Monthly Archives: September 2014

Are Fiction and Nonfiction Writing Interchangeable Skills?

Return to Kindergarten?

Be A Novelist

Be A Novelist

Throughout my writing career I’ve met writers who have long made their living in the area of nonfiction. Oftentimes they reveal to me their longing to switch over to fiction, but at the same time, they admit fearing that they would have to go all the way back to square one and repeat the learning process. Return to writer-kindergarten, so to speak.

It’s true that early on in a writer’s career, there may be a nervous little voice deep inside whispering things like:

Be careful! The choices you make today could affect you for the rest of your life. The type of writing you master at the outset will be what you’re chained to for the rest of your career.

If that’s you – if these thoughts have been (even perhaps subconsciously) nagging at you – let’s put that myth to rest right now!

The Real Truth

Here’s the real truth!

When you train yourself to do one kind of writing well, you automatically give yourself a solid basis of skills for all the others.

In the earliest days of my career, I cut my eyeteeth (metaphorically speaking) on magazine writing. I wrote personal experience articles, human interest articles, personality interview articles, how-to articles, travels articles… you name it, I wrote it. While I was in the throes of learning the ins and outs of the Be A Novelist magazine circuit, I continually dreamed of writing and publishing my first novel. It never occurred to me that just because I was writing nonfiction at the time, that that in any way hampered my fiction writing abilities.

(Also during my magazine writing days, I did sell a few short stories, so it’s not as if I was completely removed from fiction.)

These days while not as many magazine writing opportunities exist, nonfiction writing is trending more toward online blogs, articles, reports, white papers, and nonfiction books. Freelancers have a multitude of opportunities via the Internet. So while the venue has change somewhat, the basic premise is still the same.

As I look at the big picture of the two mediums, fiction and nonfiction, here are the similarities that I see.

Language Facility

We start out with a biggie. So big in fact, it’s often overlooked in any discussion about this transfer of writing skills. Being at home with the written language, and being able to use it with grace and ease, is absolutely the toughest assignment in any writer’s apprenticeship.

No matter what field of writing is pursued, this is the basic foundation. And the good news is, you never have to learn it twice.

Observation and Description

Writing for magazine articles – and today writing blogs and online articles – gives great practice for word-count limits. One must learn to say a great deal in a few words. This is why I trained myself to observe closely and, when interviewing, to listen closely.

Training in sharp observation and brief description becomes invaluable when penning a novel. The result is a positive effect of keeping the pace of action in a story clicking right along.

Character Development

Much of nonfiction has to do with people and personalities. As a ghostwriter, I often must bring the personality of my client into the work. The more you work with people, or interview people, or write about people, your judgment of people is bound to grow truer and keener. I knew early on that the clearer I envisioned and understood the person about whom I was writing, the more powerful the magazine article would be.

This ability easily transfers over into a work of fiction. Here too, I must clearly see and know my characters. If a character seems shadowy – fuzzy at the edges – any attempt to write about that character is time wasted.

ResearchBe A Novelist

For Chelsea House Publishing I wrote a whole slew of historical biographies ranging from Harriet Tubman, to Frederick Douglass, to Cotton Mather, to William Penn. These works demanded intense research.

When it came time to switch over to plotting novels, research had become almost second nature to me. Years before Google became a household name, the Central Library in downtown Tulsa served as a sort of second home to me.

Additionally, because of my experience in magazine writing, I knew how to seek out experts in a given field whom I could interview to get firsthand knowledge. Such inside information can add layers of realism to a novel.


Conducting many interviews for articles taught me how to hear – really hear – how people speak. As we write, the biggest challenge is to make spoken language sound true without reproducing all the mumbles. Any beginning writer has to grow through this learning process. (It can take years.)

If and when this skill is learned in nonfiction writing, it will shine through when writing a novel. Well-written dialogue is crucial in making characters spring to life on the page.


This skill of organization, I must say, ranks up there with the first one listed – Language Facility. All good writing must have some kind of underlying structure or framework. Without such framework, the writing is as useless as muscle mass with no skeletal structure.

Once I began novel writing, I discovered to my delight that my organizational skills in writing were already well established. I then had little or no problem in outlining and developing well-put-together plots.

Be A NovelistSumming Up

So there you have it! If you’re one who has been considering the leap from freelancing to becoming a novelist, I hope this puts you more at ease.

And by the way, I still work heavily as a freelance writer producing nonfiction work almost on a daily basis. It never harms my novel writing abilities one tiny whit.


