So we interviewed 4 renowned Fictional Writers about the most important questions asked by new and upcoming Fiction Writers that will help the budding talent to craft their fiction novel and short stories writing skills before they start writing their first fiction novel.
We asked the same 9 questions to 4 different fiction writers and here are all their replies to the same questions - giving you an in-depth idea about fiction writing from different perspectives and from different fictional writing experts.
Chelsey Grasso’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Indiana Review, The Los Angeles Review, Harvard Review Online, the Minnesota review, Carve Magazine, Joyland Magazine, Hobart, and elsewhere.
Author of Plastic
Author of the Kent Fisher Mysteries
Alison G. Bailey
An award winning, Amazon, and International bestselling author living in Charleston, South Carolina. At the age of ten she discovered her inner author, rewriting scenes from her favorite TV shows and movies. Alison wrote and produced several stage plays before turning her sights on the book world. Under the influence of large amounts of Diet Pepsi and her Spotify playlists, Alison writes thought provoking, emotional stories, full of love, and romance.
When did you realize you want to become a writer
“I first came to storytelling through filmmaking. I used to take my favorite books, dissect them, and turn them into screenplays. I think it was during this process of taking written literature apart and then piecing it back together in the form of scripts that I discovered my love for writing. This didn’t happen until I was 20 years old. That said, I think I’ve long been drawn to storytelling. Imagining and daydreaming about new narratives has always been a huge part of my life, ever since I was a child.”
“I always loved telling stories and made up tales long before I could write. I remember reading The Outsiders when I was twelve and thinking that I could do this. I could write a book. So that summer, I wrote my first novella. I wrote for years before I called myself a writer. I don’t think there was an actual moment when I realized this was what I wanted to do. It just always was a part of me.”
“I always loved telling stories as a child. Being an avid reader, I had an active and creative imagination and a need to express myself. At school, English was my favourite and best subject. I loved writing stories. I won a national short story competition at the age of 12 or 13.
It wasn’t until I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee that I knew I wanted to write novels. I was sixteen at the time and started my first novel, a children’s story that was praised by a publisher, but not accepted for publication.”
“There never was one moment that the idea popped into my head to be a fiction writer. I was very sick during my childhood and spent a lot of time alone watching TV shows and movies. As I got older I loved rewriting or re imagining scenes from my favorite episodes.
My major in college was theater, with hopes of being a stage manager for theatrical productions once I graduated. It wasn’t until assigned class projects that I actually put pen to paper. I wrote, directed, and produced several one act plays during college and after. My life took some turns in different directions and I put writing aside for several years.
After the death of my father in 2011 I began reading to help me deal with my grief. There’s nothing like getting completely lost in a good book. I discovered and fell in love with indie published books. Knowing I used to write, a friend suggested I try it again. So, in early 2013 I started writing my first novel, Present Perfect. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer.”
Causes of writer's block and how do you beat it
What causes a writer's block and how do you beat it?
“Any time I’m feeling “stuck” in my writing, I pick up a book and read. In my opinion, the writer’s job is to read without cease, and I tend to have tall stacks of books all around my home. We learn from other writers, and any time I’ve found myself in a predicament within my own writing, I can always find a way out of it by examining other writers’ craft and technique. I’m always most in the “mode of writing” after I’ve read something striking that reminds me of the power of literature.”
“I haven’t experienced writer’s block for a long time. The last time was when I hit an impasse in my first murder mystery novel, No Accident. I couldn’t find a way to solve the murder. It defeated me for a few years until I decided to write the ending for the book regardless. It left me with a novel of two parts. When an independent US publisher offered me a contract to publish the story, based on three chapters and a synopsis, I had to find a way to solve the murder.
During extensive editing, I realised I’d let one of the characters and subplots lead me down a blind alley. I loved the subplot, but followed my inner voice and removed it. It wasn’t long before I found a way to solve the murder.
I believe most writing blocks stem from character issues. It’s often the author trying to make a character do something they wouldn’t really do, which leads to the block.
The solution is to look at what you’ve written and be ruthless. Anything unnecessary or out of character needs to go. This will often remove the block and free up the creative mind.”
