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What Happened at the Oregon State Hospital and Why it Matters

The Oregon State Hospital, a mental institution in Salem, Oregon and featured in our book, Slaying in Salem, has a dark history. There are stories of abuse, but not just of mentally ill adults. There are stories of children, housed there because they had no other place to go, and under terrible conditions.

One of the worst parts of the story involves the “Library of Dust” or the “Room of Forgotten Souls.” Both refer to a room discovered through an investigation of the institution by The Oregonian. The room contained over 300 copper urns containing the ashes of unclaimed residents who had passed away there. But there was more. Some of those who were buried in a nearby cemetery were moved, and their grave markers removed and discarded.

The abuse of both the living and the dead sparked outrage in the legislature, and the Oregon government began the demolition of some buildings, the renovation of others, and the creation of an entirely new hospital.

The atrocities are not forgotten though. A part of the hospital is now a museum, dedicated to showing the history of the building and the issues with the care for the mentally ill in Oregon and beyond. It highlights a problem:

  • There are more mentally ill patients in jails than in institutions nationwide.
  • The institutions are often very jail like, even maintained by the state Departments of Correction, and offer little in the way of actual treatment.
  • Funding for public mental health has been slashed again and again and again, both at Federal and state levels.

Often, a jail sentence either makes a mental illness worse, or it causes one in someone who previously was not ill. Sometimes, mental illness directly or indirectly caused the offense the prisoner is locked up for.

It isn’t right. We have two choices. Either we as people can step up to encourage our government to increase funding for public health, or we can take care of it on a private basis.

Either way, something needs to be done, and what happened at the Oregon State Hospital is just one illustration of what can be done when the public takes action.

What happens in Slaying in Salem is tragic. But what happened in real life, the back story? That is much more tragic.

Read more and see photos on the Capital City Murders blog.

The post What Happened at the Oregon State Hospital and Why it Matters appeared first on Fiction Updates.

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We’re Hosting a Giveaway!

We had a great launch day for Overdoses in Olympia, and we want to thank you guys for helping us out. So we decided to give some things away.

First prize: A New Amazon Kindle! Worth $69.99!

Second Prize: Two lucky winners will get a signed copy of Harvested. Be one of the first to hold it in your hands!

Third Prize: 5 lucky winners will get five e-books of their choice! Choose from any Troy Lambert titles in your chosen format!

The deal: every action you take earns you another entry into our drawing! The lucky winners will be chosen on June 28th and notified within 48 hours of the contest ending.

Share with your friends and give them a chance to win too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Introduction to the Facts Behind Fiction

Have you ever heard that the truth is stranger than fiction? That is often the case. We can’t even use some of the best true crime cases to model our fiction stories after. Why? No one would believe things happened that way.

However, there are facts behind the fiction we write. When we talk about guns and shooting them, we need to be accurate. Because readers, at least some of them, know how these things work. We must also be careful with things like how people die, what they look like, and how we find the clues and solve the mysteries we create.

Did you ever wonder about some of the research, and why your favorite thriller and mystery author is being watched by the government? This blog will explore some of those themes and ideas.

The Police and Law Enforcement

Even though sometimes it might not seem like it in real life or on TV dramas, the police and law enforcement officers have rules they need to follow.  Most of the time, they do follow those rules. The exceptions are rare. Those exceptions make TV and fiction fun to read, but they are not really consistent with how the real world works.

That is why we, as authors, are careful about what we put in our books and what we say. We want to respect those who protect us, and we want you to understand that they are people just like you and me. Most of them are honest and good at what they do. Like any other profession, there are bad examples though.

Processing Evidence

For the sake of fiction, we often process evidence quickly. But it doesn’t happen that way in real life. Most smaller cities do not have a forensics department and often have to wait for help. DNA labs are extremely busy and backed up, and if the person’s DNA is not on file, police have to wait until they can match it to a potential suspect. To do that, they need enough evidence for a warrant to collect it.

