1. Turkeyneck
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    Turkeyneck New Member

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    Transition from Academic to Fiction Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Turkeyneck, Dec 28, 2013.

    I've used writing prompts and free writing. However, I have not been able to break the habit of the academic style of writing. It's driving me nuts.

    I write in active voice, but my writing falls into tidy paragraphs that bore me to death. Plus, I read a great deal of fiction. To my dismay, I fall back into an academic writing style.

    My academic background is philosophy. My god, it bored me to death.

    Any ideas?
     
  2. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Quick tip: filter your descriptions through your character's senses. What does he/she see, hear, smell, taste and feel? More importantly (this ties into your writing voice), how does your character process that sensory data? Example:

    Plain description
    --
    My lawn was wet from the rain.

    'Characterised' description.
    --
    God had peed on my lawn again, bloody drunk bastard.

    Picture your kitchen. How would you describe it? How would your grandmother describe it? What about a kindergardener?

    Metaphors are also essential. Your reader is smarter than you think and will be able to figure out when to take things literally and when not. You can attribute all sorts of quirks to completely inanimate objects, you can personify the weather, a tree, a car even.

    --
    The red coating on the car was as faded as the velvet inside. The grille sent a rusty grin at me, which was only upheld by a duck-taped brace.

    Focus on breathing more detail and live into your sentences. Perhaps go out, take a few pictures and describe them to us here as best you can, then post them. That way it is easier for you and the rest of us to spot any issues in your voice, if there are any.

    Good luck!
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Pick out a passage from your favorite works of fiction and try emulating the styles as a writing exercise (of course, don't pick writers who write in an academic style). Hopefully you'll eventually find a style you're comfortable with. Don't worry about your writing style being similar to that of another writer. This is natural and happens to a lot of aspiring writers. With enough time and practice you'll come to develop your own style.
     
  4. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Academic writing is fact-based and author-centric, so all your study and practice is in nonfiction compositional skills. Worse, you've practiced them into what feels like intuitive usage, which means all your writing reflexes are going to howl in outrage when you try to switch over. And if you've been making use of writing prompts and free writing but not taking active steps to add the compositional skills of fiction for the printed word to your tool kit, you're trying to solve the wrong problem.

    Some things that may help is to diagram your M/R pairs to be certain that you are in the protagonist's POV if you're using a close POV, or that you're raising questions in the reader's mind and then addressing them to give an interactive feel to expositional writing (I talk about that in the section on exposition in this article if you're not certain of what I mean). For some basics on motivation response units this article by Randy Ingermanson might help.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks for saving me the typing, tw!

    this is exactly what i was going to recommend...
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The biggest difference between academic writing and fiction is the dominant role of imagination in the latter. Academic writing requires imagination also, but in nowhere near the number of layers or the intensity required for fiction.

    On the other hand, although fiction generally requires research, it does not require as rigorous research as does academic writing. Nevertheless, your research skills acquired in academia will serve you well.

    The other aspect of fiction that will undoubtedly need to grow is your observations of people. Fiction requires a greater attention to the nuances of behavior and speech than nearly any other field, including psychology. Your skill at seeing into, around, and through people will need to be honed to a katana's edge.

    Don't be discouraged if your imagination seems inadequate to the task. It won't respond to your immediate needs until it has been exercised sufficiently, but it will grow more agile and feral and spectacular.

    Enjoy the journey that never ends.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    When I went to grade school (shortly after the War of 1812), the nuns pounded into us the rule that a paragraph had to be three sentences. Not four. Not two. Three. Even now, decades after that experience, I still catch myself checking to see how many sentences a paragraph has.

    The good news here is that you are focusing on the aspects of your writing that are falling short. Paragraph length can be a great way to control pace. I often write paragraphs of only one sentence, in order to make what is happening stand out in the reader's mind. My advice would be to deliberately disrupt your usual paragraph structure until you get something you like.

    Reading fiction isn't enough. You have to lay it alongside yours and compare it, then see what methods you like that might also work for you.
     
