Category Archives: fiction

“I like a story where I can’t guess everything in the first 20 minutes.”

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes

The 20-Minute Test – Why We Need It

captain obvious Novelists are often oblivious to what makes a story work (or worse, almost work, but not quite) when it’s their own.

We only know what we’re trying to do, how hard we’re working, and the hundreds of techniques and plot/character details we’re trying to pull off in any given scene.

This blind spot is a key reason we (a) re-write ad nauseam, (b) rely on critique partners who are equally blind, and (c) are constantly waffling between trust in our skills and the sure certainty that we suck. And it’s why we don’t know if we’re not selling because our writing “isn’t good enough to get published,” or because we’re still looking for that right agent, editor, or reader. The ones who get us.

It doesn’t take long for career writers (those who treat writing as their profession–unpublished or published) to lose their ability to be readers. Oh, we read, all right. But we read like writers who read. We are aware of every technique, every word, every cog turning. It becomes a rare event to read “ravenously, emotionally, viscerally.”

And the loss of our reader’s compass at the time we need it most (determining if your character, your scene, or your entire story works) requires a clever solution. My clever solution is named Scott.

The title of this post is what my husband said to me when I asked him why he liked one debut TV show vs. another TV show. Instantly, he had an answer. (He’s fully prepared for a pop quiz at any moment. Twenty-two years of being married to a fiction writer has *so* prepared him to provide discussion points.)

The 20-Minute Test – How it Works

Stories take place inside the reader’s mind.  Vivi Andrews over at Damned Scribbling Women calls books “a living space” for the reader. Every action, every event, and every line of dialogue implies a “world” to the reader.

And herein lies the AHA technique. We may not be able to fully judge our own writing, but we can certainly re-read a scene asking the following questions.

  1. Based on this (action, event, dialog, thought, decision, outcome, etc.), what will a smart reader expect to happen next?
  2. What will the smart reader know about the story?
  3. How will the smart reader expect that to play out to the end of the book?

And here’s the test: If the reader’s expectations are pretty much correct, you have just bored your readers by providing a “living space” they’ve already visited.

For the reader, your story doesn’t work, because they’re reading a new book (your book) for a new experience.

As Alyx Dellamonica says, “I also consider a book not quite good if its story or protagonist bore me, even if the prose is beautiful.”

Alyx and Scott would get along great.

Don’t bore the readers with an obvious trajectory, because while you’re busy writing, they’re busy unfolding the story in their mind’s “living spaces” and hoping they can’t out-think you in 20 minutes.

Diane Holmes Crop 1 Diane is Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University.

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Victor David Giron on Writing Fiction (Part One)

Victor David Giron Curbside Splendor ChicagoVictor David Giron runs Curbside Splendor, an indie publisher based in Chicago. The Curbside Splendor mission statement says, “We publish literary fiction and poetry based in contemporary urban (and sometimes sub-urban) settings.  Our goal is to support the independent publishing process and to promote urban-themed writing.”

We caught up with Victor David Giron to ask about writing fiction in general, his book Sophomoric Philosophy, and the struggle a new fiction writer faces when trying to find a voice.

FZ: First, a bit of background–when did you start writing professionally and how did you decide to commit to your first book?

Victor David Giron: I’m a CPA and have worked for professional services firms and corporations since I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1996.  People associate accounting with numbers and spreadsheets, which for the most part is true, except that the field of accounting that I specialize in involves researching accounting rules and writing about how they apply to real life business situations.

So I’ve been writing for my core profession all these years, and in that sense I’ve been writing professionally for a while.  However, I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long I can remember reading them.  During my twenties I experimented with novel ideas, some that progressed a bit, but all that eventually died.  I felt like I was forcing ideas that just were not flowing.  Around my 30th birthday, as a way to pass away time while in hotel rooms on business trips, or stuck at an airport, I began to write memories from high school parties and relationships.  I’ve never been one to keep a journal, so for me this was my first time writing down personal memories.

FZ: Sophomoric Philosophy is pretty complex from a conceptual standpoint. You’ve got a lot going on with culture issues, the war between art and commerce with the main character, plus the entanglements with substances, sex and growing up. What made you decide to go this route?

VDG: Sophomoric Philosophy is about a guy named Alex Lopez that very much like me is an accountant but has always wanted to do something more creative with his life, something more meaningful.   He has a lot of good ideas, instincts, but can’t seem to focus on any one of them, and too easily falls prey to partying, girls, and sex, and therefore never seems to move beyond just the idea phase.

There are glimpses in the novel that perhaps he’s making progress, but you’re never quite sure.  I wanted the novel to be an explosion of all these themes, especially as it’s told in the first person narrative by the character.  I wanted the reader to get a feel of all the tension that comes from being consumed with ideas but not being able to follow through.

But the book is also a celebration of these things, of getting immersed in being in the moment and loving things like music and partying, having a sexual connection with someone, amid the constant stream of information bombardments that modern culture inflicts on us.

I wanted the book it to be as real as possible, and easily relatable to people that don’t necessarily read books or write.  I want the reader to feel as confused and awkward as Alex does.  Based on feedback I think I’ve succeeded.  As a writer, I also like to think that this first novel hits on a lot of topics that I’m interested in pursuing in greater detail with my future work.  For example, my next novel White Hallways will be focused primarily on memory and sibling relationships, along with further pursuing the Mexican-American experience that Sophomoric Philosophy touches on.

FZ:So many new writers try tackling genre fiction and wind up forcing their literary voice into a mold it’s not quite ready or able to fit. Did you have struggles in that department?