It’s all rather challenging, and now juries, thanks to fiction, expect this kind of concrete evidence in most cases. It is problematic for both police and attorneys. When we try to be more realistic in fiction, it often makes our books seem slow or dull. So we have to bend the rules just a little.

We’ll talk more about this stuff in upcoming posts, at least once a week, where we deal with the reality behind fiction.

Murder, Serial Killers, and More

Crime is rare, kinda. And violent crime even more so. But many murders every year go unsolved. Want to know why? There are actually a whole host of reasons, and soon we will talk about some of them here, some related to today’s headlines, others related to cases in the past. You won’t believe some of what you will read.

Want to Contribute?

Want to be part of the discussion and share your knowledge in this area? Contact us at [email protected]. We can talk about your story, and even get you published here. For authors and others, this is a great opportunity to promote your books and reach a new audience.

Watch this space. Subscribe to our newsletter. We will be in touch!

The post Introduction to the Facts Behind Fiction appeared first on Fiction Updates.

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What It’s Like to Write “The End” Again

Honestly, it has been a few long years, and it feels like even longer since I have written “The End” on a book, mine or otherwise. In some ways, I was beginning to wonder if I could still do it. By that, I meant carry a story through until the end. 

Don’t get me wrong. I knew I still had it in me, and from my freelance writing career, I knew I could still write. However, writing is novel is much different than an article, a blog post, or a short story. Even those bait e-books they talk about are different when you write the end. 

But after the last year, things changed for me a lot. First, my freelance writing and even a ghostwriting book took off in ways I could not have imagined. I grew as a writer and a person and got back into the writing groove. I took on gigs I would not normally have and transformed my life to once again put writing at the center. 

I wrote “The End” a few times in recent months, and it feels good. If you are a writer and struggling to do the one thing we all struggle with from time to time, finishing, here are some thoughts for you. 

Personal Satisfaction

While we all know that writing is a business and “The End” is just the beginning of a larger process, it is the end of one of the toughest parts. There is something immensely satisfying in the completion of a large project, and whether that is a novella, novel, or a non-fiction book of some sort, you have proven you can see something through to a conclusion. 

Why are NaNoWriMo and other such programs so popular with writers? Because they give you a chance to finish something, even if you do not see it through to publication. Writing “The End” whether the first time or the fiftieth, matters. 

Inspiration to Do it Again

One of the truths of the writing craft is that no matter how good you get, no matter how long you work at it, you will never be truly a master, because there is always something new to learn. The only way to learn those things is to write something and finish it over and over again. 

Writing the words “The End” inspires you to do it again, and again, and again. Maybe you are like most writers and have a lot of projects in the works. When you write “The End” it is time to move on to whatever is next. You should have a plan for that too, by the way. Goals set are goals achieved. 

The Psychological Victory

Let’s put things in a bit of perspective. A big part of writing fiction or anything else is psychological. If you have chosen writing as a career, you can type pretty fast (probably) and you probably have enough ideas to fill a book themselves. Then life happens or people give you other ideas, and you feel like you can write forever. 

Until you sit down to write and then somehow our brain blocks us from doing what we love if we let it. The ability to get through those blocks and to the end with something that is at all good and worth working through the rest of the process is a huge breakthrough, and not just once, but every time. 

I endured a lot of personal criticism about many aspects of my life, including my decision to be a writer and do that for a living for a few years before a relationship ended and I started over in many ways. Whatever is going on in your life, whatever you need to do to finish or get started again, the ability to complete something and write “The End” will boost your confidence and morale. 

What a Relief

To be a successful writer, you need to need to be a writer, to the point where nothing else will really do. Whether this is a hobby for you or a way to make a living, you still need to have the same need. 

Writing “The End” this time for me was a relief. I need to be a writer. An extensive collection of nametags, hairnets, and various unsuccessful careers tells me this is true. The question I had after the last few years was whether or not I could do it anymore. Freelance was one thing: my books and novels were another. 

But I found I could. First, I wrote “The End” on Tilting With Windmills, a Monster Marshall’s story coming sometime this year, wrote “The End” on a ghost writing project I am involved in, wrote it in Harvestedformerly of another title after a major re-write, and am about to do it again on a non-fiction project about writing as a business, also coming out this year. 

