Monday, 9 September 2013

So You think You Can Write... Fiction?

Fiction Basics by Mary Hawkins

No, this is not an audition. 
No, this is not where you face judges on a TV programme. 

However, over the last twenty years since my first novel was published, I’ve had many folk tell me things like, “I’ve always wanted to write.” and “One day I’d like to write a novel.”

My answers have included comments like, “What kind of fiction do you like reading? What kind of book would you like to write? Look, if this is something you really want to do, why not do it?” 
To others I know are Christians, I say something like, “If this is something you really believe God wants you to do, then you must do it.” 

The response of quite a few has been that they simply don’t know where or how to start writing a novel. 

Twenty years ago with
those first two books
Perhaps there are other folk similar to myself. Okay, years before my first book was eventually published twenty years ago, I was shown I had a talent for writing. God clearly showed me this was what I should do. A few articles and short stories were published but then I was challenged to write a novel. My first reaction was, “Me? Write a book!” 

Some folk might think writing a book and getting it published is a glamorous idea but don’t be misled. I know only too well that while it can be enjoyable, it is simply hard work. With that in mind, the time and effort required to write a book a minimum of even 45,000 words may seem too daunting. So, for anyone who even has a germ of an idea for a novel, I’d like to mention some basics things you should know about before starting to write. 

The very first step for Christians on any issue should be to “Commit your way to the Lord; (Psalm 37:5)”, remembering to always “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; (Proverbs 2:5-7). Do read them again in their context, especially Psalm 37. 

Part of finding out what GOD wants you to do about writing may be to consider these questions: 
   “Do I really enjoy writing?” 
   “Why do I want to write a book? 
   “Do I have a great story idea?”
   “What kind of novel do I enjoy reading the MOST.” 
   “Is writing a novel what God wants me to do?" 

There are several reasons why writers want to write a book. I am sorry to say I’ve met writers from all walks of life, including Christians, who give me the distinct impression their main reasons for wanting to have a book published are for personal gratification at the thought of becoming famous, and also for all that lovely money authors earn! We might think you know the answers but sometimes in this crazy world we can fool ourselves what our motives really are. 

Check it all out with God first. Apply the promises of Jesus in Matthew 7:7,8 : 
Ask God to show you the deepest secrets and motives of your heart about why you want to write a book. 
Seek God‘s will what kind of way HE wants you to tell your story through. 
Knock on ‘doors’ as you keep learning how to improve your writing, making it the very best told story you can so He can use it where and how and when HE wants to. 

Just make sure when God answers, when He clearly reveals His will that you obey, when he closes some doors but opens others that you keep walking through them until HE closes them! 

There will be other blog posts here to help you with specific elements you need to be aware of. I’ll be sharing more about Fiction Basics with a series of posts on ACW in December. Where do you start? Having the germ of a great story to tell is essential.
Then we will consider the various components you need to know to make it a page turner the reader can't put down.

Have you considered those questions above? Are there other questions you consider essential before starting to write a novel? Do tell us in a comment.

Mary is a best-selling author of inspirational romance.  She lives in Tasmania with her husband, Ray, a retired minister now published in devotional meditations books. She enjoys sharing at various speaking appointments and writers workshops about the writing journey God has taken her on. With 19 titles published in print, she is delighted her Heartsong Presents back list is now being made available again as e-books by Truly Yours Digital Editions (Barbour Publishing) - including that "apprentice" novel from twenty years ago, 
Search For Tomorrow.

                                                          

36 comments:

  1. Two thoughts from this article:

    Is it really twenty years since Search for Tomorrow was published? It's still on my bookshelf, and it really doesn't feel like it's been that long.

    And, more importantly, I really like your emphasis on seeking God first in our writing endeavours. It's the point that probably gets least attention, yet it's the most important.

    Thank you for the reminder.

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    1. Had to smile, Iola. Sorry, it is indeed all those years since that book arrived in my trembling, excited, awestruck hand at what God had been doing all those years before it was published. It was the first book also in the "Australia" 4-in-1 volume that was released in 2000- Sydney olympic year and thus became a best-seller.

      I sure agree with handing complete control of every dream, every effort considered to the Lord. It is for Him to say, "Yes", "No", or "wait for when MY time is right."

