Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making the Switch from Nonfiction to Fiction Writing

I have the honor of being a guest on Joanna Penn's blog today. Here's the beginning of my article over there, with a link to the rest of it.

Making the Switch from Nonfiction to Fiction Writing 

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

You’re already confident with writing nonfiction, so making the transition to fiction should be no big deal, right? Not. There’s actually a significant learning curve to recognizing and mastering the essential elements of writing fiction that captivates readers, sells well, and garners glowing reviews.
As an independent editor specializing in popular, fast-paced fiction, I often receive manuscripts from professionals and others who write a lot of nonfiction and are attaching a draft of a novel or short story. They often assume that since they’re used to writing, the transition to fiction will be easy.

Not so.

Nonfiction writers and first-time novelists often don’t realize the importance of issues they’re simply not aware of, so they ask me for “just a light copyedit.” When I start reading their manuscript, I often notice right away the story seems to lack sparkle. It doesn’t engage me and make me want to keep reading.

The writers, although accomplished in their field, have little or no concept of the critical aspects of point of view and showing instead of telling.

Other issues I see are...

For the rest of this blog post, click HERE.  

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop presenter, judge for fiction contests, and the An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. Jodie recently organized and edited two anthologies for charity: a BC-wide anthology of stories and poetry for Doctors Without Borders, called Voices from the Valleys, and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers, created to help reduce child labor in Asia. You can find Jodie at and on Facebook.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Why I Am Not Turning the Pages of This Novel

I've been away across the country visiting my family and am now back and trying to catch up. Here's the beginning of a great article I missed last Sunday on The Kill Zone blog, by my favorite writing "guru," James Scott Bell, who shares his words of wisdom there every Sunday. For the rest of these 5 insightful tips, click on the link at the end of this excerpt. Keep on reading and writing!  - Jodie

Why I Am Not Turning the Pages of This Novel 

by James Scott Bell  @jamesscottbell 

Recently I posted about why I found a novel to be a true page-turner. I'm gratified so many authors found it helpful.

So I thought I'd share today the opposite type of experience: reading a mediocre novel I will not finish. (See also Friday's question and comments). 

I'm not going to name the book, because I don't believe in running down fellow authors. Nor will I quote anything verbatim. But I do think there are some important lessons to be learned.  

1. An Opening Without Disturbance

The first-person narrator of this crime novel is moving through a setting, describing it, and then getting in a car and moving some more, then getting to another location and getting out of the car, and then talking to some people. This is, by definition, action. But it does nothing to hook the reader. Why? Because there's no trouble, or even a portent of it.
What hooks a reader faster than anything else is when...
For the rest of this excellent article, click HERE. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