This isn’t to brag. It is to simply say this very act proved I can do this, I can be a writer, and I can make it my living. I can keep writing “The End” over and over again until it is written the final time for me by someone else. What’s it like to write “The End” again? It is all of these things. What is standing in your way? No matter what it is, you can get past it. After all, what better satisfaction is there in this crazy business of ours? 

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GUEST POST: 10 Tips for Writers: Identifying Your Target Audience

GUEST POST: The following is a guest post by Nicole Lewis, who is a professional blogger and freelance writer for Edubirdie. She prefers academic research and writing useful articles. 

There are a variety of audiences for various types of writing. In order to sell your content, you need to identify the audience that will engage with and share your work. The ten writing tips below will help you to determine your target audience.

Define your target auditory and market niche

Your book could be about an archaeologist who uses an artifact to stop time. Then your content will interest fans of science fiction and those who are history buffs. If the main character is a former Marine, your book will also interest military personnel. Determine who might follow and like your work.

Look for books that inspire millions

Look at books in your genre that are selling, nd check the profiles of those books’ main readers or buyers. The desired audience is not always the people you had in mind when you wrote the book. They are also other demographics who might be interested. The Twilight Saga is full of jokes about Bella’s great love for a perfect vampire. A vampire is brighter than Lisa Frank’s stickers. The movie appeals to teenage girls. Its premise involves an everyday, normal girl. A girl who failed into a romantic relationship with a young and handsome man. The appeal also expanded to middle age females who love romance.

Point out what is unique about your story

All writers think highly of their books, but in the end, what matters are the magic words that describe your book when you tell someone what it is about. You need to pinpoint your hook. For instance, you might tell someone you are writing a book about a wizard. One who uses his power to communicate with animals. He uses this power to rescue the dog from dog-napper. One, someone might be wowed by your unusual imagination. Or two, one might think that you took in 101 Dalmatians too much as a kid. Or three, most people will think that your story is more soft-hearted than frightening. So, readers and viewers would be enticed by the mystery of your cozy-type tale. Target those readers who love paranormal stories involving ghosts, witches, and their ilk. Hence it will insert more followers.

Determine some demographics

For instance, your content might comprise a wizard who hunts a hound-heisting criminal. Then the main character is a girl who is eleven years old. She has to keep her little sister studying for her math test. At the same time, she has to stop Cruella DeVille’s doppelganger. This content is for a Middle-Grade novel. Hence, do not target an audience that loves paranormal amateur sleuth tales. Kids of age between 8 and 12 years. Since the main character is girl aged 11 years old, the story will appeal to children who like mysteries. It will also draw kids who love magical characters and those who like animals. The parents of these children can also be your audience.

Problem

Your main character has a problem that real people face. He could suffer from AIDS, cancer, schizophrenia, homelessness, or autism. Therefore some of your readers are those who suffer from that disease. They could also be the people who sympathize with such an ailment. An example is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping such people. They could offer you a platform to reach your customer base. Such organizations could sell your book to their members. This is especially if your book has offered guidance and help in dealing with the ailment.

Environment

Some contents have settings that explore specific worlds. People will read that book with interest in exploring that world besides the plot. Your book could involve the world in the 20-th century exploring Navajo reservation. Or the world in the 12th century exploring the Benedictine monastery. For instance, you could write content in the world of horse racing. Your intended audience is, of course, people who love horse racing. You can sell your book to people attending a horse racing event. In the case that your book is about the world of art, your audience is present in art events. A writer should increase regular writing and prepare useful tips and tricks.

Theme

Every novel has its life lesson. If you can identify the teaching, then you can know your customers. For instance, your lesson could explain that the simple things in life are the most essential. Then your exact target audience is those people who visit simple living blogs. Your book could guide on the importance of family. Then your clients are those people who visit mommies’ blogs. Visitors will always read helpful freelance content.

