Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Musings: On becoming a novelist

      "You can't tell me anymore that you can't do it," said Mark David Gerson, my editor.
       "I can't."
       "No. Because now I know and you know you can."

That is how the review of my latest revision began last week. For those of you who don't know, I have written nonfiction for 35+ years and am now writing my first novel. When I was writing my memoir, I had to learn some fiction craft techniques like descriptions, specific, significant details, crisp dialogue, etc. But it didn't come easily and I wasn't convinced I did it very well.

I'm still not convinced how well I'm doing it, but I'm doing it. What I am coming to understand is that telling a story well has so much that must be considered that to have expected myself to be able to just push this story out, wham, bam, and have it be good was like expecting to pick up a guitar for the first time and expect to play like Eric Clapton.

Here is some of what I am learning, ever so slowly, and through my very gifted editor, who, by the way, has written many books on writing (you can find him here: http://markdavidmuse.blogspot.com):

  • Dialogue must be character driven. I can't just have a character say something to impart information to the reader if that particular character wouldn't say that.
  • Details must be significant - don't just say it's so and so's favorite soup if there isn't a good reason it is their favorite soup.
  • It isn't only necessary to describe exteriors - settings and what people look like. Readers want to know what is going on inside the characters as well. 
  • My big bugaboo is tenses - when I'm writing I don't pay attention at all, so now I have to go back and fix them all. It's not my strong suit. I may just hire a line editor for this.
  • Pay attention to your timeline. It pulls the reader out of the story if something contradicts something you've said earlier.
I could go on and on but I think I'll save for later posts. Bottom line. Writing fiction is not for sissies, to play on Bette Davis's famous line about getting older. It is a complicated, difficult process with many moving parts. If you are a novice, like me, it is very helpful to have books and in my case, the author of my favorite writing books, available as a resource to help me through it.



Optimistic Existentialist said...

I think the part about dialogue being character drives is a biggie. As a reader, I notice how the story flows so much more smoothly when you can always ascertain which character is saying certain words just based on what they say.

Liza said...

These are great reminders. I had a reader go through my current project and my timeline was a confusing mess. I am starting to see the value of writing a timeline before I write the story...and, gasp, maybe even an outline!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

At this point, I'm not sure which is harder to learn - writing or guitar.
Not easy, but you can do it!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Everything in the story has to have a purpose. It can't just be there because you like it.

Mason Canyon said...

Being a reader, the dialogue does play a big part of whether or not I continue reading a book. It has to flow smoothly and seem real. Sounds like you're doing great with your revisions.

Arlee Bird said...

Very good advice. You are fortunate to have such an encouraging editor.

Tossing It Out

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Yay, Karen! Yes you can do it!

Karen Walker said...

Keith, yes, me, too.
Liza, I wrote the book organically so now I have to go back and fix the timeline issues.
Alex, who said things were supposed to be easy anyway, huh?
Diane, true, or because you want to give the reader information. You can't just have a character say stuff to impart info.
Mason, me, too. I'll stop reading if it's not believable.
Lee, I am so so blessed.
Karen, thanks for the cheerleading.

Jemi Fraser said...

So true! I'm always amazed at how much there is to learn about fiction writing! It's a fun journey :)

Robin said...

Dialogue is tricky.

I find that one of the biggest Lacks in my existing WiP is successfully conveying what the reader is thinking. I have spent the last couple of weeks just reading. I want to see how other people do it. While it feels clunky (to me) to insert that stuff in the middle of the dialogue, it isn't. Writers do it all of the time and we know that the conversation doesn't just Pause while the reader thinks about what is going on.

However, pacing is important, too, and so you don't want to break up every exchange with exaggerated amounts of Internal Musings by the MC. It feels very much like a tightrope balancing act.

Donna Shields said...

Yes, writing fiction is a whole different beast. I just got back my manuscript for edits and my biggy? Those pesky adverbs.

Suze said...

Karen, what a great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

I'm so glad you have Mark in your life because it's obvious he's keyed into a part of you that is responding the way it should. Those kinds of relationships are precious gifts.

Karen Walker said...

Jemi, I'm not sure fun is the adjective I'd use, but it sure is an adventure.
Robin, did you mean what the reader is thinking or what the main character is thinking?
Donna, ah yes, I had some of those as well.
Suze, he is a great blessing.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Karen, everything you listed is a lesson I've also had to learn in my own time and way. Some come easier than others, and I know many more lie in the future. Your guitar metaphor is a bull's eye. Kudos for sticking to this project so tenaciously, and bravo to Mark David for making a believer of you. I can't wait to read this story!

Robin said...

I meant what the MC is thinking. I really need to go back and insert what the MC's feelings about what is happening. I know what they are, but I am not all that great at conveying it on the page. Bah.