Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fiction Conversion

By: William Carmichael, co-author of The Missionary
I have been a published author of non-fiction over many years. But in my heart, I always wanted to have a try at fiction. In 2001, having no training in writing fiction (believe me, it is very different from writing non-fiction), I decided to give it a go. The first thing I did was purchase about ten books on writing fiction and devoured them. While I read about Point of View, Character Arc, Dialogue, Plot, Pace and Scene, I did not realize the magnitude of those aspects of good fiction until I began to write.

Then, for five years, I worked on a fiction book idea that had been rumbling around in my head. I allowed my wife to read the first draft, which, at that point, was a mistake, as she became pretty much bored with it after about two chapters. That was when I realized there was something major wrong, even though the manuscript made perfect sense to me. As an avid reader of fiction, she was kind enough to point out some of the problems she saw. Over the next couple of years, I continued to write and rewrite. I showed the story to friends who gave additional advice. But, by now, some of the "fun" of writing fiction was beginning to disappear. I later discovered that my frustration was due to a lack of some basic knowledge I did not have about the mechanics of writing good fiction.

I had bouts of “writers block” and while I did extensive research on the country I had selected as the scene for my story, I had never actually been there to see the people, smell the smells, taste the food, and sense the spirit of the place. It was then that I decided I needed to go to Venezuela, where the story in my novel took place. I was there for about two weeks, and you guessed it....this prompted another complete rewrite. But being there gave me a new vision for the story.

Through a series of events, I came in contact with David Lambert who eventually ended up as my co-writer of The Missionary, published by Moody. And that is when I really learned some key things about fiction. David is one of the leading Christian fiction editor/writers in the country. For many years he was the Senior Fiction Editor for Zondervan. He had also written the fiction curriculum for the Christian Writers Guild.

Here are two key things about fiction writing, among many, that I’ve learned from David.

First, a good profile of your characters is essential to knowing how to create their voice and make their character unique. David asked me to write a multi-page biography of my protagonist. “A lot of this will never make it in the book,” he said, “but we need to know what he is like from the time of his birth.”  So I began writing a rather exhaustive profile of my protagonist….where he went to school, what was his family like, how did he fit in the birth order of his family, what was his relationship with his father, his mother, his siblings. What was his attitude about life, God and education. Was he a leader or a follower? What were his physical characteristics….tall or short, fat or skinny, athletic or couch potato? What personality traits stood out? How would he react or respond to crisis, to injustice, to new experiences or to someone’s gestures of love? It was a small book by itself…a short biography of my protagonist’s life.

I wrote these profiles for each of my main characters in the book. These became the basis of how we then created unique characters, with unique voices, who stayed “in character” (Would he/she say that or do that based on their character?). Writing these profiles was a lot of work, but it made the task of creating voice, dialogue and character arc much easier.

Second, David taught me that conflict has to continue to build in a good fiction story. A basic flaw in a lot of aspiring fiction writers is that while we tend to create some really good conflict, we are temped to resolve the conflict right away. We let our characters “off the hook” too soon. That is death to a good novel. Conflict needs to build. In a good novel, things continue to get more tense, increasingly worse, more involved as the story progresses. Conflict and how it will eventually get resolved is what keeps the reader reading. If it is resolved too soon, the desire to continue to follow the story is diminished.

Just now, I am beginning to feel like a beginning fiction writer. It has taken about eight years of work on my first novel to get to this point. David and I are now working on novel number two and with the added skills I now have and, of course, a guy like David as my co-writer from the beginning, it won’t take eight years this time around! Writing fiction is a lot of fun…again.

Check out more of William Carmichael and David Lambert's fiction invention at http://missionarynovel.wordpress.com/home/

1 comment:

  1. I've written many science fiction short stories, and then tried to have them published, no go. Then I did a full length novel, and I'm trying to break into the industry too. http://newnovelannouncement.blogspot.com/ finding out it's harder than it looks. Not the writing, but the publicity to get it out there


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