Write what you know, but if you want to venture into new writing territory, this might help!

My first venture into creative writing started with short stories, thanks to my elementary school teachers who gave us some good story prompts. I distinctly remember my second-grade teacher getting me to read my Halloween story to the class, which gave me some confidence, especially when I got some laughs when I talked about entering the bathroom of a haunted house.

My writing moved into poetry in late high school through to my college years, and during the start of my relationship with my husband when we first started dating. Then I pretty much stopped all creative writing when I went into public relations.

The one creative writing course I took was the summer after high school, when I was preparing a portfolio to apply for the Creative Writing program at UBC. I was out of practice from most other forms of writing aside from poetry (and high school essays) so it was too new territory and I didn’t get into the program. I cringe thinking about the short story I submitted.

I say all this just to preface the fact that I am not an expert in any genre of writing. Yes, I’ve self-published two (nonfiction) business books, but that’s because I have some experience, curiosity and set aside the time to write that content. After high school, I read too many books to earn my English lit degree and barely touched fiction after that.

In recent years I have read titles recommended by others, so I’ve found new inspiration in reading fiction which is a nice break from the usual memoir/business book usually on my nightstand or on my iPad.

In 2023, I got experience working with not only my first fiction author, but editing a youth fiction book. This almost brought me back to my Sweet Valley High and youth suspense novel days. Later that year, I got experience in ghostwriting an adult fiction book to be published in 2024 (or later), so I suppose you can say I’ve now dipped my toe into the genre, though I believe nonfiction will always be my specialty.


How to write fiction

The best part of fiction is that it doesn’t have to be based on reality at all. You can create worlds, universes, even parallel universes with the same character living multiple different lives (a la Everything Everywhere All At Once).

However, even if you are creating another world, what I think is most important is consistency. You can’t describe a castle as dark and black and then in another chapter call the walls white, unless you explain why it changed in colour. Your editor should catch stuff like that.

That brings me to another point: detail. As with nonfiction, you want to be descriptive about people, places, and objects that hold meaning. In the beginning of the book (or soon as you introduce new people, places or things), you must show what they look like and where they are so that image enters our mind and stays there. Again, consistency. If a girl’s hair is red at the start and isn’t later, you must make it make sense.

More important in fiction books than nonfiction is the protagonist’s journey. Yes, you can have multiple characters with multiple journeys, but usually there is one character we track and root for (even if it’s a villain or someone we dislike; an antagonist protagonist). You can easily Google Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and resources based on this plotline to come up with a journey for your main character.

However, there is another less popular plotline I learned from a client of mine from many years ago who came up with The Virgin’s Promiseif you’re “anti-hero’s journey” and want to try something else. The virgin’s journey is a feminine one, but I’d read a book about a male (or other gendered) character who followed this.

Even if your main character never leaves the house, they still have to go on a journey…if they don’t, you’re just writing a descriptive, experimental book and I doubt you’ll get many good reviews publishing it unless you’re known for that and already a bestseller.

Especially if there are other characters are in the story, I cannot stress the importance of dialogue in fiction. Describing a character’s behaviour can get real boring unless they’re talking. Accents can tell you where they grew up.

If they appear one way to one character (like a parent) and a different way to someone else (like a friend), that says a lot about the dynamics of this character’s relationships. Just like in a fictional movie, dialogue can show vs. tell. It’s like a shortcut to describing the character. Compelling dialogue is a sign of a great writer.

The first movie that comes to mind when I think of a descriptive fictional story is The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince D’Onofrio. Lopez plays a psychologist who experiments with a radical new therapy to enter a serial killer’s psyche and find the key to saving the killer’s final, trapped victim who remains alive. It’s like the precursor to Black Mirror. Enjoy!

How to write nonfiction

What’s great about nonfiction is that it’s based on reality, although memory doesn’t always serve correctly. With a business book, even if it’s 100% accurate at the time the author wrote it, it will at some point become outdated. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth (1995) come to mind.

I found Hill’s book super misogynistic and Gerber’s book isn’t bad and has solid principles worth following, but the writing is now cringe. Think of nonfiction as a snapshot of time, like a documentary film that explains an issue pertinent to the time the film was made.

I’m writing this a year after my second book was published, and several of the businesses in it have closed. I come up with ideas now and then that I think should have been in the book (that’s why people do several editions!).

The other type of nonfiction genre is memoir, one of my favourite genres. Unlike a biography or autobiography, memoir gives us a snapshot in time of a real person’s life and can (but does not always need to) also follow a hero’s journey. Elements of fiction like dialogue, descriptions of place, and meaningful objects are important when you write memoir.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a biography or autobiography, because biographies tend to be published prematurely by folks who think they know their subject well. Autobiographies are more forgiving, but I wouldn’t read one unless the subject published it in their 80s, so I know we’re going to learn about the scope of their entire life. It should be a rule that you can’t write an autobio unless you’re at least 70.

There’s also creative nonfiction, which I honestly know nothing about in book form. This is a genre in which the writer would tell a real story, but using creative techniques typically used in fiction. Email me if you know a good example of a creative nonfiction bestseller.


Where AI plays in all this

AI can be a useful tool for creative writing for someone like me who’s pretty much untrained in coming up with characters, places, and storylines. But it has its limitations. I’ve used ChatGPT 4 as an editing tool, so have experienced its capabilities. First, it can’t maintain good dialogue. Second, its vocabulary is great but it can get repetitive. It may also make up things that aren’t consistent with your story.

At the most, I’d recommend you use AI to help you rephrase things. But don’t even dare to ask it to create a fantasy book and expect it to be flawless. If you want to be a fiction author, practice your craft of creating worlds and writing about them. And then perhaps use AI to make one or a few sentences sound better, but it should never be there to replace you.

I pray I don’t see the day someone plagiarizes my book because someone loaded my ebook to an AI app and it spit out my content. I just don’t have the patience for lawsuits.

Fan fiction writers’ work is being used to train AI. Some writers have privatized their profiles, and a few months ago, Omegaverse (Alpha/Beta/Omega) erotic fanfiction writers participated in a week-long writing marathon called #KnotInMyName as a long-shot attempt to mess with AI generators.

I can see AI being more helpful for nonfiction writers as it can pull information and research for you, while writing in your own voice if you give it a sample. You still have to question its sources (or add them) though, depending on how important it is for you to show references for the information.

I LOVE using Otter.ai to transcribe audio to text. Chat GPT can’t do this and Otter is far from perfect, but it will help you get a very basic draft down if you’re a better speaker and can’t sit at a computer to write your book.

That’s it—I hope that was helpful and that you’re excited to practice your writing chops, whichever genre you choose.


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