Advanced Placement U.S History Reviewing For The Examination Student Edition Write Compelling Fiction – Article One

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Write Compelling Fiction – Article One

At the request of a number of friends and colleagues, I’ve broken my manual, WRITE COMPELLING FICTION into a number of 1,500 (plus or minus) word articles for EzineArticles, slightly upgrading them as I go. Hope you glean a little good from them, and hope I see your novels on the shelves and racks, along with my 20 novels and 2 non-fiction works, and my wife’s over 50 romantic suspense and historical romance novels.

This manual (series of articles) is written for those of you, like myself, who are not English majors or grammarians-not that those of you who are can’t glean some good common sense and some novelist’s tricks out of it.

I’m a guy who loves to hunt and fish. I’ll get outdoors for any excuse. Like most of you, I’ve worked hard all my life. I love the West and its history and think I’d have done just fine had I lived a hundred and fifty years ago. As the song says, a country boy will survive. But to be published-my area of specialty has been the West-you need more than a love of westerns, history and historical characters. Like all specialties-be it driving an eighteen wheeler, driving a nail, or doing nails-there are tricks that make writing a novel easier; one of those is writing from history, but there are stories and plots everywhere, in every newspaper, every magazine, every observation you make at Starbucks or at work. There are also pitfalls, but most of them easily avoided.

I wanted to write and sell a novel. I learned how the hard way. By studying other’s mistakes (including mine) you can learn the easy way. Even today, after selling twenty novels, I fight obvious errors and poor grammar, clumsy sentence structure and worse-much worse-boring text. I can’t begin to teach you all there is to know about writing novels or even writing a good letter to your mother. I can tell you where and how to learn a good deal of it. I’m still studying but if I can make it a little easier for you, then I’ve accomplished my purpose in writing this manual.

And I got published. So can you.

Most of the rules for writing novels are valid for writing in general. A few are specific to genre. If you don’t know the definition of genre, then you’re exactly the person this manual is written for. But even those of you who do know what it means will find some gems in here-most of them cat-burgled or openly filched from other much better writers than myself.

A great deal of this manual refers to westerns and historicals, and to romance, because these (and screenplays) are what my wife and I write and how we make our living-although I’ve now been published in mystery, thriller, and non-fiction. This is not to say that the same rules don’t apply to other genres of writing as well. It is certainly not to say that you can’t pick up some gems of writing wisdom from this manual-not necessarily originated by me, but passed on from other good and great writers-or that much of what is included here is not applicable to what you intend to write if it’s something other than westerns or historicals.

Good luck with your novel.

REMINDERS: Over the top of my computer, along the edges of bookshelves just over eye-high, I have taped the following reminders:

Filter all description though point of view!

Problem, Purpose, Conflict, Goal-Active Voice!

Hear, See, Taste, Touch, and Smell!

There is no scene without conflict!

Check for As, That, Was!

Each of these has been taped there at various times throughout my writing career. And I still glance at them on occasion, and they are still crucial to good writing.

The rest of this manual will, among other things, tell you why I think the above reminders are so important and why, if you’re a reader (and you shouldn’t try being a writer if you’re not), you’ll never be stuck for plot or characters.

CAN YOU DO IT? First you must want to.

Anyone who has a basic understanding of the structure of written English or is willing to learn-and has a story to tell-can write and sell a novel.

I sold my first paperback western, Tenkiller, to Zebra Books, twenty five years ago. My second, Mojave Showdown, was picked up by the same company. Together, my wife and I wrote and sold Tin Angel, a western romance, to Avon. To Bantam Books, I’ve sold the westerns El Lazo, Against the 7th Flag, The Devils Bounty, and The Benicia Belle. In addition, Bantam brought out my historical, Rush to Destiny. My next was a Double D hardback, a novel of the West, Shadow of the Grizzly. The ones following, were westerns, mysteries, thrillers, and a couple of non-fiction works including the work from which most of this article was gleaned: Write Compelling Fiction. All of my books are available in audio, most from Books in Motion, a great company located in Spokane, WA. Most are now on Amazon in both print and eBook format.

By sold, I mean I have contracted and received an advance for the novel, and we’ll talk a little more about contracts later.

In addition my wife, Kat, is published in a dozen or more foreign languages and over two dozen countries. She’s now sold over 50 romantic suspense and historical romance novels to several major publishers-many of her novels have appeared on the best seller lists.

We did it. You can do it.

I am not a college graduate. Family pressures took me away from college in my junior year. In English I would probably test in the middle (my loving wife would say lower) of a group of college freshmen and be stuck in the bone-head class. But I’m willing to look up what I don’t know, and I’m willing to take the time necessary to make sure my work is neatly presented to the reader-the first of whom will be an agent or editor who will say yes or no to buying the work.

And every day I enjoy writing more than the day before. It continues to come easier-and it’s more financially rewarding. It’ll never be perfect.

I keep learning every day. Who knows? If I do it long enough, maybe I can enter college and not have to take bone-head English! Writers learn by doing, every time they sit down and face the blank page.

You’ve got a great story. We all do. You have to be willing to take the time to get it on paper in a clear and legible manner and with reasonably good English so the editors read past the first two pages. Even the best of stories-most compelling or exciting or touching-may go unread, and unsold, due to misspellings and typographical errors in the first couple of pages. Many editors, most in fact, feel that if you are sloppy in your technical skills and presentation, odds are you’re sloppy in all other aspects of your writing.

But more about that later.

When I first picked up a pencil and yellow pad, I had little knowledge of spelling or sentence structure-all I really had was a love of great fiction. I found a little time, a dictionary, and some harsh critics, and all contributed to the eventual sale of my first western novel.

The chief excuse for non-achievers in all areas of endeavor is, “I just don’t have the time.” Horse hocky! We all waste time. We watch T.V. We ride in the car and dream non-productive thoughts. You can write in your mind (and most writers do) long before putting it on paper. You can record on a hand-held tape recorder and transcribe later. Time is no excuse.

Write in the car, at the beach, standing on the stream bank casting for trout.

There’s only one way to be a writer, and that’s to write. Write two pages-two lousy pages-per day, and in six months you have a novel.

Like most things we set out to do in this life, luck played a part in my selling. But don’t be discouraged if you think of yourself as unlucky. Luck, I’ve found, is nothing more than the inevitable result of hard work.

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Now I want to help you get lucky.

It took eight years for lady luck to seek me out. By then, I’d had almost forty years to harden my head. I’d read a thousand westerns and more novels of other genres, and I thought I knew how it was done. But I didn’t even know the questions yet much less the answers. And for the first six years of the eight years I wrote before I sold, I didn’t bother to ask. Form rejection slips told me I wasn’t doing it right. I decided it must be a craft, kind of like painting a picture or building a fine saddle, and I decided to learn it. Two years later, I sold my first novel. Six wasted years!

I wish I’d had this manual (this series of articles, in this case) thirty years ago.

The self-satisfaction of seeing your name on the cover of your paperback (or now on your ebook) at the local market or drug store, on the jacket of a hardback in the book store, or on the box of an audio, is well worth the effort-not to speak of the multi-thousand dollar advances and, if you are diligent and keep after your new trade, the continuing royalties.

The important thing is you’re doing the right thing, reading about the ins and outs, the mechanics, and the business of writing and selling. Watch for the next eZine article, the continuation of Write Compelling Fiction.

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