“I think all writers, fiction as well as non-fiction, experience writer’s block at some point. I’m no different. When it happens I step away from my current work in progress and do something completely different. Bake, cook, walk my dogs, read, listen to music, etc. Eventually, I will get unblocked.”
Becoming a good writer
What is Fiction? What makes a good fiction writer
“I think that fiction writing often contains more truth than non-fiction. I mean that in the sense that we can see the purest form of humanity in a great fiction story. As to what makes a good fiction writer, I think you need to be able to both work hard and work deeply. Great fiction writing rarely comes from a first take — and you need to be able to look at your own work critically and at a distance if you want to be a good fiction writer. Having an ear for sentence rhythm also doesn’t hurt!”
“A fiction writer conveys the truth through invented dialogue, situations and relationships. At the core of the story is the emotional nugget of truth; fiction writers create a make believe world around that nugget.
A fiction writer collects things: memories, facial expressions, phrases. They observe and store moments. Sometimes an entire story can be written around a moment. It’s important to be curious, empathetic and diligent to be a writer. If you are curious, you will find no end of subjects for your stories. If you are empathetic, you will be able to put yourself in the place of your characters, even the antagonists. But your best asset is diligence. The flash of creation is exciting. However, it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Ninety percent of writing involves researching, editing and rewriting. Only diligent writers will stick with the process—all the bumpy drafts in between the flash of creation and the finished product.”
“Fiction writing is about telling stories. There must be a hero that readers will follow and a series of challenges for the hero to overcome, be they physical, emotional or environmental. These challenges will irreversibly change the hero by the end of the story.
You don’t have to be the best or most literate writer in the world to tell stories. You have to care about people, what makes them tick, why they are who they are. You must have something you want to tell, whether it’s a concept, a value, a message or an experience. This will give your hero a goal. A good fiction writer will make it as difficult as possible for the hero to achieve the goal. The stakes need to be high and life changing. The story must be filled with conflict.
This will come naturally to some people, but can be learnt. The best way to become a good writer is to read as much as possible. Writers love words, love stories, love books.
A good fiction writer must have an open, inquisitive mind, be fascinated by people and care about the world we live in. Good writers must be determined and ruthless to remain focused and motivated. A sense of humour is essential and don’t take yourself too seriously. People are dying out there while you search for the right word.”
“A work of fiction is created in the imagination of the author-the characters, plot, and sometimes the setting. The reader gets immersed in a world different from their own and meets people they may otherwise never meet.
While the majority of my stories are fictional, I do use real life events and give some of my characters features that I’ve gathered from myself, friends, family, and research I’ve done on real people.
As far as prerequisites, skills, and personality traits…Obviously, one needs to know sentence structure, grammar, plotting out a story (how do you get from point A to point B, etc.). You have to be a good storyteller. Think the sections of the story through, observe how people act, and how they speak. When I read a book I like to imagine myself as the female protagonist (heroine). I do the same thing when writing a book.”
Fiction and non-fiction writing: Main Difference?
“I always think of fiction as a semblance of reality. In other words, it’s made up or created, but as close to real life as possible. It’s about stories. It’s not real, but it could be.
Non-fiction is based on fact, actual events and lives, even if it’s written in a creative way or told as a story. It’s about reality. It is real, no matter how far-fetched it might be.
Both forms of writing share many similarities. They both demand creativity, an ability to express ideas, concepts and emotions. In fiction, the author comes up with the challenges. In non-fiction the challenge is to make reality as interesting.”
How to start writing a book
For the new fiction writers, share your thoughts on how they should start writing their first book.
“For me, writing doesn’t always happen chronologically. Sometimes it does, but more often than not, I’m drawn into a single image or interaction that I find interesting and go from there. I’m not a plotter. I try not to rely on traditional story structure as a crutch when I’m writing. I’m much more interested in developing stories’ nuance and subtext than I am plot.”
“A fiction book begins with a character or a plot. You have this great idea, and it just won’t go away. You close your eyes, and this character is talking to you or you are seeing the story arc. The first step in writing the book is to jot these notes down. In the beginning, just let these ideas flow and keep track of them. If they continue, if the story is unspooling further and further, then you can write an outline or begin your first draft.