  8. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Have you thought of hiring an editor? Perhaps just have a page or two edited with detailed notes. A competent editor should be able to give you some guidance on how to get out of academic mode.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm against hiring an editor. It's a huge waste of money because chances are that you'll never make enough money from sales to justify the ridiculous prices these editors charge. Besides, it's not the editor's job to tell you how not to write in a certain style. One possibility would be to ask a friend or critique buddy or whatever for his/her opinion/advice.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Thirdwind beat me to it. If you're looking for a professional assessment of your writing, though, a writing tutor is an option. He or she won't rewrite anything for you, but will point out problem areas and suggest how YOU can improve them.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    one assignment i give my writing tutees:

    take any novel in a similar genre by a generally acknowledged 'very good' to 'great' writer and compare any page of that to any page of yours... jot down what they do 'right' that you're getting 'wrong' and ...
    this is exactly what i do in a mentoring capacity, which is free... as opposed to taking on an editing or tutoring client, which goes beyond just a page or two...

    so, if it's a mentor you want, i always have time for one more mentee...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  12. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    A brief and cordial rebuttal ...

    It sounds like you're thinking the cost of having an entire manuscript edited. I suggested "a page or two" -- not for the purpose of preparing it for publication, but for the purpose of pointing out specific aspects that make the writing seem "academic," and to suggest specific ways to improve it. Coaching or tutoring, as distinguished from editing in the usual sense.

    That depends on what you hire them to do, and what they agree to do. There's certainly nothing wrong with paying an experienced fiction editor to give you some style pointers--show you how sentences and paragraphs might be improved.

    If Turkeyneck would post one page of his most bothersome academic style, we might see how that works right here, and all learn something from it.

    What say, Turk?
     
  13. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    From what I found searching in my local area, there are many flavours of editors out there. Some will sit with you for an hour or two, others will help you out with your first 30,000 words, online, in person, etc. What they do for improving your writing is debatable, but, I don't think cost should be thought of as something you need to regain with the sale of that manuscript. None of these services seemed that pricey. One of the few things I've noticed over the years, is an education carries with it a price, but once attained, can reap big benefits over time. I can't imagine people who attend post secondary institutions feel they must gain back all expenses in the first year or what ever scale you choose. What you want is value and that's where I haven't a clue how to proceed. It ain't like buying a car.
     
  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Wrong person. A look by a manuscript critique service is better because they specialize in telling what you need to work on. But even there, for a fraction of the cost of even a short edit you can look at a few texts on the basics of fiction for the printed word. If you've not acquired an understanding of things like what the difference is between a scene on the page and one in film and on stage (very different), all that editor or critique will do is to tell you that you're using the nonfiction techniques we learn in school, and which you perfected for your academic writing. There your goal was to inform clearly, concisely, and dispassionately. But fiction's primary goal is to entertain through manipulating the reader's emotions to match those of the protagonist's, and do that in real-time.

    Hiring an editor to teach you how to write fiction seems an expensive proposition, and chancy, given that going in the one thing you're certain of, is that of that editor truly knew how to write fiction they'd be making a lot more money writing and selling their own stories. And hiring them assumes they're a good editor, and not a failed writer who hung out a sign.
     
  15. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    That isn't what I suggested. I suggested hiring an editor to give specific pointers to correct a specific problem in style (too academic).

    "How to write fiction" encompasses a far broader range of topics and problems, including plotting, characterization, dialogue, suspense, etc., etc., etc. I wasn't suggesting anything remotely that broad.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You still want a tutor, not an editor. A tutor is primarily a teacher, focused on helping the writer improve his or her skills. An editor is a fixer, and each has his or her own established style.

    You want to develop your own style, not mold yourself to someone else's style.

    One of the hardest things for me to do when critiquing other people's writing is to hold back on pushing my own style too much. I have to consciously ask myself, "Am I suggesting this change because it is the way I would write it? Does the way it is currently written work well enough already?"

    And that is because my own focus when critiquing here is in more of a tutorial role. I also critique for my own growth, but I don't post that. I'm not saying I'm a superb writer, but I understand the critiquing process and have a good grasp of certain elements of writing. Also, I have an interest in education in general.

    Because of this, I am very aware of the differences between editors and writing tutors. A good editor is not necessarily a good tutor. In fact, an editor who works like a tutor would not be very productive as an editor.
     
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