Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Write Compelling Fiction (or any other kind of writing)

Trust me (and I hate it when someone says 'trust me'), I'm no scholar in the conventional educational sense.  Every thing I've learned about writing (and about most else) I've learned in less than conventional ways.  Yes, I'm a Road's Scholar, note the spelling as all I've learned I learned from the proverbial 90 miles of bad road.  Like most scholars never admit, I've gotten my knowledge by hook and crook, and in this manual I try and give credit to many of those exceptional writers from whom I've hooked and crooked.

If you stick with this blog over the next months, you'll learn what I've gleaned from the greats.  This will be a course on writing, and not only writing but writing well, and not only writing well but writing what I consider a writer's greatest compliment…writing can't-put-it-down novels.  Writing compelling fiction…and yes, non-fiction.

So lets go:

This manual is dedicated to all those thousands, or maybe millions, of folks who’ve submitted a novel and had it rejected, then placed it on a garage or closet shelf, where it languished forever…and it was probably the best novel of the year. Or could have been, with very little additional work.

And to the thick-skinned who kept submitting, submitting, submitting!

Never underestimate the power of fiction:

Prolific author Sir Walter Scott singlehandedly ruined the opal market. Opals were as valuable as diamonds or rubies—then Scott wrote about an enchanted opal that caused the death of a fictional heroine. The price of opals dropped by half!


This manual is written for those of you who, like myself, are not English majors or grammarians—although those of you who are might glean some good common sense and novelists’ tricks from it. The devil of the craft of writing fiction is…being an English major has little to do with it.
 Grammar is important, but “I couldn’t put it down,” is a compliment not gleaned because of perfect grammar. Don’t get me wrong, but grammar is only one of the reasons fiction is compelling, only one of the many reasons that the most cherished of compliments come to you as a fiction writer. However, you don’t want to put off a reader with bad grammar—you don’t want to break the reader’s trance.
I'm a guy who loves to hunt, fish, or carry my cameras into the outdoors for almost any excuse. Like most of you I've worked hard all my life. I love the West and its history and think I'd have done just fine had I lived a hundred and fifty years ago. As the song says, a country boy will survive. But it would have been hard to survive without a good book in hand. A compelling book that elicited the writers favorite compliment: I couldn’t put it down.
I do love a good novel, or a beautifully crafted non-fiction work.
But to be published you need more than a love of novels or great non-fiction. Be it driving an eighteen wheeler, driving a nail, or doing nails, there are skills to be learned, and writing compelling fiction requires the same. Of course there are skills to be learned, but there are tricks that make writing a novel, writing compelling fiction, easier to accomplish and much easier to sell.
There are also pitfalls, but most of them easily avoided.
I wanted to write and sell a novel. I learned how the hard way. By studying other's mistakes (and your own) you can learn the easy way. Even today, after selling over thirty book length works and having dozens of articles published, I fight obvious mistakes and poor grammar, clumsy sentence structure and worse—much worse—boring narrative. I can't begin to teach you all there is to know about writing novels or even writing a good letter (or more likely email today) to your mother. But I can tell you where and how to learn a good deal of it.
I'm still studying but if I can make it a little easier for you then I've accomplished my purpose in writing this manual.
And I got published, and then published time and time again. So can you. And I mean legitimately published by a company who makes their money selling books, and who doesn’t charge you for publishing your novel. Rather, they give you an advance against royalties. Or legitimately published, not self-published on the plethora of sites out there who allow you to do so on the internet.
Today, getting published is easy. A dozen POD, publish on demand, companies are willing to take your money, and many are willing to publish your work for free. But there’s a long rough road between that kind of publishing and having a company offer you money for the right to publish your novel. And it’s becoming harder and harder to find any success from self-publishing, particularly if your work is not compelling.
Most of the rules for writing novels are valid for writing in general. A few are specific to novels, and a few are specific to genre. If you don't know the definition of genre, then you're exactly the person for whom this manual is written. But even those of you who do know what it means will find some gems in here—most of them cat-burgled or openly filched from other much better writers than myself. No, I’m not above learning from others. That’s what this little manual is all about.
A great deal of this manual refers to thrillers (or suspense), westerns, historicals, or romance, because these and screenplays are what my wife and I write and how we make our living.
Good luck with your fiction writing…your compelling fiction…your fiction which the reader can’t put down.

“The next thing that happens in the story, is the next thing of interest that happens to the characters.”
David Lean, Director

The next blog posting will be on making a transition into writing for an avocation, a metamorphisis few actually achieve.

About the Author:

L. J. Martin is the author of three dozen works of both fiction and non-fiction from Bantam, Avon, Pinnacle and his own Wolfpack Publishing.  He lives in Montana with his wife, NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Kat Martin.  He's been a horse wrangler, cook as both avocation and vocation, volunteer firefighter, real estate broker, general contractor, appraiser, disaster evaluator for FEMA, and traveled a good part of the world, some in his own ketch.  A hunter, fisherman, photographer, cook, father and grandfather, he's been car and plane wrecked, visited a number of jusgados and a road camp as a non-paying guest, and survived cancer twice.  He carries a bail-enforcement shield.  He knows about what he writes about, and tries to write about what he knows.  His work has topped the Amazon genre lists in Action Adventure and Western.  He has over 120 videos posted on youtube, edited by him on Final Cut Pro, search ljmartinwolfpack.  You can join him at facebook.com/ljmartinauthor, on twitter at @westwrite, and on other social media sites.  His Wolfpack Publishing LLC has had great success in eBooks, having a disproportionate share of top action adventure novels in that genre.  And he's always looking for great writers to publish.  Contact ljmartin@wolfpackpublishing.com


  1. L. J.,

    Interesting. Will read all you have to say about writing in your next blogs.


  2. Thanks, Charlie, and I would for sure read all you had to say. The hell of it is, there is no one way to do it right, as we both well know. Hope all's well way over there and that your fat and sassy.

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  5. Hey, L.J., I deleted the two comments above as they were duplicates of your first one.

    I am so looking forward to your posts about writing and publishing. When I was teaching writing classes, it seemed I had one in every class who intended to write the great American novel, do it in 6 weeks' time and sell the movie rights within a year, after being published by the first person who looked at their manuscript. SIGH. It was useless to try to talk to people like that--most of the time they quit when they saw it wasn't going to happen for them in 6 weeks, as they'd predicted. But my heart was with the ones who stuck with it and toiled along, learning and loving it--doing it for the love of writing and wanting to learn to be better and better. I don't ever want to stop learning!

  6. Even your manual is compelling. I am looking forward to the 'rest of the story'. Thank you for taking the time to share. Doris

  7. The face is most folks what to 'have written', not put there butts on the chair and write. I'm astounded by people who chat with me at a party and say "I'm going to write a book," and when I ask, "What do you read," they respond, "Oh, I hardly read at all. Don't have time." Duh.

  8. That should be The fact is, on the face of it.

  9. I can't believe that either, but you know when I was teaching fiction writing classes I had one of those (at least) in every class--and they were PROUD of it! You'd ask what they liked to read, and they would respond just like you say, "Oh, I hardly read at all. Don't have time." In other words, "I'm too busy with my own important self to ever read SOMEONE ELSE'S work--I don't need any help writing the best book EVER." UGH.