Character

Getting your audience to identify with your protagonist is important. It helps in telling a great tale. Your protagonist represents your target market. Hence, your main character could be a college graduate striving to leave a dead end job. Then millions of people with the same description and life story are your clients. Your protagonist could be a teenager in a high school setting. The character is going through adolescence and heartbreaking relationships. They are involved in drugs and are taken to a rehab before they go to college. Your target audiences are millions of American teenagers.

Genre

This is the clearest way of identifying your target market. If your book is a great love story filled with heartfelt emotions, then your target audiences are females. Women adore fantasy and drama books. Some detective, Nancy Drew-like stories are also targeted to females. Your book could be filled with great science fiction stories. Then definitely your target audiences are males. Men also enjoy inspiring action stories. Anything that is adrenaline packed is definitely for the boys. This is inclusive of murder mysteries and horror stories.

Combine the nine tips above to get more insight

And to narrow down your target group. Having multiple target audiences is possible. Create a Venn diagram. With a Venn diagram, you can get to see where the different age groups of audiences overlap. This refines your target groups. This mix of people is your primary target audience.

The above 10 Writing Tips will help you planning and evaluating best options. You can know whether to sell your content to middle-class dads going through a mid-life crisis. You can know whether to sell to young girls who are on the verge of adolescence. You can target your content to people who like ancient times or those who like the ancient England. Such content is likened to books like Lion Heart and Robin Hood. So refine your content to target a large customer base that can generate a lot of traffic or sales for you.

 

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Business 101 for Writers: Production Part 2: How to Write More

We ended the last post on a cliffhanger, something you should always do to yourself. I mean, it is great advice to write some words. If you are going to have a writing based product to sell, you need to have something written.

However, the first step in production is where writers often get tripped up. They get caught up in the business side, especially when they first become stoked about writing for a living, and they get so busy creating an author platform, getting their website ready, and being sucked into social media (Oy!) that they neglect the writing part of the business.

Before you know it, they wake up realizing their novel is stale, they have not posted an article on their blog or sent out outreach to new freelance clients in weeks. Here is the one line, simplest truth of the matter: You are a writer when you write. When you are not writing, you are no longer a writer.

So how do you make sure that this terrible tragedy does not happen to you? Here are some really obvious tips, but ones writers often neglect.

Write Every Day

I have tons of aspiring writers tell me they do not have to write every day. They are absolutely right. You can go for days without writing until you really start to take yourself seriously. Once you embrace writing as a profession, you can’t help but write every day.

Why? Writing, or engaging in any creatively based activity, changes something in your brain. It releases chemicals that make you happy when you write, and when you don’t, depression and anger take the place of that happiness. There is no one worse to be around than a writer who is not actually writing.

Your brain changes, chemically and in its thinking and habits, when you write every day. Nearly every professional writer I know writes something nearly every day, even if they are on vacation or it is their “day off.”

Try it. If it doesn’t work for you, email me. Honestly. I will talk you through it because I have never found any true writer who after giving daily writing an honest try, did not find that it changed things dramatically for them.

Have a Writing Schedule

I have heard all of your excuses. My kids, school, house, the laundry, you have five cats, four dogs, and your poor neighbor needed help with cleaning their gutters. So how could I possibly write every day? I am going to be frank and potentially offensive.

All of your excuses are bullshit. Nearly every writer I know who does write every day, who does it for a living, did not start out that way. They had full-time jobs, wives, kids, and pets just like you do. They started to write every day anyway.

How? They set a time, usually early in the morning or late at night, and wrote at least for a little while no matter what else was happening in their lives. Read that last sentence again. They set aside a time and wrote at least something, even a single page, no matter what else was happening in their lives.

It can be a page in a short story. A page in a future article. A page in a novel. 365 days of a single page a day means you have a full-length novel completed. Stop telling me how busy you are, and that you do not have time to write. Set a schedule, and keep it.

If your first schedule does not work for you, find one that does. Find your optimal time when everyone else is either gone or asleep, and keep your schedule no matter what.

