If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Karen Borelli.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Four Things I Had to Unlearn to Write Fiction


Today's guest blogger on Salad Bowl Saturdays is Marilyn Larew. As with many of us, she came to writing fiction after a career of writing non-fiction. She shares with us four things she needed to unlearn in order to write fiction.

~ Jim


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Being trained as a historian is not the best way to learn to write fiction. In a Ph.D. program you ingest reams of facts and interpretations, which you then package in 50 minute segments and attempt to insert into the brains of the kids who are texting in the back row. That doesn’t work for fiction. For one thing, your reader doesn’t have to stay.

Here are four things I had to unlearn while I was writing my first thriller.

UNLEARN REALITY
When I started, I created a precise depiction of present day Morocco in which to set my story. After all, had I not been creating as accurate a picture of the past world as I could for my students? This proved constricting, and then it became impossible, and I faced the reality that reality wouldn’t work.

The terrorist group I was using for the Bad Guys had made it, big time. When I started, the group was small, on the run from the Algerian authorities, almost done for. Earlier this year, they carved out a fief in northern Mali from which the French have yet to expel them. They also captured an Algerian gas plant in the Sahara and held its workers hostage. The site was only recaptured by Algerian Special Forces after four-day standoff, which left at least 37 foreign hostages and 29 kidnappers dead.

Clearly, this was no longer a group that a single American woman, however brave, could mess with. A friend finally took pity on me and told me to junk Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and invent my own group. I was writing fiction, after all. It was an Ah Ha! Moment.

I invented the Pure Warriors of Islam, and the plot began to move again. Then I went back and took out all the other inconvenient realities and invented there, too. It was a great liberation.

UNLEARN TELLING PEOPLE HOW MUCH I KNOW

Far too many versions of The Spider Catchers had long passages explaining Moroccan society and Islam. They were full of information that was fascinating to me, but which slowed the pace of the plot down to the speed of a donkey in the medina, not a good thing in a thriller. I think I did this to demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about, but it may have been sheer showing off.

unlearn telling the reader everything up front

This, of course, takes the mystery out of a mystery and leaves no room for the gathering in the library where the detective reveals who the murderer is or for the shootout in the last chapter where the Bad Guys get their comeuppance.

Scholarly work is organized differently from fiction. In a work of scholarship, you tell the reader the most important things first, explain why they are so, and then tell them again. In fiction, you feed the reader just enough information to keep her interested, and sometimes that information may be false, which is a great crime in scholarly writing.

UNLEARN OBJECTIVITY

Last, most important, and most difficult, I had to unlearn objectivity, the need to suppress my emotions and give a balanced, impartial account of my research. I had to learn to write with emotion, even passion, to persuade my readers that my girl and her story were worth caring about.

The hardest lesson I have learned along the way has been to unlearn what I have learned.

My computer has been shocked at how my writing has changed. It occasionally sends me a prompt that says “are you sure you want to do this? OK / cancel.”

Yes, I’m sure I want to do this. I just want to do it better.

P.S. As I wrote this post, the French and Chadian armies announced that they had killed the last two real terrorists in my book. They were only in a briefing, so it won’t be a problem replacing them with imaginary characters, but it proves once again that reality is not really useful in writing fiction. 

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I live just over the Mason-Dixon Line in southern Pennsylvania with my husband and a finicky cat. My publication credits are all non-fiction, but my love is thrillers. I write them right out of today's news. I'm not published yet, but I was a 2012 semi-finalist for the Debut Dagger award, so I'm getting close. My website ishttp://marilynnlarew.com .

22 comments:

E. B. Davis said...

I related to your post so much, Marilyn. When I first started writing and research, I was not only fascinated with the information I found, but I also wanted to educate my readers with it. Of course, I then discovered that entertaining readers was my objective, not educating them.

I also wanted to explain too much to them, which meant illuminating them with backstory.

We learn, but since most of our writing experience originates from school, its an unlearning and new learning process.

Thanks for a great post!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Having earned my living in the world of writing reports, I too wrote much too formally and needed to explain everything. Even after I began to realize most readers didn't much care, I thought footnotes would be great for the one reader who did want to know.

I had characters talking in the most stilted language and continually referring to each other by name as though the reader couldn't keep track of who was talking.

"Mother, I will go out and play will my neighbor Johnny. We shall follow our agreement with you, Mother, and not trespass into Mrs. Yellalot's yard."

It's fun to hear of someone else's journey to better writing and reflect on my own travails.

~ Jim

Marilyn Larew said...

