Q: I've been a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers for many
years, but I have a novel in my head, begging me to write it. I'm not
sure I can successfully switch from writing nonfiction to writing
fiction. What are some of the things I need to know?
A: Quick answer: everything.
Let me explain. I worked with newspapers and magazines for the first
twenty years of my writing and editing career, so I thought I knew
enough to write a novel. Boy, was I wrong! The best thing I did was
join a critique circle for novelists, and I quickly saw that I knew
almost nothing about how to write fiction. I knew a great deal about
how to form a strong sentence; I knew grammar, and I thought I knew
punctuation. Quickly I learned, however, that I had been using
punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations standard in AP style,
whereas novels and nonfiction books call for Chicago style.
As a gift, my son gave me a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, and I
went into overwhelm, because of the volume of the book. I didn't think
I could learn it all. I soon realized that I did not have to learn
everything, but I did need to look up specific things, when I wasn't
Members of my critique circle had been writing fiction much longer than
I had. I could help them when it came to grammar and strong sentence
structure, but they helped me tremendously with details of Chicago
style as well as the many elements of fiction. They made me aware of
point of view, setting scenes, scene changes, character development,
plot development, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, and much more that
I had never encountered as a writer and editor of newspaper and
Go ahead and begin writing your novel, but find a good critique group
that concentrates on novels and get feedback and information from
members more knowledgeable in writing fiction.
In addition, pay attention while you read your favorite novelists and
see how they handle openings, chapters, flashbacks, backstory,
exposition, dialogue, scenes, character development, plot evolution,
climax, and denouement.
I also offer a lengthy free report on some of the differences between
AP style and Chicago style. It has good information for anybody not yet
fully familiar with Chicago style. Ask for Report #118 by e-mail
, and I'll send it right away.
The switch from nonfiction to fiction isn't simple, but if your heart
is in writing a novel, you will enjoy entering a whole new world of