Allow Yourself the Freedom to Write More

Wait a minute. I just spent a whole bunch of words trying to convince you to write every day, and schedule that time, keeping it sacred. Now I am telling you to give yourself the freedom to write more?

Yes, if you are using the 12 minutes a day method I mentioned in the last post, and you get to the end of the 12 minutes, your timer goes off, and you are on a roll, keep going. That’s right. Keep writing as long as the words keep flowing, even if you are interrupted. Get back to your work and follow the flow.

No matter how long you have been at this, there are days when the words do not flow as easily as they do other times. Don’t mistake this for writer’s block. Once you finish reading this series, you will never be allowed to have that, or blame it, again. But sometimes writing is hard, and so when it is easy, let it flow.

Especially when you first start out, or there are many distractions in your life, you will sometimes struggle in your daily, scheduled writing sessions. Write anyway.

Some days, the words will flow from your fingers quickly and easily, and your fingers will fly over the keyboard. Keep going. Write as much as fast as you can. That will probably be some of your best writing, and stopping can kill your spirit. If your flow is interrupted in those moments, you may even get angry.

Good. That means you are on the right track and your writing habit is taking hold. Control your anger, roll with life in general. But give yourself the freedom to write more when things are going well, and take the time you need to follow your muse when things are good.

Leave Yourself Hanging

Am I contradicting myself again you ask? No, not at all. Even if you get on one of the beautiful rolls above, where your words are flowing like the water over Niagara Falls, when you stop, leave yourself hanging.

Stop writing at the point where you are excited about writing what comes next. Be that the next point you are making in a non-fiction work or the cliff hanging, nail biting end of a chapter in fiction, stop there. I have heard of writers who stop in the middle of a sentence.

If you are excited about what is coming next, you will be anxious about sitting down to write again, excited about it instead of dreading it. Make no mistake, writing is work. It is a job. But you can make it much more enjoyable for yourself, to the point where most days you actually enjoy going to work.

This is just a small technique and not one that always works. Often as a freelancer, you have to finish the article and submit it. Or you are under deadline with a publisher for your next novel, or even your own deadlines (more on this later in the series). Sometimes you have to write “The End” as you finish a writing session or writing for the day.

The more you can do this for yourself, the better. The more excited you are to write, the less likely you are to quit, and the more likely you are to write every day, keep a schedule, and give yourself the freedom to write more when you are on a roll.

Don’t Stop Believing

Sorry for the cheesy song reference, and you can thank me for humming the Journey hit the rest of the day by buying one of my books. Or more that one, if you really love Journey or even just this one song.

But this is important. There will be times in your life when no one around you believes in what you are doing. It will seem like no one understands you, and you will never make it as a writer. Tell them to shut up, and keep writing.

Believing in yourself is an easy thing to say. It is much harder to do, and there have been some dark days, some dark times in my life. I have been where you have been, and if you struggle with believing in yourself or acceptance, reach out to other writers. We really do understand.

We also want you to be successful. That means that no matter what, you believe in yourself. No one else will ever be as big of a fan of your work, and you are your harshest, yet most important, critic and cheerleader.

So don’t stop. Keep writing. Keep working. Keep believing in yourself, and you will finish whatever it is you are writing. Then you can move forward in this process of production to the parts we will cover next.

Because once you have mastered writing some words, gotten yourself into a writing habit, and finished what you are working on, you need to move forward and do something with your writing.

I’m going to teach you exactly how to do that.

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Business 101 for Writers: Step One Part One: Write some Words

This is the first of a post in a series about writing as a business. If you are not sure why I am sharing this with you, you can go back and read the introduction.

So far we have covered that, like any other business, this one has three parts: production, distribution, and marketing. All of these are made up of several different parts, and over the next several weeks we will examine all of them.

Part One: Write some Words

This is the stage at which you plagiarize the alphabet: you are going to rearrange those 26 letters into some thoughts all your own. It does not matter at this point what kind of book you are writing, or if you are writing blog posts, articles, or even brochures. In order to proceed with any of the next steps, you need some words strung together in a manner that your target audience can understand and will want to read.