I'm pleased to learn that I have comrades. I thought I was alone.

Another thing I have earned along the way is that when you're a writer, you're never really (there it is again!) alone.

May we unlearn so well that we shortly learn that we're published. Have you seen Jim"s new book?

E. B. Davis said...

Seen it, read it, loved it. Glad you blogged with us today, Marilyn.

E. B. Davis said...

I'm from York, PA, Marilyn. Where are you Shrewsbury? Loganville?

Marilynn Larew said...

E.B., we're five miles east of Stewartstown. I'm glad to have a neighbor.

Warren Bull said...

Interesting post. Writers come from many backgrounds
I had to learn to stop qualifying what I wrote as a psychologist.

Marilynn Larew said...

But don't you think that your characters were more real, better conceived, because you're a psychologist?

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for this message, Marilyn! I plan to write a story based on real life events set in the late 1800s. While I think all the information is fascinating and that everyone would be equally enthralled to learn about a cowboy race that began in Nebraska, I know that’s not the case. I will take a lesson from you and unlearn telling people how much I know and unlearn some reality, too.

Marilynn Larew said...

All the stuff you learned would be fascinating to me, but then I was trained in Frontier History and born in Nebraska.

Let me know where you place it.

Gloria Alden said...

I enjoyed reading your lessons learned, Marilyn. I think we all have a lot to learn. After many edits, I eliminated over 20,000 words from my book. That's a problem I have - saying more than is necessary.

Marilynn Larew said...

That's a lot of words, Gloria. Are you sure they all had to go?

You make me worry about mine now. I do go on. Programmed for 50 minutes, you know.

Yolanda Renee said...

Another wordy person here -- I've learned to cut and cut and then cut some more. It's why I love the RFW challenges - excellent training!

Marilynn Larew said...

Hi Yolanda, I just met you on Facebook.

I guess wordy is normal, isn't it. Such beautiful words I write, none of which advance the plot. Sigh. Out they have to go.

But you know, sometimes somebody else has to tell you that they don't advance the plot. They're so beautiful.

VR Barkowski said...

Fascinating post, Marilynn.

I think it's difficult for those of us who find learning to be a form of entertainment to understand readers out there who aren't so inclined—just one of the reasons it's important to determine our audience before we put pen to paper. Some readers want only to be amused and distracted, others want more. That said, throwing out facts which don't move the story forward or shed light on character is nearly always a bad idea.

In college, I took rhetoric rather than English. As a sociologist the choice served me well. I learned to write papers by repeating my thesis in a hundred different ways—ideal for academics. Surprise, surprise, this doesn't work in fiction! To this day, I still have lapses.

~VR Barkowski

Marilynn Larew said...

"throwing out facts which don't move the story forward or shed light on character is nearly always a bad idea"

Would you explain that, Viva? There's counter-factual history. There's counter-factual writing?

VR Barkowski said...

I was under the impression that counterfactual writing was solely the bailiwick (I've always wanted to use that word) of alternate history writers.

By throwing out facts…, I was actually referring to writers who include information because they find it intriguing, rather than because it's essential to furthering plot or developing character. I'm not one for rules, but I do believe when writing fiction, the writer's first duty is always to story, no matter how interesting the research or important the theme. This includes literary fiction. Exquisite writing is a joy to read, but if the story gets lost, all you're left with is a lot of pretty words.

~VR Barkowski

Marilynn Larew said...

The best (?) counterfctual history I remember was an early one where the author proved to his own satisfaction that it would have been better not to build the transcontinental railway but to rely on canals. I do want to build a canal across Nebraska, don't you?

And then there was the 2 vol. one that proved that slavery wasn't profitable except on new lands, which all of us had been teaching since 1865. The second volume was the notes.

So I suppose it is the bailiwick (back at you. it is fun) of alternate history writers.

Claire said...

I find this very helpful, Marilynn, as i do yet another read through of my ms for a swap. I've got to get rid of a lot (based on my critique group's comments) and be comfortable with letting some things be less detailed.

Lucy Crowe said...

Great blog post! I could relate to so much of it, especially number three. I have a horrible tendency to give away too much, thus destroying any "mystery" aspect. I am always going back and trying to hush my characters, lol.

Lucy Crowe said...

Great blog post! I could relate to so much of it, especially number three. I have a horrible tendency to give away too much, thus destroying any "mystery" aspect. I am always going back and trying to hush my characters, lol.

Cher'ley said...

You have to know all the facts and use a small portion of them. Nice blog. Cher'ley