Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Are you #writing fiction or seeking therapy? Know the difference #writingtips

I've been an editor for a few decades now. As such, I have worked with writers from almost all genres. It's true that as writers we tend to pour our heart and soul into our work--at least the best of us do--but it's how we go about it that determines if that's a good or bad thing.

In this post, I'm focusing on fiction writers. Most of us who write fiction tend to use a spark of truth to motivate our plots so that we draw upon those emotions to fuel our characters. That is a good thing!

However, this technique crosses over from good to bad when the spark becomes a raging inferno that completely scorches the plot and robs the characters of originality.

Most of us have had some shitty things happen in our lives, if we're being honest. We might put on a fabulous facade to the world, but I would bet money that none of us is perfect. Perhaps our wounds are why we write. As the saying goes, "a queen turns pain into power." So does a good writer.

As professional fiction authors, we need to know how to use the pain as motivation, how to focus it into our characters while always being conscious of the plot. Why? Because we're in the entertainment business whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. (Hint: successful fiction authors not only acknowledge that fact but embrace it.) 

Have you heard the term author intrusion? This is a fatal mistake I see in some manuscripts that cross my desk. This is when the author's voice--the author's pain--overshadows the characters and the plot. We the reader are no longer transported into another world, we're drowning in the author's misery and have lost all connection to the storyline.

If you have an issue or a cause that you are passionate enough to write about, do so in a way that will make a difference. You are the god of your fictional creation and you must channel your power in the right way by using the skills and gifts you have been given as a writer. The majority of the authors I know--myself included--use real life as ideas for our fiction. We use little nuggets of this experience or that one to manifest a riveting tale that has been dramatized and made into a larger than life story.

If you cannot control this impulse to intrude, however, and instead are lecturing with long bursts of narrative or repeating the theme outright to make sure your readers "get it", then perhaps you need to think of writing a memoir so you can be as out in front as you need to be.

Authors are the masters behind the curtain. We must remember that. If your pain is so powerful that you can't focus it into a fictional character--and by that I mean give the character free reign to run with the spark and turn it into his or her own--then you need to step back and ask yourself what the true purpose is for writing this piece of work. What do you want to gain from it? Are you hoping to entertain while making a point? Good. But let's keep our writers' toolbox handy and not lecture or beat our audience over the head with melodrama.

Your audience is not your therapist. They have bought your book to entertain themselves for a little while and you should be honored to have that privilege. Maybe they are sitting in a waiting room while their loved one is in surgery and have chosen your book out of the thousands available to escape for a few hours. Maybe they have had a crap day--or week or month or year--and want you to make them smile.

As authors, we have a responsibility to our audience. I use pain to fuel most of my stories, but I give it over to the characters. Emotion is not always issue based. All of the best stories out there are ripe with emotion and angst--there is always something to lose or to overcome in the best of stories no matter the genre.

If you cannot separate yourself from your characters and are trying to scream your issues to the world, then write a memoir, pour your heart out into a journal, or go to therapy or all three. I'm not saying that to be mean--I've written a memoir, keep a daily journal, and have been to therapy and I'm also a prolific fiction writer. I'm saying this so that you don't get ripped apart in reviews or lose long-standing fans who are tired of the same old story being reframed with different characters all with the same issues.

The word fiction alone equals creativity. Are you being creative? 

Why are you writing this story? Is it the same story you've written before only decorated a bit differently with new characters in a new setting? How creative is that? (It's not.) Are you tortured by an issue or a cause or a situation that keeps repeating loudly in all of your stories to the point where you the author are intruding? Should you be writing a memoir instead? You need to know what is motivating you to write.

Yes, all writing is therapy in its own way. We would all go mad otherwise, I'm certain of it. But be aware of your story and your audience even if tears are streaming down your face during an emotional scene--but cry for your characters' pain, not your own. There is a line--a line between success and failure--that you will cross if you've allowed your reality to disrupt the flow of your story.

I'll say it again--we fiction authors are in the entertainment business. Go ahead and fuel your work with emotion, but do so with the power of a god rather than the bitterness of a victim seeking validation.

Write on!
AL Easton

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Creative Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. As both an editor and a creativity coach, she strives to work as a partner with her authors so that they achieve success in their creative endeavors. Her memoir, Free Fall, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. With clients across North America and the Caribbean, she has a proven record of success. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to

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