How do you do this writing thing? Maybe at this stage, you just have a vague idea. Perhaps you have an outline or even an assignment from a website or magazine. No matter what you are writing, there are some keys to finishing the story.

Write Quickly:

Your first draft should be written quickly. The first draft of a novel length work should take you no more than six to nine months. Why that number?

Every writer writes from the heart, and over time your heart changes. So do you. Think about how much you have changed just over the last year. Now imagine how much you have changed over the last five years. If it takes you three to five years to write a novel, you are a different person by the time you finish. Your voice has changed, so to speak.

It is the same with articles, blog posts, and even novellas. You should complete them as quickly as possible, while your mind is fresh in the subject and your thoughts are focused.

Do Not Edit While You Write.

Yes, you can backspace, or quickly correct the spelling that the squiggly red line shows you, but do not go back and rewrite until you have written the end. The temptation is real, and some will tell you editing as you go is perfectly okay, but as someone who has edited over 50 full-length manuscripts and several smaller ones over the last several years, I can tell you that I can tell when editing that a writer went back and rewrote a section. How?

Because doing so interrupts your flow, and so when you start to write again after editing, your voice has changed slightly. Usually, this causes you to make errors–small ones, but it takes you a few moments, or paragraphs, to get back in your flow.

This increases the length of the editing process: we have to edit out those transitions and smooth them over, recreating the flow that is already there. The more an editor has to work on your manuscript, the more they charge (if you are hiring a freelance editor before entering your path to publication, whatever that is. More on that later in the series).

Fiction Outlining and Research:

There is often a debate between outliners and pantsters, those who research ahead of time, and those who research at the end, putting in nonsense (and marking where they did so) when they don’t have certain facts at hand or in their memory.

Outliners: These writers have every twist and turn of the story planned out before they even begin to write, some of them down to the outline of chapters and scenes. However, most will tell you that this outline, however detailed or loose, is done before they ever sit down to write.

Once they start writing, they do not go back to re-outline or do more research. They simply write until the end, and then go back and make corrections. Many outliners will even confess that things do not always turn out how they outlined them. Characters tend to have a mind of their own and take the story their own direction.

Pantsters: These writers sit down with an idea and a general direction, writing by the seat of their pants (thus the name pantsters). They simply start to write and follow the story and the characters wherever they go. With no outline in mind, they truly do simply experience their book or story along with the characters.

Does this make a mess sometimes? Yes. If the writer gets distracted at some point, they can follow an aspect of the story that goes nowhere and have to backtrack and delete it later, in the editing process.

This type of writing can also produce spectacular stories. Each writer must gauge for themselves how much they can free-flow it, and how much structure they need to make their stories work. Either way, it is still just as vital that the writer writes until the very end.

The Mixer: Some writers start as pantsters, but part way through the book, they outline the rest of the story to make sure they get where they are going.

This is perhaps the most common type of writer I have come across. They blend the two techniques of writing by the seat of their pants for a while and then outlining after that.

How long do they write before they outline? That varies as much as the writers themselves. Some start with a loose outline and tighten as they go. Others create the outline when they are done with the story during the re-writing process, to make sure they have included all of the elements they need in the story, and that it follows a good structure.

No matter what your method, writers write until the very end. The best first drafts are still done quickly, and they are re-written and edited when they are done.

Nonfiction Outlining and Research:

Non-fiction is an entirely different type of writing, and research and outlining are a must. If anyone tells you they are writing their memoir, and have no outline it becomes something called “creative nonfiction.” You can almost guarantee there are errors in the story, and that it has gone into the realm of fiction at more than one point.

Usually non-fiction is linear in some way: usually time or the ordered steps in a process. Often if the order is not followed in some way, the results are disastrous. Think of a recipe book or automotive repair manual: do the steps in the wrong order, or add a “flashback” to what you should have done in step three when you are now on step six will not work.

Even memoir must be written with a linear structure of some sort. Yes, there can be flashbacks (only if they are done well), but there must be a structure it is all hung on. To put it quickly (this will be covered in detail later in the production section) you still should outline and research ahead of time for the most part. There are some exceptions with non-fiction, but we will cover those later.

