Fact Checking your Work of Fiction

I cannot say how strongly I object to people using other people’s writing as research. Research is non-fiction, especially for horror, fantasy, science fiction. Do not take your research from other people’s fiction. Just don’t.  – Laurell K. Hamilton

Writing is writing, and stories are stories. Perhaps the only true genres are fiction and non-fiction. And even there, who can be sure? – Tanith Lee

When you read different fiction you do observe their theories of how things work, especially assumptions and original theories about fictional ideas (like vampires – whether they need blood and why or why not). It is tempting to apply some other fiction writer’s theory to your own fiction. Especially when the idea was really good, unique and explained a lot of loose ends. But, it is best to deal with facts as your research and work on keeping the fiction all your own work.

Roald Dahl: In a Different Place with Different People

I came across several Roald Dahl books among those we were taking to the second hand bookstore. They had been part of a pile of books at the bottom of a box of toys no one was bothering with for month. I saved them. I might even read them at some point. I don’t like being too casual to give away well written books. A clever line should be worth saving, no matter what the book editors may say.

A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.  – Roald Dahl.

The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.  – Roald Dahl.

Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people.  – Roald Dahl.

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom.  – Roald Dahl.

I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.  – Roald Dahl.

Nowadays you can go anywhere in the world in a few hours, and nothing is fabulous any more.  – Roald Dahl.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.  – Roald Dahl.

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.  – Roald Dahl.

The Roald Dahl site.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

Roald Dahl Fans.

Liquid Inspiration in a Mug

Although this is not a foodie or recipe blog, there comes a time when good things of the edible kind must be shared. I was listening to Laura Calder‘s French Food at Home today. One of the recipes she prepared was hot chocolate made with milk, honey and cocoa powder. I know it will be yummy. I am going to make it when I get more milk, I have the honey and cocoa powder.

Camille’s Chocolate Chaud
1 heaping spoonful high-quality cocoa powder
1 heaping spoonful honey
1 cup milk

Put the cocoa powder in a mug. Heat the honey and milk until very hot. Pour the slightest amount onto the chocolate powder and stir to make a paste. Now add a little more and temper it into the milk. Pour the chocolate milk into the mug.

Next time you need to work your way through a writer’s block check your cupboards for the ingredients and make yourself some smooth, chocolate inspiration in a mug.

Not Showing Your Work

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.” ~Elie Wiesel

This makes me think of school when, in math class, you were told to show your work (to show the steps you took to get the answer to the math question you were given). All the work was important to getting to your conclusion but usually no one sees it, or has a lot of interest in all those details. Writing is like that too. There is a lot of work that goes into a story which never makes it on to the printed page. I think, as a writer, we have to make sure we don’t show our work, the steps in the process we took in reaching the conclusion of our story. The only steps that should show are the advancement/ development of our characters and the plot of the story itself.

How to Comment on Writing

Being part of a writing group is a good thing. It gives you an extra push to achieve your goals and you can get some feedback about your writing from people who are writing themselves. But, being the person giving the feedback is not easy. Whether you review someon’e writing as part of a group or one on one for a friend you want to balance the criticism with positive comments. Keeping it constructive and yet honest too. For those brave enough to give constructive feedback here are some points to discuss about the writing you are reviewing.

Purpose: Is the purpose of the writing coming through clearly? Whether the writing is about cleaning your toothbrush, finding a shark in your bathtub or the latest best selling paranormal romance… does the purpose of the story/ article come through clearly?

Voice: Does the story/ article have a personality? Not every piece of writing will have a lot of personality but there should be a voice behind it, you should feel the writer gave something of themselves to the work. You should feel the writer was interested in the topic they wrote or the story they told.

Audience: Does it have appeal to the reader? Will the reader appreciate the story or article, does it speak to the reader or just drone on as if the writer was talking to themselves? Are all the reader’s questions answered?

Content: Has the writer included enough information, relevant information? Does the story have a beginning, middle and an ending?

Form: Are the ideas or the story plot presented logically so the reader can follow the information and easily move from one point to the next? Even a time travel story needs to have plot the reader can follow and understand clearly.

Writing Devices: Does the story include dialogue, personal experience, specific details, descriptions, or creative comparisons? Non fiction can use interviews as a device as well. A little variety is a good thing.

Purpose Again: Does the writing make the reader react in some way? Smile, laugh out loud, get angry, feel sad, or relief at solving a problem, when you finish the writing is there an overall reaction you are left with, something to make you remember the writing? What is especially good about the writing?

Do You Know if your Writing Stinks?

Does Your Writing Stink?
By Diane Sears

Writers, notorious for being voracious readers, are naturally the best judges of writing. We know good writing when we see it, we know what keeps us reading, sometimes eagerly devouring the piece to the very end, and we know what makes our eyes glaze over. But when it comes to our own writing, why is it so hard for some of us to realize our own writing stinks?

If reputable places have published your work, you’re probably a good writer, but if you get more rejections than acceptances or if the sales of your self-published book are depressing, maybe your writing isn’t as good as you think.

How do you know if your writing stinks?

Here are a few warning signs that will let you know:

When you show your work to someone else and ask what they think, is there an uncomfortable moment of silence before they answer?

Do people read the online excerpt of your novel and leave without buying your book?