Photo Credit: © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Vinesh Kumar | Be A Novelist

It’s Finally Here!

Flower in the Hills is now in paperback

Books in this Collection are Clean Teen Reads

Clean Teen Reads = Parents can trust them; teens can trust them!

Be A Novelist

Norma Jean Lutz

Be A Novelist


The Intricacies of Imagery in Novel Writing

Imagery Can be TrickyBe A Novelist

“I know what I mean, but I don’t know how to describe it.”

I’ve often heard this comment from my student writers as they struggle to create imagery in their novels. And it’s true that imagery can be a tricky aspect of novel writing.

While the framework of a novel consists of plot, style, tone, characterization, and setting, I want to suggest that in the end, it’s the imagery that makes a story stand out – to glow in its own light.

What to Include; What to Leave Out

A well-written description will naturally give birth to imagery. But then the next question from that novice novelist will be, “How do I know which details to include and which to leave out?”

The answer – hopefully it won’t sound too simplistic – is this:

  • Leave in what impresses you the most
  • Leave in what you see clearly
  • Leave everything else out

Be A Novelist Your Third Eye

It is our eyes that convey images to our brains. This means that in order to convey images to the reader, it will be necessary to develop a sort of third eye. This is the eye of your imagination and memory.

As the writer, you need not assume the entire burden of imagery. Once you start straining to describe everything down to the most intricate detail (with your trusty Thesaurus ever at the ready), you may become guilty of robbing the reader of the pleasure of seeing the details in their own mind’s eye.

See the Scene with the Third Eye

In my historical novel, Tulsa Tempest (set in 1921), a sudden summer rainstorm catches Tessa unawares as she’s walking home from an evening meeting at the church. At the height of the storm, she is accosted by the despicable man to whom her bootlegger father had promised her in marriage. The one she had moved to Tulsa to escape. In the scene, the fear, terror, and panic can all be sensed and palpably felt and all due to the imagery.Be A Novelist

Before she was halfway home, the wind was whipping in crazy directions, and the rain had started to fall. Tree limbs bent and swayed in the wind. She heard one snap. She’d surely be drenched before she reached home. Hopefully there were no twisters in the area.

The blare of a horn sounded from the street as an old farm truck rumbled up. Through the rain, she saw the window being rolled down. Terror gripped her as she saw the hooded eyes of Hod Latham. Pastor Stedman had been right.

“There you is, little lady!” he called out through the wail of the wind and the crash of the thunder. “Me and my friend, Ralph, been searching all over this blasted city for you.” The door to the old truck slowly creaked opened. “You know what month this is, Tessa Jurgen? This here is May. And this here’s the month you’re to be my woman. I come to collect the debt owed me.”

Her mind raced. She knew no one on this street. She screamed as his square hulk came across the street toward her. The screams were drowned out by the wind. She broke to run, but she was no match for him. As he grabbed for her, she tripped and fell. Cold water from the puddles soaked through to her skin. Hod stood there staring down at her. A skinny older man was now by his side.

Notice many details are not supplied in this scene. When writing the passage, I simply closed my eyes and wrote the scene as I saw it. The rest is left to the reader’s imagination.

Don’t Get in a Hurry

Training the novelist’s eye for imagery can be done by simply sitting still, closing your eyes, and playing a scene over and over in your mind. Don’t get in a hurry. Give it time to develop fully. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel?

Once the image becomes clear and vivid, there’ll be no need for statements such as:

  • She was frightened.
  • She panicked.
  • It was a bad storm. (Or it was a really bad storm)

Once the image becomes clear and vivid, you’ll grow accustomed to this feeling – the joy and pleasure of imagery creation. Now it’s time to Be A Novelistre-experience the scene and write it down quickly.

As you create this pattern of imagery creation, practice, practice, and then practice some more. Your power to create dramatic imagery must be trained and exercised just like a physical muscle.

One word of caution – as you become more adept in your own ability to add quality imagery, beware of drowning the reader in textures. Always leave space for the reader to partner with you in creating their own imagery as they read. Be A Novelist

It’s Finally Here!

Flower in the Hills is now in paperback

Books in this Collection are Clean Teen Reads

Clean Teen Reads = Parents can trust them; teens can trust them!

Be A Novelist

Norma Jean Lutz

Be A Novelist

Photo Credits: © Robcocquyt | Dreamstime.comAquatic Thoughts Photo