For the most part, you should write your draft of nonfiction quickly as well. But what are the keys to writing quickly?

Here they are, briefly. We will cover each in detail in the next post.

  • Write every day. Even if you only get a page or two, write something every single day.
  • Have a writing schedule. Even if it is as simple as 12 Minutes a Day, have a time that is your writing time, and stick to it.
  • Allow yourself the freedom to write more. If you are into the flow of the story, keep writing. Don’t stop because a certain amount of time has passed. Follow the flow if you can.
  • Leave yourself hanging. Stop on a cliffhanger if you can rather than finishing a chapter. It will be easier for you to get back into the flow the next day, and you will want to.
  • Don’t stop believing. You can write, you can finish a story, and you can make it ready for the world. You are a writer the moment you say you are a writer. To get to be a professional writer and get paid, you must keep believing you are who you say you are.

In our next post, we will talk about how to write quickly, and what quickly really means. We will also talk about writer’s block and what it really is.

Until then, write quickly and write often.

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Why I Bother to Write Fiction at All

There are times when I realize fiction is really hard work. It is perhaps the most time consuming of things that I do in the writing and publishing world, and if you work out the pay by the word or the hour, there are plenty of other ways to make more money writing.

At the same time, I love it. I am a born storyteller. Every article I write, every blog I post is a story of some sort. Even marketing materials take the reader on a journey, if a short one. The reader has a problem, and the writer leads them on the journey to solve it, even if it is as mundane as someone with dirty clothes looking for the best laundry soap to get them clean.

But every now and then, a reader or reviewer reaches out, and when you hear or read that your words, the story you have told, touches someone, you pause and realize those words, those touched lives, are why you do what you do. It is worth all of the pain, the hours of writing and editing that go into producing a book.

It happened to me again recently, when I got a notification of a five-star review of my Kindle short, The Angel. The reviewer said simply this:

“I’ve suffered several tragedies in the last few years. I thought I had dealt with each loss in turn. Yet Lambert’s prose is so deceptively innocent that shines a light on any darkness lurking on the fringes of your consciousness. I found the message of The Angel stayed with me for days.”

Her words warmed my heart. They made me smile in all the right ways. There was more, too. You can read her full review here. https://findingmeinwords.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/the-angel/

I write stories so not only will they be read, but the world will be changed for the better because they have been told. I have not always been successful in achieving that goal. Sometimes a story is just a story.

But The Angel was different. It was special to me and still is. When I read Hans Christian Anderson’s poem “The Dying Child” I knew it had to be a part of this.

When we read, we do so for many reasons. We want to feel, we want to escape, we want to travel to other places. But sometimes if I can make you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, if the light that shines from my stories can dispel the darkness in you at all, it is worth it.

That is why I write stories. That is why I bother to write fiction at all. Because words can change the world, even if only the world of one person, and only for a moment.

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Simply a Matter of Trust: The Author-Reader Relationship

As a writer, I always strive to “show, not tell” in my fiction. As an editor, it is one of the number one things I tell the authors I work with: Show, Don’t Tell.

What the hell does that even mean? In the non-fiction and content creation world many of you know me from, I write for one primary purpose, although there are others that certainly play a role: I write to educate and to make the internet a better place.

Okay, maybe I write to be funny sometimes too. Like my post about being a writer on career day, or the one about 10 Things Cops Had that You Wish They Didn’t. More often they are serious, like How To Make Long Form Content a Success and one of my most widely shared pieces that appeared first on GIS User and then on Huffington Post about The Map that Made Trump the Nominee.

In those posts, I do a lot of telling. Using a journalistic approach I answer questions like what happened, who was involved, why did it happen, and how does it affect me. Many authors come from a journalistic background, or do technical writing, or just have a lot of college in their background. This is good. You know the rules of grammar and style (sometimes). You can put together a coherent sentence.