Is a rejection the only response you get from editors?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, that’s a BIG hint that your writing stinks.

Put a clothespin on your nose — we’re going in

It’s time to hunt for the sources of the stench in your lackluster piece so you can uncover the masterpiece hidden within.

Choose one of your manuscripts, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and look at it as if you were reading it for the first time.

If you’ve written a non-fiction article,

Does it have a strong, attention-getting title?
Does it open with a good hook that compels you to continue reading?
Does it use active words?
Does it flow sequentially from one point to the next?
Is it clear? Does it make sense?
Does it stay on topic?
Is the tone appropriate for the intended audience?
Does it have proper spelling and grammar?
Did it explain words and terms the reader might not be familiar with?
Does it end with a strong conclusion?
Did it deliver what the title and opening promised?
Did it answer any questions the reader might have on the topic? If not, rewrite it and go through this list again until it does.

If you’ve written a fiction piece,

Does the title fit the piece? Is it intriguing?
Does the opening paragraph pull you in?
Does it transition smoothly?
Are you compelled to continue reading it? Is it a page-turner?
Are there just enough details to let you “see” the story in your mind?
Did you care about any of the characters or what happened to them?
Did it have any abbreviations or terms the reader might not be familiar with?
Did it leave any loose ends that should have been tied up?
Did you lose yourself in the story or did you have to force yourself to keep reading?

If not, go over it and this list again. When you’re through, let someone else have a look before you send it out for the world to see. Resist the urge to show it to a friend or family member since the people closest to you are going to hold back their honest input to protect your feelings and avoid your wrath.

Since writers make good judges, the best feedback you can get is from other writers.

Send it to your writing buddy or join a critique group and let them pick it apart. Yes, it will wound your ego, but your manuscript will improve.

Just remember – they are not “attacking” you so don’t take their comments personally. They are pointing out the weak points in your piece and ways you can make it better. And don’t forget – you asked for their help.

How can you become a better writer?

Consider other people’s comments and suggestions. Take a class online or at a local college and get feedback from the instructor. Read books on the topics you have the most trouble with. After you’ve written a piece, let it rest, then go back through it again and be sure to read it out loud too. Rewrite your pieces again and again.

Above all, follow the golden rules for writers:

Read works in your genre every chance you get.

Write every day.

Turn even the stinkiest writing into sweet-smelling prose with some work and a little help from other writers.


Diane Sears is a freelance/business writer and owner of www.CoolStuff4Writers.com – the site with Ask The Editor,
Ask The Book Doctor, and more!

Write Yourself into Horror

Getting off-seasonal with Eliza Dashwood (Word Ferret), for a horror writing prompt. I admit, I also read a lot of the paranormal chick lit stuff. Some may call it dark fantasy, paranormal fiction, etc. I think paranormal chick lit covers it well for me. Some of my favourite paranormal writers are: Michelle Rowen, Kelley Armstrong, Kresley Cole, Gena Showalter, Tanith Lee, Rachel Vincent, Katie MacAlister, Kerrelyn Sparks. Not hard core horror but I don’t enjoy being really scared.

In her post Eliza writes about her early discovery of vampires, in her own home. What would be your story for a horror tale? I am very sure you have had some idea for a horror plot at some point. Maybe not a romantic story. Maybe one with a lot more edge and real terror in your horror. Write an outline for your plot. When you’ve done that, could you put more work and energy into it and turn it into a full story? How about trying it as a short story for an online publication? Test the blood… I mean water, for yourself as a horror writer.

Eliza and her vampires think you should.

Research Away Writer’s Block

From Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets:

I learned that good copywriters get to know so much about the product and the prospect and his or her wants, fears, assumptions, and lingo that the copy soon wants to burst forth as if a dam is breaking. I learned that research is the infallible cure for writer’s block.

Having something to say is the best way to start writing. If you do the research to give yourself all the background information you would soon have a lot to say about all you have found even if you thought you had very little to say when you started. This works for any kind of writing, interviews and fiction writing included.

With fiction writing you could give yourself a whole storyboard as your research. Create the plot, the people and the actions that string them together.

Clean Out a Drawer

From the archives of  The Desk Drawer:

Clean out a drawer today. (A cabinet works, too, as does a box that’s been sitting in the corner for awhile.)What did you find? Medicines that expired twelve years ago? Signs that mice have lived there?

How much of the original contents did you dispose of in some way? (Trash, yard sale, etc.)

Tell us what you found, as if you were cleaning out someone else’s things. Make observations and decisions about what the owner must be like.

The Desk Drawer is an interactive, weekly, email writer’s workshop. Have a look at the wrting exercises posted to their archives and consider joining if you have time for, what they warn, is a busy list.

Give Them Some Words to Love

I think writers should not avoid big words. A teacher once described these as 50 cent words. Meaning you can use an ordinary,well known word or something with more flavour and description but a word people may not see everyday and need to look up in the dictionary.

There are some 50 cent words which I remember hearing from teachers in school. They have stuck with me and pop out in my conversation now and then. Words like obscurity and stifled. I like seeing them used when I am reading something. It shows that the writer has a fairly good vocabulary and isn’t bashful about using some of it.

Yes, communication and having your communication understood is the prime directive. But, many readers are also word lovers. Give them some words to love.