph, but not use any adverbs; ie, -ly words.
Instead of saying she walked slowly to the door, they had to “show slowly.” So it may have gone something like this:
She willed one foot to move in front of the other. The steel cold of the door handle knob in her hand signaled that she’d arrived at the door, but she didn’t remember her feet covering the two feet she must have taken.
Showing is so much more powerful than telling. It paints a picture for the reader, forcing them to call upon more than one of their senses to grasp what’s being said. This gets the reader invested … invested to keep reading.
In case you hadn’t caught it, these four tips have one thing in common. What is it? It calls on you to make your writing vivid; to paint a picture to engage the reader.
When you write like this, whether a reader loves your story or hates it, one thing they can never accuse you of as a writer is being bland. And sometimes, that’s the silver lining as a writer.
Want more from Yuwanda?
Yuwanda is the publisher of InkwellEditorial.com, home of “the hybrid freelance writer.” She’s self-published over 90 ebooks (fiction and non-fiction). The Ultimate Freelancer’s Guidebook is her first traditionally published title. She can be found on Twitter @InkwellEditor.
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