Your fiction readers don’t want that though. They want a story, and a story is a relationship. It is a collaboration between the author, the reader, and the characters the author has created. In that relationship, there are a few simple things that are essential. They are the same things that are vital to the success of any relationship.

Trust

This is the foundation of any relationship: while there is a certain amount of misdirection in fiction, especially mystery, there is no room for lying.

“Wait,” you say. “Fiction is a lie. The story is not really true.”

Right. Except that the story is true to itself and the events and characters inside. Once an author starts to lie to his characters and by extension the readers, he loses the power of both. That’s a damn shame. One a reader says to him or herself, “That would never happen in real life” or “Sally would never take Ethan back after he did that” you have lost them.

This is where the suspension of disbelief comes in. For a few moments, I must get my reader to believe that dragons are real, and can be conquered by a knight with a sword. However, if the medieval knight pulls out a 9 mm Glock and blows the dragons head off, I have crossed the line of what is believable in the world I have created.

Even if the rules I have created are new and made up, they must be followed. If I am going to break them, I must do so extremely well and with good reason. Otherwise I lose, and my readers leave.

Clear Communication

Why do we emphasize good grammar? A solid vocabulary but one that uses simple words that fit in with the everyday language of our readers? Because we must communicate with them clearly, concisely, and in an entertaining manner.

No one wants to read dry prose or poetry for that manner. We want words that move and inspire us. For facts, we read non-fiction. For escape, to be transported beyond our everyday lives, we read fiction. Making things too real, to slow and methodical takes away their power.

We are not academics. We write stories to move readers, to inspire emotion and empathy.

No Cheating

Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me. That is how the saying goes, but truthfully as an author, if you do something stupid and trick a reader, they might not come back and give you another chance.

What do I mean by trick them? It comes back to the trust issue and being honest. Perhaps you are too young to remember the serial stories shown in theaters (I am) but I have seen a few as I have studied the structure of stories.

Many of them would end with the hero in a situation he clearly could not get out of, a cliff hanger. This is all well and good, until the next week, he somehow managed to escape just before going over the cliff, or before the explosion and resulting fire. It was a cheat, a trick, and always a disappointing start to the next episode.

In the theater, this is known as a deus ex machina, or “god from the machinery” usually translated as “machine of the gods.” It’s defined as “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.”

Don’t use these. Your readers will flee like lemmings racing over the edge of a cliff, every one following the other so closely they don’t know their stampede spells your literary death.

The Timely Resolution of Conflict

You have a conflict with your spouse or significant other, usually over something vital like the fact that you forgot to put the dryer sheet in with your clothes, and now they are all static-filled. So is her favorite skirt, which she just had to wear tonight because otherwise she would have to wear that one red dress, and Veronica Sanders has one just like it, and if they showed up dressed the same at the party it would be a literal disaster and you would clearly be to blame. Or something like that.

The key to moving forward in your marriage is resolving this conflict in a timely manner, whether that means you fluffing your wife’s skirt in the dryer by itself with a sheet this time, so the static is gone, and doing so while she is in in the shower, so she does not even think about it. Or if it is early enough, you can take her shopping for a new outfit, without the usual spending limit, and oh yeah, she could use some new shoes too.

Your readers are the same. If you lead them down a path, the path must lead somewhere. The gun on the mantle must be used by someone, even if it is just to prop something open or to stir a drink. You cannot leave things open entirely, even for a sequel. There must be a clue that something is coming next or an incomplete resolution.

You must show your readers this resolution. Don’t tell them about it as an aside, but let them see it happen, If you do not do this in a timely manner, they will think you have even forgotten to resolve it (you might have) or that it doesn’t need to be in your story at all (also maybe true).

Think of it this way. The first page is your start of a relationship with your reader as you build a story. How much they will forgive the spelling error on page 73, whether they will keep reading when Mandy meets her untimely demise in act two depends on how much they trust you, and how good your relationship is.

Your reader must trust you. You must present your story by communicating clearly. You can’t resolve issues by tricks and cheats. Finally, you must resolve conflicts in a timely manner. The relationship you have between you and your reader depends on it.

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