It is my belief that you need inspiration to start writing a book. You must have a good story to tell. Inspiration comes from many places, so keep your ears open. Once you have it, enjoy the spark of creation as you discover the story yourself while writing it. No matter how much you dream or sketch out the story before you begin, it will transform through writing.
“Read as much as you can. Think about the books you like, the characters you root for. See how the author uses conflict to test the characters, to move the plot forward, to raise the stakes as high as possible as the story reaches its climax.
When it comes to writing, you need to be clear what your story is about. It’s usually about people and what they want – emotional stuff. Reading is an emotional experience, which means it’s about people, their aspirations and fears, desires and loves.
But don’t spend too long thinking about it. Ideas create energy which fades if you leave it too long. Whether you like to plan in detail or fly by the seat of your pants like me, you need to hold onto that energy as it’s a long and rocky road ahead to complete a novel.
The opening is crucial. It must start with your hero facing a problem he or she has to solve. If they don’t have to solve it, you don’t have a story. Unlike real life, where you can often walk away from danger, a story demands your hero takes action.
The action to solve the problem creates a bigger problem and so on until the climax. Better still, make the solution to the problem something the hero would prefer to avoid at all costs.
While you can map this out on paper, the problems should arise organically from the character’s behaviour and mindset. Constricting characters to fit into a plot you’ve devised will probably cause you problems, including writers’ block.
Short stories and blogging are a good way to find out if you have what it takes to test and challenge a character. If your idea doesn’t have legs, you’ll find out without wasting too much time or energy. If it does have legs, the urge to write a novel more will be irresistible.
However you do it, you must write the story. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will edit and revise later. Just get your hero and the problem and go for it.”
“Sit down at the computer, use the note app on your phone, or go old school with a notebook, and pen, and write. I usually start with a bullet point list of ideas for the storyline and breakdown of characters, and their traits. At some point I create a more detailed outline of the story. I don’t always write in chapter sequence. The first chapter I write might be the last chapter of the book. It really depends on what works best for you.”
Challenges of publishing a book
What are the challenges faced by fiction writers when it comes to publishing a book? How does book publishing work? And where to submit a book for publishing? How about self-publishing options?
“Unfortunately, it’s true that the fiction market is much kinder to novels than it is short stories. I think this is a shame, as short stories have so much to offer us as readers and humans. I wish more people read short stories. I wish I saw more short story collections by debut authors in bookstores.”
“Traditional publishing is challenging because there are far more books written than all the publishing houses can print. You are asking someone to put your book on shelves instead of hundreds of others. This will only happen if you find the right match for your book.
Research publishers and target your queries to those that publish books like yours.
Fiction writers receive rejection letters far more often than acceptance letters. Don’t take the rejection letters personally. There are many reasons why publishers pass on good books. New authors have not yet made a name for themselves and may not have a publishing track record. This represents a bigger risk for the publisher.
But you can overcome this challenge by selling yourself as much as the book. Let them know what is unique and compelling about you as an author.”
“For most of my life, publishing meant finding an agent or publisher. We’re talking about query letters, sample chapters and a synopsis. The problem is the slush pile – filled with queries from everyone else like you who wants to publish a book. It can run into thousands of submissions, so it’s not easy to stand out.
Unless you have an agent to submit your work – and they too have big slush piles – you have to take your chances with everyone else, hoping the right reader at the publisher will pick up your manuscript and love it.
You could find another author to recommend you to their publisher, but it’s no guarantee of having your work accepted.
You also need to find the right publishers for what you write. Don’t send a romance story to a publisher that releases horror stories. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. This means you need to know who your book is written for – your typical reader.
Trust me, it’s not always easy to work out.
If your book is accepted, prepare yourself for a steep learning curve, often with little assistance from the publisher. There’s the contract, which will frighten you. You really need to get help with this.
Be prepared for criticism of your manuscript, editing that requires you to make significant changes to your plots and characters, and a cover you may not like. The publisher may or may not seek your agreement. You may be unhappy with what they’re doing, but they know how to sell books.
