A Fear of Change from Freelance to Writing Fiction

Did you love fiction and make believe as a child?When Writer’s Round-About became The Craft of Writing Fiction I felt experienced a fear of change because I’m a non-fiction writer and rarely spend time writing fiction. As I was chatting with my writing colleague, Kimberlee Ferrell, about the changes, I realized my relationship with fiction isn’t as distant as I thought.

Precious Memories

In fact, while reading Kim’s latest post (Reading and Writing: Develop Your Child’s Love of Language) I realized that fiction hits close to home–real close. Not only was my childhood passion for reading based on fictional books and stories, it’s the genre I first started writing!

One of Kim’s tips from that post is:

“Of course, before kids can learn to write well, they need the fundamentals of the alphabet, and reading. I try to read every day with them. Right before bed is the traditional reading time, but don’t be surprised if they come running to you with their favorite story in the middle of the afternoon. Anytime is a good time to share a story with your kids.”

And she goes on to suggest the library as a fabulous place to nurture your children’s reading and writing skills:

“Be sure to take them to the library as often as possible, to expose them to the wide variety of books available. Many libraries have summer reading programs that encourage children to read (or be read to), with many rewards along the way. You could also join (or create) a parent-child book club to encourage the sharing of books and stories.”

Wow. Kim’s words jostled my memory of the countless trips my parents and I made to the library when I was growing up. And they read to me, bought me (both new and used) books to keep in my personal library, and always, always encouraged my passion for reading, writing, and spelling. Those were the days!

Fear of Change

But see, I’ve been hesitant about the new turn this site has taken. As someone who simply detests change – even though I know in my heart and soul it’s usually always for the better in any situation – my heart kind of sank when I found out that Writer’s Round-About had become a new and improved site: The Craft of Writing Fiction.

Here’s a snippet of what the site owner, Rebecca Laffar-Smith, has shared regarding the changes:

We’re still Writer’s Round-About deep within our souls but we’re so much more than that too. And we want to develop a powerful presence, an inspirational community, and a go-to resource for writers.

The new domain name, craftingfiction.com also has a strong sense of purpose and commitment. It is a strong foundation for growth and expansion. It’s forward thinking and innovative. It’s driven to succeed and we are too.

I’m sure these changes are for the better. And, just like children learn and grow and change, so do we as adults. It’s how we improve and move further down the path of success.

I think my hesitation comes from feeling such a closeness to Writer’s Round-About’s history. I’ve read this blog from the beginning—when it was born on Blogger! And I’ve been around for the switch to self-hosted WordPress. I eventually shared a few guest posts with readers here and now (with close to 40 posts published) I guess you’d call me a regular contributor.

Rebecca and the other bloggers here have become more than writing colleagues or friends—they’re family. And this blog feels like a place I’ve always been welcome to come to, kick off my shoes, grab my favorite drink, and get comfy.

And that hasn’t changed, I know.

My (Comforting) Epiphany

The epiphany I’ve had about this whole “fiction theme” –and what Kim helped me see during our talk today—is that my roots with fiction date back to my earliest years.

Although I love writing non-fiction and telling real-life stories now, my passion for reading and writing was actually born as I read countless pages of fictional stories.

When I was a little girl, my all-time favorite book was Danny and the Dinosaur. Next in line was Charlotte’s Web and Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors. As a child, I felt such a sense of peace with a book in my little hands, reading a make-believe story that took my mind to far away places. And even today, when life overwhelms me, there’s nothing like a good novel to help me cast my worries to the wind and transport my mind to another world.

And now, finally, I’m at peace with the new direction this site has taken.

I owe a special thank you to Kim and Rebecca, for helping me search my heart and remember how much fiction has played a significant role in my life. Thanks, ladies!

What about you? Do you gravitate toward non-fiction? Or does your imagination carry you away to a place of innocent make-believe? Do you love the new look, feel, and theme of this site? ‘Fess up!

Photo credit: mexikids

Word Count: Murdering Your Darlings and King’s 10% Rule

Murder Your Darlings ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1914)


First drafts tend to be unusually long winded. We write at length because it is the surest way to express those thoughts and impressions most profound. We over-describe. We add chatter. We include thinking words. In the process of writing a first draft we write with a freedom of expression that is uncensored and unfettered.

A first draft is NOT a final draft.

Recently, a client emailed me with a request to edit the first chapter of their first draft. I don’t recommend hiring an editor for your first draft. The story has barely begun to be formed after your first pass and it requires at least one (preferably two) more drafts before it should be handled by others. In this case, the fact that it was a first draft wasn’t the issue. The fact that it was an 11,000 word count first chapter was.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long a story should be. Even the standard guides aren’t concrete. A story is as long as it takes to tell the story. But there are conventions that we tend to follow to increase our odds of being read. Very few readers will be comfortable facing such lengthy chapters.

When Writing Long Is Writing Long-Winded

The best way to handle the obesity of that first draft is to follow Stephen King’s Ten Percent Rule. In 1966, when King was still in high school he received a rejection slip that offered profound advice for the young writer.1

“Not bad but puffy,” the editor wrote. “You need to review for length.”

That wise editor gave King a winning formula:

“2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%”
~ Stephen King (2002)

But you’ve got lots of darlings in your first draft. How do you really know where to cut the fat and prune the weeds? Which words are fat? Which words are weeds? Each story is different but there are some words we use in modern language that are unnecessary when writing fiction.

Words You Should Search And Destroy

When you examine a draft for superfluous words or seek ways to be more concise you can sharpen the language of the manuscript and reduce the word count. There are a selection of words you can almost always cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. The first five words you can cut are:

  1. Just: The only time this word is actually a word is when you use it to mean, “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness”.2 There are other meanings but the word is cruelly misused so when it appears in your manuscript odds are it can be obliterated.
  2. Really: I would “really” like to obliterate the word “really”. This is an adverb that is always underwhelming. It has no substance or measure. If you feel inclined toward hyperbole find a more distinct and effective word and no, “totally” doesn’t count.
  3. Quite: This word often feels like it is trying to justify its existence. It is timid and quiet which is perhaps why the word “quite” often gets misspelled as “quiet”. The words in your story should be empowered and confident.
  4. Perhaps: Sometimes your characters may use this to indicate uncertainty. The trouble is, “perhaps” reflects uncertainty to the reader too so use it with care and only in dialogue.
  5. That: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

A Sixth Word To Cut

  1. So: My personal pet-peeve word is “so”. I believe this word can be obliterated in every single instance. Prove me wrong! If you can think of a sentence that requires the word “so” to make sense, share it in the comments. Until you can, search and destroy “so” in all of your writing.

What other words do you feel should be obliterated from fiction and what other ways do you reduce the word count of your first draft by ten percent?

References:
1. Poynter Online, The Ten Percent Solution First Draft by Chip Scanlan
2. Dictionary.com – just (adj.) 1. guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness: We hope to be just in our understanding of such difficult situations.

Photo Credit: 09-18-07 © archives
Photo Credit: 11-27-08 © mark wragg