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  2. So true, Mary. God needs to be an integral part of our writing as Christians. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. And over the years I've discovered that while I have tried to do that, from time to time there still has to come those promptings from the Lord, that question again, "Have you really committed this to ME?

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  3. Great post, Mary. Such good advice for those who really want to write. You are a great mentor. I've had more people gape at me in awe and tell me they can't imagine writing a page of coherent words, let alone a book. These people have other talents and gifts to share and I like to remind them of that. It's great when people find their niche, their God given strengths and go with them courageously. Thanks for steering people in that direction.

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    1. Had to smile as I too have had this happen. Being published does make that writing ability/talent evident but so many, many faithful Christ followers we do not hear about will hear that most important accolade, "Well done good and faithful servant..." from the Master Himself!

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  4. Hi Mary. Great questions to ask, and relevant for any stage of the writing journey.

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  5. Definitely, Penny! Right from that first challenge about having some "natural" ability to always seeking guidance about improving it, not being found guilty of burying it as in the parable. Essential to also remember 1Cor 10:31 on the plaque been in my room since my teens -"...whatsoever Ye do, do all to the glory of God."

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  6. Hi Mary -
    Writing a novel for me was not so much a conscious choice. Over 20 years ago now I had a (literal) dream which became a story which I just had to write down in any spare moment I had. That first manuscript - scribbled down on scraps of paper and in between seeing patients or late at night has been through a few transformations, has moldered in a (figurative) bottom draw for decades, has been reedited some more and has now flowered into series of potential books (four manuscripts and counting) with attendant hopes and dreams.

    However, since once more taking up the challenge of finding a publisher for my stories last year, I've often paused to give this project over to God's wise timing. In the end, getting published is not as important as following his lead.

    I did chuckle at bit at the naive thought of expecting fame and fortune from the process. I'm sure there are much quicker and more sure ways of achieving those aims than writing a novel.

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    1. Not sure whether I can laugh too, Jennifer, more often makes me cringe or feel very sorry for some of those naive folk! It is obvious you have been in that "waiting on God's timing" phase too and I do wish you every success. My first novel, "Search For Tomorrow" certainly fitted into that too. First comes that "idea" for a story. When I at long last finished writing it and the 13 rejections for it over 13 years rolled in, I don't know how many times I thought I must be mistaken about God giving me the "okay" to write a book. I treasure my dear husband's wisdom when he kept reminding me each time it nearly ended up in the waste paper basket. "If you believe God wanted you to write that story, it might be just for one person HE wants to read it - even an editor in a publishing house who rejected it." I did laugh at that last thought, but I look back on the story of that book now and know how true that not only was, but also how God's timing has been so perfect all the way to it now just being re-released as an e-book. Some time ago I actually went through my royalty statements and worked out that including it in the volume of all my Search series that Barbour released (a best-seller), there are over 116,000 print copies out there already - something I never dreamt could happen. And now it is available once more for Him to do with it whatever HE wants to. God is simply awesome!

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    2. Wow that's awesome Mary. And very encouraging too that you keep going at it for 13 years despite the rejection slips and that God has so richly blessed your perseverance - maybe not with fame and fortune - but with the knowledge that you are doing His will and are bringing the right words to the right people at the right time.

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  7. Mary, love the emphasis on seeking the Lord and allowing Him to guide us in our writing. It's a practice for any vocation. Commit your way to the Lord, yes.

    Looking forward to your future posts.

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    1. So true, Ian. And something I hope and pray our children and youth are taught over and over - but then it is far too easy for an "oldie" like me to need reminding as well.

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  8. Hi Mary, great wisdom. :)

    Ask, Seek, Knock... and knowing which doors are open and which doors God closes, is at the heart of a writer's tool box.

    Thanks for sharing. xx

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    1. And not also knowing the answers, Dorothy, means waiting with faith that God IS in control and will have the answers for us.

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    2. Absolutely! He will never fail us, in timing or opportunity.
      Thanks, Mary. :)

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  9. Thanks for a great post Mary. I think this is indeed the point all aspiring writers need to be at before they begin. Searching within for their motivation. After reading your blog I realised it's something all of us who have been writing for awhile need to do too - seek God's heart in all we do - be it writing or whatever else He has called us to. Thanks Mary. I love the verses you've mentioned in the Proverbs 3 and Psalm 37. They have been my guiding verses many times over the year and ones I return to over and over again. Bless you for pointing us in the right direction.