VDG: Earlier I mentioned that before Sophomoric Philosophy I had many failed attempts at writing a novel. Most of these were some sort of genre fiction that, especially in hindsight, I found frustrating because my writing sounded like someone I totally couldn’t relate to.  That’s why when I settled in on using my own personal experiences as the basis for the novel, the writing really began to flow because it felt natural and it allowed me to, over time, get better and creative with what I was doing.

One of the things I’m most proud of the book is that the voice is strong, consistent, and comes across exactly how I wanted it to.  I taught myself how to write fiction with Sophomoric Philosophy and when I read over it now I can kind of see how I improved my writing over the course of it.

The three chapters titled “On Being Mexican-American” Parts I, II, and III, were one of the last few I wrote, at the suggestion of my editor to give more emphasis on this theme of struggling with ethnicity, and I think they’re probably the best from a pure writing perspective.

We’ll continue our discussion with Victor David Giron in part two of our interview. You can read the latest fiction and poetry at

It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp…of Books

Evelyn LaFont

by Evelyn Lafont

So you’ve written a book! Good for you—give yourself a nice pat on the back and go eat some chocolate. And you’ve decided to self-publish your book, you say? Inspired by the success of other self-published authors, you’ve decided to get off the query train and instead take your future into your own hands? Again, I say awesome.

Hey—what’re you doing? I didn’t say, “Now go sit down and reward yourself with chocolate.” Uh-uh. As a self-publishing indie author, you’ve still got work to do.

1. Find beta readers. I don’t know about you, but I think that just about everything I do is genius. Hell, even my poopie is like a beautiful, doe-eye colored water lily straining against the confines of its porcelain cage. Beta readers help you figure out whether or not OTHER people will think your book is good and can indicate whether or not it has a chance to make it out there. They can also help you figure out what is, and isn’t, working from a reader’s perspective.

2. Hire an editor. It is almost impossible for an author to perfectly self-edit his or her own manuscript. I’m sorry, you can argue all you want, but it’s true. Editors help you figure out which darlings to kill, how to clarify your message, and point out inconsistencies in characters and plots. They are vital.

3. Hire an artist. You need a hot cover, not a hot mess. I don’t know about you but when I use Photoshop to try and do my own graphics, it ends up looking like I wanted my book cover to feature the ass end of a monkey. Not cool, and not going to help you look like a pro.

4. Hire a proofreader. Editors don’t always catch all the spelling and grammar errors you’ve made, and they surely won’t catch any made after you incorporate their edit suggestions. Hire a proofreader to go through the book one last time before you publish.

5. Get a layout designer. If you read on an e-reader, then you probably know what it’s like to deal with the author who didn’t properly layout his or her MS. In a word, it is suck. It takes you right out of the moment as your eyeballs become busy playing hide and seek trying to figure out where your next paragraph or sentence begins.

6. Market your book. Once you’ve done all the above (and I do mean ALL of it), now you have to spend the rest of your life marketing your book—oh, and not to other writers, but to readers. And not just any old readers, readers who actually like the genre your book is a part of.

I’m sorry self-publishing authors, but there will be no chocolate for you.

Evelyn Lafont is an author and freelance writer. Her debut novella, The Vampire Relationship Guide, Volume 1: Meeting and Mating is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble and Smashwords .

VRG Cover

Lightning Strikes for Fiction Writers is pleased to welcome our newest regular contributor, Diane Holmes of Pitch University. She has some valuable insights for fiction writers and we’re happy to give fiction some more love on FZ by way of her work. She has already submitted several entries in a series on fiction, but now she joins us with a new ongoing column–please join us in a hearty welcome for Diane as she kicks off  Fiction-Zone:  Leaps in Fiction Mastery.

fiction writing adviceFiction is not a career where there is an entry-level position.  There is no internship. No junior associate.  No level 1 or part-time helper.  And certainly no training wheels.

You enter the career of fiction writing only after you’ve reached the skill and mastery of the published authors who have been writing for years.  To get a slot in a publisher’s schedule or win the hearts of readers, you have to be at least as good at the writers they already work with and read.  Those writers have already have built audiences and delighted fans.  You have to be *that* good.

Yes, I see your hand raised, yes you in the back row.  You want to know, “How do I get there? How to I go from newbie writer to master craftsman?  Or, more importantly, how do I go from “I’m really good but can’t sell,” to “I’m running with the Big Dogs.”  And over there…. Ah, speak up. You want to know “How do I know my novel is ready for me to self-publish?  How do I know it’s good enough to send to an agent?”

Usually you’re taught something step-by-step, but sometimes, magic happens, and you make a leap in understanding, flying over 10 or 20 steps in a single instant.   It’s like a flash of story inspiration, but for your craft of writing skills.  I call this Making the Leap.

Let’s do that.  Let’s make leaps together.

I’ll talk with some of my favorite writers, explore the missing pieces, and answer your questions in ways that catch you off guard.

There are 1,000 websites and blogs devoted to the craft of fiction.  (I’m I’m pretty sure I love them all.) But none of those sites are focused on the magic of Leap Making.

So, this is my challenge to you:  think of your writing friends, the one whose brains seems to catch fire when the explore craft, the one who light up when they learn something new. Lure them here with cookies and lattes. There’s something amazing that happens when like-minded writers come together, poised on the brink of learning.

Yes, Leap Mojo.

(Oh, this *so* deserves to be on a t-shirt.)

It’s a lightning strike for your writer’s brain.

Diane Holmes
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