And you will have deadlines to meet.
Amazon introduced self-publishing, which is not as difficult as you might think. You still have to write to the standard a mainstream publisher would demand. You still have to edit, revise and polish your book. Putting your story on Amazon with a cover you threw together in a graphic program won’t sell many books.
Self-publishing means you are both writer and publisher – two very distinct roles. It’s double the work of submitting to a publisher, but without the continual rejections that erode self-confidence. You retain control of everything and will often have a larger royalty percentage.
You will also have to pay for a professional editor – please do not skimp on this – and a cover designer if you’re to compete with publishers. This can cost several hundred pounds, but essential for a professional finished product.
Whichever route you choose, you still have to write the best, most compelling book you can.”
“Getting your book noticed. Since self-publishing is so readily available to everyone there are millions of books out there vying for readers.”
Who is your favorite fiction writer of all time
“Too many! There are different qualities that I admire in different writers.”
“Sue Grafton, who wrote the Alphabet series of murder mystery books, featuring private eye, Kinsey Millhone. When I read A is for Alibi, I was hooked. The novels provided a template for what I wanted to do and made me realise there was a market out there for what I wanted to write.”
How much do fiction writers make
How to make money writing fiction?
“While there are some exceptions, fiction is not a field to get into if you’re looking for a large payout. Yes, some book advances may be large, but you have to consider the amount of time it takes to write a publishable book. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that most advances are small sums. If you write fiction, it’s rare that you’d be doing it for the money. Rather, you’re probably doing it because you can’t imagine yourself not.”
“Fiction writing is a craft. Like any craft, it takes time to develop it. My best advice is not to expect to make money for the first ten years as you “apprentice” in the craft. You will take classes, workshop your writing and improve on your abilities. Many writers will make some money during this period, but it is best not to pressure yourself to earn a living.
While bestselling authors can make five-figure advances and receive fat royalty cheques, most authors must have another job to make ends meet. The reality of fiction writing is that neither the author nor the publisher gets rich off most books. The industry exists because of the small percentage of books that do reap huge rewards.
This should not discourage you. No one can predict which books will be bestsellers. Write fiction because you love storytelling. Work on your craft because you are passionate about the process. If you write a bestseller, either your first book or your tenth, kudos to you! But most writers will tell you that they don’t write for the money. They write because they can’t imagine not writing.”
“Unless you are very good or lucky, you will not make enough money from selling books to have a decent living. There are facts and figures that show the majority of authors earn less than the minimum wage in the UK.
I can confirm this, which is why I don’t rely on writing alone to pay the bills.
The accepted advice is to write a series as each new book helps to sell the back catalogue. This is easier with crime fiction and romance, the most popular genres.
You could write shorter books and publish lots of them. This is for self-published authors in the main.
You can supplement income by giving talks, developing online courses and finding other ways to monetise what you write about. This all takes you away from writing though and you face the same challenge of visibility as you do with the books you publish.
With around 7 million books on Amazon, you need to work hard to stand out and build a following. When you start, hardly anyone will know you exist.
There are far easier ways to make a living, but if you love writing you’ll carry on regardless.”
“So many things factor into the amount a writer can make. The genre you write in, your marketing plan, reviews, word of mouth among readers, visibility on all the platforms, does the book cover, and blurb compel readers to buy your book. Don’t think that just because you wrote a book and uploaded it onto Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, etc, that people will automatically buy it.
Self-publishing your book is like owning your own business. You’re in control of every aspect from writing, working with cover designer, marketing, etc. Traditional publishing is like working for someone else. You hand over the rights to your book in exchange for an advance.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have self-published as well as have a traditional publisher buy the rights to my books.”
Tips for new writers
Finally, what tips would you give to new fiction writers?
“Find the writers whose work resonates with you. It wasn’t until various mentors in my life started pointing me towards my now favorite authors that my own writing and writing practice truly developed and matured. Just like how you need to find your people in life, you need to find your people in writing. That’s your lineage — that’s the line of work you want to continue to expand.”
“Learn how to read fiction as a writer rather than just a reader. Ask yourself what the author is doing and try to understand why. Where are the turning points, do they use a three-act structure, what makes their characters so relatable? Every time you read a book, you can be working on your craft.