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  10. Thank you, Anusha. And I have to add I sure do have to still rely on the Holy Spirit reminding me of these verses from time to time when my soulish nature wants to take over!

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  11. It is too true that many people think authors get rich and famous. It really is a whole lot of hard work that must have a great deal of passion, and for us Christians, a calling behind it, in order to carry on.

    I think an important question, or at least something to pray about is "Do I have a teachable spirit?"

    Writers absolutely must remain teachable and humble to glean and grow.
    Thanks Mary for those questions. A great place to start!

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    1. An essential question, Catherine. An example of course is that the longer I live the more I am learning about God and His will and ways for me through reading and studying His Word. The important thing is to seek to let Him give us the strength to do what He wants. So essential to watch that our pride and stubbornness does not stifle His work in our lives in not only writing but all aspects of our lives, including e.g. being a teachable, better parent - and now for me these days too, a good grandmother!

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  12. Hi Mary,
    This is a wise post. It's good for people to reflect on these aspects before they undertake something as big and consuming as writing a novel, because you are right, it is a chunky commitment. Without that certainty in our spirits that this is indeed the way we should go, it would be so easy to burn out.

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    1. I have found that when it is God at work in any venture, then being persistent in endeavour is made so much easier.

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  13. I also cant believe its 20 years. I loved the Heartsong Presents books and I still remember the Australia series so well. Remember the Darling downs.

    I hear people say they want to write a book even had friends say it but thats as far as it ever gets.

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    1. When I visit my old home area where I grew up on the Darling Downs, there are now so many changes I hope readers now reading those stories for the first time do realise they were written twenty years ago, Jenny. LOL!

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  14. Hi Mary,
    This blog was a perfect point to start with on 'fiction basics'. An important reminder that all we do is for Gods glory, whether we write for the public or just for ourselves.

    On a more generalised note, I have watched this Christian writing community silently for the past two years and am excited to see how far it has grown and the potential within. I remember about 6 or so years ago standing in a Christian bookstore wanting desperately to read some Aussie fiction. There was nothing! Now only 6 years later I have many great Aussie books to choose from.

    Thank you to all the Aussie authors who work hard to bring us great Christian books.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, Cassie. Even the last few years when I introduced myself to shop assistants I've discovered that too many of them were not aware of all our Australian books now on their shelves. Several times I've gone and pointed out all the Christian Fiction they had for sale that they did not realise were written by Australians! Hopefully that is now improving a great deal. In more recent times I have welcomed some shops making a real effort to promote Aussie published books.

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  15. Hi Cassie, thanks for stopping by :) It is very encouraging to see more Aussie fiction books available both in the stores and online. Please let us know if you'd like to connect with an Aussie writing group. Omega Writers Inc. is the biggest Christian writing organisation in our part of the world, with excellent resources and the Caleb Conference in Brisbane next month.

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  16. Mary, thanks for your encouraging and insightful post :) It's great advice for fiction writers to 'write what you love to read' rather than following market trends.

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    1. I can't imagine trying to write the kind of book I would not prefer to read myself. Besides, it's hard, time consuming work writing a book, and if I don't love reading that kind myself it would be so much harder to persevere.

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  17. Thanks for all the wise, realistic and godly thoughts in this blog post, Mary. The voice of experience for sure. God bless!

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  18. Thanks for the advice Mary....it makes so much sense to seek God's will in all we do so that even our writing (if that's what He means us to do) brings glory and honour to Him.

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  19. Thanks for sharing!! I loved it!!

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  20. Good advice Mary and you chose one of my favourite verses from one of my favourite psalms. Psalm 37

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  21. My understanding of especially those first few verses has certainly grown over the years too, Dale.

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  22. Can I just say a big thank you to everyone who has left a comment. Sorry I can't respond to all of you personally anymore now, but do know it has been very encouraging to see the enthusiasm of you all. May we all keep growing in wisdom as we seek to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ and make Him known.

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