What if We Could Start Over?

ACFWAdvice, Authors and writing, Editing, Editors, Friends of ACFW, tips, writing 12 Comments

by Frank DiBianca

Are you a relatively new writer? What most new writers need isn’t learning to write perfect prose. Line or copy editors can easily fix those errors unless the language has been murdered. The problem is writing prose that’s stylistically appropriate for the modern reader, which editors can’t fix unless they rewrite large portions of the manuscript. My own story may be a good example.

In 2012 after a career in science and engineering in which I’d co-authored many research articles, I retired and decided to write fiction. (Some folks thought my articles were already in that category. ?) So, I sat down and started writing. I made no attempt to learn how to write modern fiction! After all, with advanced degrees and lots of non-fiction articles under my belt, how hard could this stuff be?

I’m a fan of nineteenth-century English novels. For example, those by the “ABCD” authors: Austen, Brontë, Collins, and Dickens. Unfortunately, I’d written a cosmic thriller, a romance, and two flash-fiction pieces before I fully understood there was a problem—I’d written more in their styles, not those of the few modern fiction authors I’d read. So I’m reworking my romance novel to bring it up to modern standards. There’s no doubt in my own mind, or those of my editors, that this effort is paying off.

What factors needed improvement in my writing and probably in that of many other unpublished fiction writers? An excellent discussion of those factors—actually, discussions of each factor by five editors—can be found in the book, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing, by C.S. Lakin, et al. The book’s chapter titles conveniently provide those factors which I’ll denote here by one or two words each.

  • Overwriting
  • Stagnation
  • Weak Construction
  • Excessive Backstory
  • POV Violations
  • Excessive Telling
  • Insufficient Tension
  • Flawed Dialogue
  • Underwriting
  • Description Imbalances
  • Adverbs and Weasels
  • Flawed Mechanics

There are many other excellent writing guides available in various media formats.

If I could begin writing all over again with what I’ve learned so far, what would I do first? Here’s my core list. Feel free to reorder, modify, omit, or add topics as desired.

(NOTE– The [#] below denotes areas I had neglected.)

  • Decide whom you want to write for. If you choose Him, not yourself, you’ll do both.
  • Start reading and taking notes from writing “how-to” books, and take a creative writing course. [#]
  • Find another serious fiction writer to be your partner for discussions, pre-edits, and appraisals. I am blessed to have such a person—my wife, Kay.
  • Continue and enhance your reading of modern novels in your genre. Write personal reviews. [#]
  • Start writing a synopsis /outline, (for plotters), or the actual story (for pantsers—someone who creates the plot as s/he writes).
  • Get a developmental editor (DE) or writing coach early, even if you’re a pantser like me. [# (I waited too long.)] Line and copy/text editing comes later.
  • Join a local writers group and attend a writers conference.
  • Look into getting some writing software. [#]

Your DE/coach will help with plot development, structure, and maybe also handle other kinds of editing. S/he will spot your weaknesses and suggest books/articles to read.

Many advise waiting until you’ve finished several drafts before hiring a DE. I did that and it was painful. My DE wanted my manuscript of over 70,000 words to be largely gutted, restructured, and rewritten, while she was teaching me modern fiction. The sooner you find a DE, the better.

Happy manuscripts!

PS—Here’s a little writing puzzle. Can you think of an elementary-school event that becomes good writing advice when you replace one word with another one?

You’ll save a lot of heartache writing modern fiction if you get a writing coach or developmental editor before you write most of your novel. @fdibianca #ACFWBlogs #writing #editing #writetips Click To Tweet

Frank A. DiBianca is a fiction writer and retired university professor. He received a Ph.D. in high-energy physics from Carnegie-Mellon University and later worked in biomedical engineering. Frank lives in Memphis with his author-wife, Kay (The Watch on the Fencepost, CrossLink). He is completing his first novel, a romance.



Comments 12

  1. If I could but start again
    and find afresh my muse,
    I’d detour round the worst of pain,
    which served only to confuse.
    But does confusion trip me up?
    Is it malign, an enemy?
    Or does it pass the crystal cup
    of lovely serendipity?
    They say that all roads lead to Rome,
    but getting lost along the way
    may be the road that takes you home
    to golden-temple’d Mandalay.
    ‘Tis a crooked furrow that I plow,
    but I wouldn’t change it anyhow.

  2. Great advice, Frank! I have a copy of “The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing”, and I’ve found it very helpful.

    I have a guess about your writing puzzle:

    Spelling Bee becomes Spelling matters?

    I’m looking forward to the publication of your first novel.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Thank you for sharing your excellent advice, Frank, and how it can be applied to going forward! Thank you for the encouragement from your own story of:
    1. Always be willing to learn; and
    2. Stick with it!
    Thank you for sharing this as a way to get started and to keep going!
    [And I can’t figure out the puzzle! I hope you’ll post the answer.]

  4. Sounds like a painful experience, probably not easy to recount either, but you learned a lot from it! One comment mentions all roads leading to Rome. I’ve often thought that the problem with all roads leading to Rome is that if you get turned in the wrong direction, all roads lead away from Rome. Yikes.

    I loved Barbara’s advice. And I don’t think ever even heard of Lakin’s book–but I think I need a copy! Thanks for that!


  5. Nice post, BookLover, I appreciate your comments.
    As for the puzzle, your answer does the job nicely.
    I thought of another answer, and will post it tomorrow.

  6. Thanks so much for your response, Barbara.
    Regarding the puzzle, you can check out the great answer BookLover submitted. I have another solution which I’ll post tomorrow.

  7. Show Don’t Tell is the one I was thinking of, Deborah. Spelling Matters,by BookLover, is also a great solution. Let’s see if anyone comes up with another answer. Congratulations to both of you!

  8. Yes, it was a difficult experience because I made unwise assumptions. What my DE did was exactly what I needed. Thank God for her!
    And thank you, Mel, for your comment.

  9. When I was in grade school the teachers used to divide the classes into reading groups of similar reading levels. Writers need to read a lot in their genres. So, Reading Groups changes to Reading Helps ?

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