Find a community of writers. Writing is solitary work. Share your work with fellow writers, discuss the pains and glories and help others you meet along the way. I have found inspiration so many times through my fellow writers. Celebrate all your successes collectively. It makes such a difference to have someone to boost your spirits when you are discouraged and to raise a glass with you when you complete a manuscript, receive an acceptance letter or read a good review.
The most important piece of advice I can share is not to give up. No painter creates a masterpiece on their first canvas. You will have hard writing days and disappointing results. You will struggle at times. But all those things will improve your writing. Learn from those days as well. Lastly, enjoy the writing process. You are a creator of worlds, a storyteller and sometimes even a soothsayer.”
- Find your voice – your own unique style and way with words. This is what differentiates you from everyone else. I had to write a blog called Fisher’s Fables to discover my unique voice. It led to me rewriting my first crime novel, which was then accepted by a publisher.
- Write the kind of books you love to read. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it, but it came to me late in my writing career. I was always driven by ideas and plots. As a result, my output was hit and miss and often unsaleable. The moment I started to write murder mystery I knew this was the way forward.
- Listen to your inner voice – not the little devil on your shoulder that likes to remind you of all the negative stuff. Your inner voice is an instinctive or intuitive voice that helps us make decisions, decide what right, what works and what doesn’t. Develop and listen to this voice and follow it. It won’t let you down, believe me.
- Write. Heard the one about the musician in New York? He stops a taxi driver and asks, “What’s the best way to get to Carnegie Hall?” The taxi driver thinks for a moment and says, “Practice. Lots of practice.” This holds for most things, including writing.
- Do what works for you. I used to write something every day because a book on writing said that’s what I should do. Did I write a best seller? No. Did I write anything worth publishing? Yes, occasionally. Where you write, how you write (paper of PC), what you surround yourself with – these are all personal choices. If you can only write when the muse grabs you, don’t beat yourself up. For years, I thought I could only write late in the evening and early hours. I never thought I could write without smoking, but I gave up cigarettes 14 years ago, well before I published my first novel. The less you have to worry about, the more you can focus on your writing.
- Enjoy writing. If you love writing, this is easy. When you start out this is easy. When you start looking to get published, it suddenly gets serious. Stay grounded and never forget the thrill of turning your ideas into words on a page. Remind yourself why you write and never lose heart.
- Don’t try to please everyone. Accepting this will save you a lot of grief in the long run. You can’t write for everyone, so write for the kind of people who will read your work. Keep them in mind while you write. You’ll find it easier to sell and market your work, whether to publishers or readers.
- Keep the faith. Never give up. Easier said than done, I know, but optimism is a much better way to live your life. Work hard, listen and learn, believe and keep trying. Nothing you write is ever wasted.
1. Write what you would like to read.
2. Research topics. For example, if you’re writing about a character who has cancer, research the type of cancer, the treatment available, the physical and emotional effects it could cause.
3. Hire a professional editor and cover designer.
4. Don’t allow bad reviews to get you down. You will get bad reviews. We all do. It’s unrealistic to think everyone will love your books.
Best-selling books of our Panel
“We Are Not Lemons” — Los Angeles Review
“The Softest Part” — The Rumpus
“Invisible Men Make Bad Company” — Harvard Review Online
“Sour” — Hobart
“Goose” — Carve Magazine
My Kent Fisher mystery series currently stands at five books, only available on Amazon.
Present Perfect, August 2013 (Book of the Year, Indie Romance Convention | Amazon Bestseller, Kindle Store 2013)
Past Imperfect, February 2014 (Amazon Top 20 Category Romance/Coming of Age 2014)
Presently Perfect, December 2014 (Amazon Top 20 Category Romance/Coming of Age 2014)
Stop!, June 2015 Amazon (Amazon Top 10, Category Teen/Young Adult 2015)
The Dance, May 2016 (Amazon Top 20, Category Contemporary Romance)
Crazy Sexy Love, July 2018
Lip Smacker, Nov 2019
Connect with Alison G. Bailey on Social Media
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