by Jodie Renner, editor & author

Writing short stories is a great way to experiment with different genres, characters, settings, and “voices.” And due to the rise in e-books and e-magazines, length is no longer an issue, so there’s a growing market for short stories. You can also publish a collection of 3 or 4 of your short stories yourself in a short anthology, relatively easily on Amazon, and they don’t even need to be on a common theme. Here are some guidelines for writing a compelling story, worthy of publishing or submitting to contests, magazines, and anthologies.
Of course, these are only tips and guidelines – like any good cook with a recipe, you’ll tweak them to suit your own vision and story ideas.
1. Pay attention to word count. Short stories are generally between 500 and 7,500 words long. If you want to submit your short story to a magazine or contest, be sure to read their guidelines as to length. Also, read the fine print to avoid giving away all rights to your story.
2. Keep the story tight. A short story is about just a small slice of life, with one story thread and one theme. Don’t get too ambitious. It’s best to limit it to one main character plus a few supporting characters, one geographical location, and a short time frame, like a few weeks maximum—better yet, a few days, or even hours or minutes.
3. Create a complex, charismatic character. Your main character should be multi-dimensional and at least somewhat sympathetic, so readers can relate to him and start bonding with him right away. And give him a human side, with some inner conflict and vulnerability, so readers care about him and start worrying about him immediately. A worried reader is an engaged reader. Remember that readers need to care about your character before they’ll start caring what happens to him.
4. Put your character in motion right away, and disrupt her world. Having her interacting with someone else is usually best – much more dynamic than starting with a character alone, musing. Also, best not to start with your character just waking up or in an everyday situation or on a routine trip to somewhere. That’s too much slow lead-up for a short story – or any compelling story, for that matter.
5. Think of a main story question/problem and a tight plot or storyline. Give your character an important goal that is thwarted. Create a main conflict, and other lesser conflicts/problems, with tension throughout. No conflict = no story. Get your protagonist into some hot water! The conflict can be internal or external, or both, and can be against man, circumstances, or nature. Something has to happen in your story, to achieve reader satisfaction. Your main character, someone the reader cares about, has to run into a difficult challenge they need to confront, and you need some kind of resolution at the end.
6. Develop a unique “voice” for this story by first getting to know your character really well, then journaling in their voice. Just let the ideas flow, in their point of view, expressing their hopes and frustrations with their words and expressions. Then carry that voice throughout the whole story, even to the narration and description, which is really the character’s thoughts, perceptions, observations and reactions.
7. Create interesting supporting characters. Give each of your characters a distinct personality, with hopes, accomplishments, fears, insecurities and secrets, and add some individual quirks to bring each of them to life. Supporting and minor characters should be different from your protagonist, for contrast.
8. To enter and win contests, make your character and story unique and memorable. Try to jolt or awe the readers somehow, with a unique, charismatic, even quirky or weird character, and/or a surprising topic or plot twist.
9. Experiment – take a chance. Short stories can be edgier, darker, or more intense because they’re short, and readers can tolerate something a little more extreme for a limited time. 
10. Jump right in, with a disruption and tension in the first paragraph. There’s no room in a short story for a long, meandering lead-up to the main problem, or an extended introduction of the setting or the characters and their background. Jump right in with the main character’s life being disrupted in some way.
11. Start right out in the head of your main character. It’s best to use their name right in the first sentence to establish them as the POV character, the one readers are supposed to identify with and root for. Then let readers know really soon their gender, rough age, and role in the story world.
12. Situate the reader early on. Don’t forget the 4 W’s: who, what, where, when. Establish your setting (time and place) within the first few paragraphs as well, to situate your reader and avoid confusion. But avoid starting with a great long descriptive passage.
13. Use close point of view. Get up close and personal with your main character and tell the story from his or her point of view. You don’t have time or space to get into anyone else’s viewpoint in a short story. Even your narration is your POV character’s thoughts and observations. Don’t intrude as the author to describe or explain anything to the readers in neutral language.
14. Show, Don’t Tell! Don’t use narration to tell your readers what happened—put them right in the middle of the scene, with lots of dialogue and action and reactions, in real time. And skip past transitional times and unimportant moments. Just use a few words to go from one time/place to another, unless something important happens during the transition.
15. Show your character’s reactions, both inner and outer. And to bring the character and scene to life on the page, evoke all five senses, not just sight and hearing.
16. Every page needs tension of some sort. It might be overt, like an argument, or subtle, like inner resentments, disagreements, worry, etc. No tension = boring.
17. Dialogue is war! Skip the yadda-yadda, blah-blah and add spark and tension to all your dialogue. And make your dialogue sound as natural and authentic as you can. Each character should speak differently, and not like the author. Use contractions, partial sentences, slang words, interruptions, one-word answers, silences, evasive replies, and lots of tension and attitude! When it comes to dialogue, ignore the computer lines that indicate incorrect English. Read your dialogue out loud or role-play with a friend to make sure it sounds natural.
18. Go out with a bang. Don’t stretch out the conclusion – tie it up pretty quickly. Like your first paragraph, your final paragraph needs to be memorable, and also satisfying to the readers. A surprise twist would be great, but it needs to make sense, given all the other details of the story. It’s not necessary to tie everything up in a neat bow – in fact, short story endings can be more ambiguous than for novels – but do give your reader some sense of resolution. And be sure the protagonist solves his or her problem or triumphs through their own courage, determination, and resourcefulness, not through coincidence, luck or a rescue by someone else.
19. Hook them in with an opening that zings. Write and rewrite your first line, opening paragraph and first page. They need to be as gripping and as intriguing as you can make them, in order to grab the readers and make them want to read the rest of the story. Your first sentence and paragraph should arouse curiosity, and raise questions that demand to be answered.
20. Cut to the chase! The short story requires discipline and editing. Trim down any long, convoluted sentences to reveal the essentials. Less is more, so make every word count. If a sentence or line of dialogue doesn’t advance the plot or further develop a character, take it out. Use strong, evocative, specific nouns and verbs and cut back on supporting adjectives and adverbs.  For example, instead of saying “He walked heavily” say “He trudged.” Or instead of “She walked quietly into the room,” say “She tiptoed…”
21. Make every element and every image count. Every element you insert in the story should have some significance or some relevance later. If it doesn’t, take it out. You have no room for filler in a compelling short story.   

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop presenter, judge for fiction contests, and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. Jodie has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys, and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at, and on Facebook and Twitter. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is Your Premise Believable and Logical?

Another great craft-of-writing article by James Scott Bell is up today over at The Kill Zone blog. This one will be incredibly useful to anyone crafting a mystery or thriller who wants to make sure everything it's based on is credible.

Here's the start and a link to the rest:

Don't Kill Your Thrills With Premise Implausibility

Last week I wrote about the most important rule for thriller writers to follow, namely:
Never allow any of your main characters to act like idiots in order to move or wrap up your plot!
I think I spoke to soon. There is a second rule that is of equal import: the overall premise of the thriller must be justified in a way that is a) surprising, and yet b) makes perfect sense.
This is not easy. Otherwise, everybody would be writing The Sixth Sense every time out. Not even M. Night Shyamalan is writing The Sixth Sense every time out! 
So what can we do to up our chances of getting our thriller ending right?
1. Think About Your Contractual Obligation

For the rest of this excellent article, with a very useful list, click here:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Candid Conversation with Editor & Author Jodie Renner

Exciting news!
SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINE has interviewed me in its Sept./Oct. 2013 issue, just out!
You can purchase a subscription or single issues (print or electronic) on their website at
In the interview, Jodie answers these questions and more:
   - What common mistakes do you observe writers making?
   - What are the most confusing areas for a fiction writer?
   - What is the best way for the writer to fix them?
   - What would be your advice to anyone who was trying to write a "killer thriller" or any other fast-paced fiction that sells?
   - As an editor, describe your ideal client.

Other writers featured in the September issue include:

- Davis Bunn
- Cassandra King
- Pamela Binnings Ewen

Topics in this issue include:

- Book Signing Success
- Create a Visual Tour
- Revelations from a Retreat
- Who has Time to Be a Writer? You do!
- What if Someone Steals Your Idea?
- Why You Need a Book Proposal

To subscribe to this excellent magazine full of great tips for writers and receive your issues either online or on high-quality paper in full color in the mail, click on this link.  
September 2013 thru August 2014
$29.99 (6 issues)
Plus: Free access to promote on Mic Nite, Take Five and Must Read TV

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (which is published about 4-10 times a year), please click on the link below and fill out the form. Your privacy is completely assured, you won’t receive any spam, ever, and you can unsubscribe any time.  Thanks! 
Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction:   WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medal winner, FAPA Book Awards), both available in e-book and trade paperback.
For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.