The Facts About Fiction: A Chat With Romance Novelist Carole Bellacera

Saturday, October 06, 2007
For those of us who write mostly in the nonfiction area, the move into fiction may not be as easy as we think. I found out the hard way.

Last year, I enrolled in a course called Creative Writing In Prose to fulfill an elective requirement for my degree. I thought the course would be easy because I’m already a writer. Boy, was I in for an eye-opener.

I erroneously believed the course would be a breeze because I was already a published writer. How much more did I need to know? When I received a 68 percent on the first assignment, I thought the professor was just a hard marker. That was until I got Romance Novelist extraordinaire, Carole Bellacera, to review my assignment for me. She agreed with the mark I got.

“Fiction writing is an entirely different kettle of fish, Chynna,” she said. “In Nonfiction, you’re talking from experience. With Fiction, you’re telling a story. Period. If you can’t tell a story, you can’t write fiction.”

By the third assignment--which didn’t get a much higher mark than the first one--I realized Carole was right. I had to stop being cocky and figure out the keys to good fiction writing.

I asked Carole to fire some tips at me that I could tape to my monitor. With six successful novels under her belt, I figured she was a good writing chef to ask which fiction ingredients I should have in my writing pantry at all times.

Here are some of those secret ingredients:

(1) In your opinion, Carole, what aspects of fiction should a writer keep in mind while writing their stories?
Two of the most important things, in my opinion, are to keep the story moving forward and to stay in the viewpoint of your main character. Tell the story as if you are the character.

(2) I know viewpoint can be a tough thing to remember. What things should a person going from strictly nonfiction keep in mind when moving into fiction writing?
Use emotion, “show” instead of “tell,” and remember that your story has to have plot.

(3) What great tidbits of advice. So, how does a writer “show” and not “tell” and when is it ok to “tell”?
You show and not tell when you’re inside the viewpoint of your character and make your reader feel what the character feels. It’s okay to “tell” when you’re relaying factual information that really doesn’t have an impact on the plot or transitioning from one scene to another. But keep it short.

(4) Knowing when to “tell” is important and something I often have to remind myself of. Do you have tips for good, effective dialogue?
Listen to people talk. That’s the best way to learn how to write effective dialogue. Keep it real. Don’t be too “on the nose” with dialogue. People rarely say exactly what they mean. And don’t write long paragraphs of dialogue. People don’t usually talk in speeches either. Unless, of course, you have a droll character who does exactly that--and that would be a personality trait.

(5) It’s fascinating just listening to people talk (just don’t look like you’re eavesdropping). What sorts of things can a fiction writer do to perfect his or her craft?
Most important: read constantly. Read the kinds of books you want to write. It’s the best way to learn. Writing classes and seminars are great too.

(6) I can vouch for writing classes. They've helped me finetune my craft a lot. Where can a fiction writer try to submit their work to get published and what advice would you give to him or her during the process?
This is a tough question, and I don’t have a good answer for it. You get published by studying the marketplace, and by submitting to places that might be a good fit for your writing style. There’s no “magic pill” to getting published. If there were, I’d be the first to get my hands on it
As for advice, the best advice I can give is to believe in yourself and never give up.

(7) That’s so true. When we receive rejection after rejection, the most important thing we should never forget to do is to believe in ourselves. Thanks for that reminder. What, in your opinion, is the difference between fiction and creative nonfiction?
There may be a definition out there, but I don’t know what it is. I can tell you what I think the difference is. Fiction is the stories of imagination made up by the author. Creative Nonfiction is true stories written with fictional techniques that bring the stories to life, such as dramatization (think Literary Mama or Creative Nonfiction magazines).

(8) Thanks for your perspective. Where can a writer draw inspiration from for stories? Where do you find your inspiration?
A writer can draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. I have found inspiration by many different means--dreams, overheard conversations, music. The idea for my latest women’s fiction novel, Understudy, came to me through a conversation with a nurse who told me about a situation in the ER when two boys were brought in after a car accident, and their identities were mixed up. That became the premise for my book.

(9) I loved Understudy and always wondered where you got the idea for that novel. I've gotten so many ideas from dreams and music. How about “writer’s block”? What can you tell writers who find themselves staring at that cursor on the screen?
Sometimes, it helps just to take a break from writing and wait for it to pass, If I’m having trouble with a particular scene, I go back to my characters and think about their background and motivation. That usually helps me start writing again.

(10) Breaks are so important. I find I regularly have to empty my brain before jumping back into my story. What final words of advice would you give to a writer with dreams of “making it” as a writer?
As I said earlier, most it’s most important to believe in yourself, and never give up--no matter how many rejections you receive. The strong, and talented, will prevail.

Thank you so much, Carole.

I’ve passed the following similar advice on to people who’ve asked me some of the same questions: Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and never give up. Rejections are badges of honor. Wear them with pride and keep going.

Oh! And I should mention the last assignment I did for that professor (Jess Shaddup ‘N Drive) got an A. I’ll have it up on my website next week.

Do you have any words of wisdom or tips for writing fiction? Have you written successfully for both fiction and nonfiction and have handy dandy tips for fellow writers? Share them here!Happy writing (and Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!).

You can see Carole's work, including an excerpt from her soon-to-be released novel, Tango's Edge, on her website at She also has a line of gorgeous bead jewelry you can buy through her site. Don't miss her selection of original pieces. And make sure you pick up one of her novels soon.


Anonymous said...

I can definitely understand that. While I'm not by any means a "successful" fiction writer, it's what I'm used to. I have a really hard time with non-fiction (which is why I haven't submitted anything for the fall contest yet.) I'm slowly greasing the wheels with my little academic papers now that I'm back in school, but as they get more detailed and lengthy, it's going to be a real challenge for me. Creating characters and stories is so much easier! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post! Chynna, I felt the same way you did when I went from screenwriting to narrative writing. Boy, was that completely different! After the rigid structure of screenplays, with prose, I felt like I was running naked through a field of flowers! LOL

In addition to all the great advice from Carole, I'd also suggest fiction writers use a common screenwriting technique of stepping into the middle of a scene.

Example: Don't begin your chapter with the husband coming home from work, hanging up his coat, sitting down to dinner with his wife, and then getting into an argument because she says he's late. Open the scene in the middle of the argument.

It not only keeps things interesting, it can help pick up the pacing on a sluggish story.

Sarabeth said...

Thank you for this.

One tip I learned in writing class is to write by stream of consciousness to help the creativity flow. Forget spelling, punctuation, and just let the fingers fly on the keys. I use a different font when I'm doing this so I know I have to edit it.

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