Thursday, January 19, 2017

One Noob’s Definitive Guide to Becoming a Fiction Writer

Hullo! Viv here. This is my first post on the awesome Casablanca Authors blog—thank you guys so much for letting me play! I'll try real hard not to be boring.

Most bloggers here are veterans and absolutely full of wisdom, and you should definitely listen to them. I'm coming from the other end of the career track. The noob end. It wasn't that long ago that wrote a book and thought, "Okay, well that happened. So now what?" But even before that manuscript miraculously sprang into being (because that's totally how it happens), I made the decision to become a writer.

At which point, cue panic. Running around in tight little circles. What now, what now, what now?

Well, if you're right there, settle down. I actually have some wisdom to throw at you.

I’ve had the privilege of talking with lots of folks who've been on this same roller coaster, and as far as I can tell, there are two main ways authorial careers develop. Some enviable folks innately know how to tell stories. They grasp that beginning-middle-end thing by the time they can walk, and by the time they’re feeding themselves, they’re offering playground workshops in beat sheets and dark moments. It’s all right there in Dr. Seuss, man. Elementary. For them, literally.

If those natural storytellers have an Achilles heel at all it tends to be nitpickery, which is why I probably know so many of them. Because me? I’m that other kind of writer. I was born with an innate talent for—(wait for it)—comma placement! Semicolons, too. I can hunt down a commaless which at fifty centimeters and slay it with mind bullets. Don’t dangle your participle before me, son. I’ll red-ink your clause, see if I won’t.

Although such a pure-sexy talent might seem helpful for, say, that test in sixth grade where you have to list all the prepositions in the English language, it does not necessarily lead to a writing career. In fact, it can be a bit stunting. For years, I lolled in “that’s a fantastic sentence/paragraph/scene” land. Chances are you know someone who lives there currently, even if you yourself aren't a denizen. It’s a really dull, frustrating place because all the other shiny cars zip right on through your downtown, while you sit there waxing-on and waxing-off your opening chapter.

Stuck in that strange and heartbreaking land of perfect commas, I’d write an opening scene that kicked booty, take it to critique groups for validation, and feel really good about all three-to-five thousand words. Sometimes I could stretch a story to ten thousand, but at that point I’d have to come up with a plot, and suddenly I was naked.

Not in the fun way, naked. In the emperor and his regrettable wardrobe way. So I had to learn all that stuff that just comes naturally to those other writers. Here's how.

I read Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle.

I attended structure and process workshops presented by Michael Hague and April Kihlstrom and Rhonda Stapleton and Farrah Rochon.

I listened to recordings and podcasts by Christopher Vogler and Dale Kutzera and the always amazing Writing Excuses folks (seriously, look them up!).

I plot-diagrammed all my favorite movies—plus plenty that I didn’t like but other people did, and I could finally see why.

I acquired an awesome critique-partner team, all of whom have an unhealthy affection for Post-It notes and story boards. (I bribed them with the comma knowledge. You see how this works?)

And then I wrote a book. Long one, 90k words.

And two weeks ago, I wrote The End on my third such behemoth. It didn’t even hurt.

That book has arcs. And subplots. And reflection characters. It has a beginning, middle, and end; a dark moment; and a rousing climax. It almost has a meet-cute but definitely includes story promises and a high tower surprise. Most of all, it is done. Complete. And that feels amazing.

So, if you are my kind of writer—the kind who gets commas but can’t seem to construct a plot even with a vat of Gorilla Glue and some clamps—don’t despair. There is a path out of our dull town, a good one. (See resources above. Those are all real books, people, and podcasts!)

And if you’re the other kind of writer, the kind who just needs a copyedit and is good to go…yeah, I still envy you. But also, go you! This biz takes all kinds.

--P.S. That first book? Now looks like this and will be available April 4th:

Vivien Jackson writes stories that include pixies, robots, grenades, and always, always down-home salacious kissery. You can find her on Twitter @Vivien_Jackson, Facebook @ VivienJacksonWriter, and on the web at

1 comment:

  1. Loved the Post-it notes part. I, too, have a love of post-it notes in all colors and sizes.