Author Lyn Alexander Offers Advice To Fiction Writers

Last Updated on: June 4th, 2017

This is a guest post from Lyn Alexander, author of several historical novels, including “The Officer’s Code”. code cover

Every writer of fiction should read read read. Good and bad, classics and the latest best-seller in your preferred category. I hesitate to call it ‘genre’. I deplore the concept of ‘genre’. This word signifies that the book must conform to a preconceived format aimed at a specific reader. Of course ‘genre’ is necessary these days. And of course the writer who wants above all to be published will write in a favorite genre. It seems to me that the most popular genres are fantasy (witches, werewolves, parallel worlds etc), science-fiction, Romance (with a capital R), sex sex sex (i.e. erotica), adventure, crime/murder (is there any crime other than murder in fiction?), mystery, and the new world of Middle-East espionage. Bottom of the popular heap is probably Historical – which, of course, is what I write.

Back to reading.

There are some amazing books out there that are probably not required reading in any formal literature course. I plan to look into my own library for some very useful titles. ALL of these books are instructive in creating effective, dramatic fiction. Some of them will show you how. Some will show you how NOT.

A. Grammar.

There was never a carpenter who showed up to work without his tool kit. We are writers. Words are our nails. Grammar is our tool kit. Ladies and gentlemen, before you can write you really MUST know and thoroughly understand English grammar. Only then should you venture to break the rules of grammar for dramatic effect.

What is the difference between your and you’re, between its and it’s, between there and their? Many writers know the differences, but get careless and don’t correct themselves. Many writers do not seem to know or care, they feel that all they have to do is get it on the page and either their magical editor will fix it or the reader won’t notice. One small grammatical error won’t kill your manuscript. The second will.

An acquisitions editor will not likely buy the manuscript with even a few grammatical errors. This spells ‘amateur’. Non-professional. Not paid. Anyway, it should be a matter of your own professional pride. Please notice that I have written this in a fairly chatty, personal style. You will not find grammatical errors here. It’s become second nature to me. Automatic. No thought necessary. Both of these two non-sentences are called fragments. Although grammatically incorrect, they are deliberately, dramatically effective.

The Book I recommend ~ The Elements of Style; by Strunk and White.

B. How to Write a Novel


To write a novel you really ought to have an idea HOW. It may be just words strung together, but there are effective ways and ineffective ways. It’s sort of like architecture. You can have a lifetime of experience walking in and out of beautiful buildings, but could you build a skyscraper? The novel is the skyscraper of words.

Below is one of the most comprehensive books available on writing novels. It is also exceptionally inspirational. Five hundred pages thick, this book covers every aspect of novel writing, editing, preparing for publication, query letters, and much much more. The articles are written by brilliant experts in their individual fields.

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing; by the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Jake and me

Lyn Alexander grew up in Ottawa during the war years and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force directly out of high school. She later resigned her officer’s commission to study veterinary medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. She has travelled much of western Europe, the USA, and most of Canada, and speaks three foreign languages badly (her words, not mine!). Now retired from her small animal veterinary practice, Lyn is now writing fiction any time she feels the urge. Visit her at //lynalexander.com/.

Comments, anyone? Share your thoughts, please! Lyn has assured me that she will respond to your comments! So please don’t be shy!

16 thoughts on “Author Lyn Alexander Offers Advice To Fiction Writers

  1. says

    Writing is indeed underestimated. Especially in the age of chat, sms and facebook. It seems to be spelling the demise of our language – or so it would seem. But I try to hold up the standards where I can – I read, write and correct (living in a foreign country there is lots to correct :>).

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Hmmm. I think you may have meant this comment for Aleshia, not Lyn?

      At any rate, I try to always uphold these standards as well. It’s good to know that you do, despite a few obstacles!

  2. I agree with all the points in this post. Having said that, I recognize that newer writers need to learn the fundamental skills of the craft through education (self-taught or formal) and “practice”. It is okay to practice skills in a public forum if you are building upon them at each opportunity. Being teachable and having a strong work ethic are two qualities that enhance a professional reputation and increase personal earning potential.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes. 🙂 I also think writers should recognize that, without practice, their skills may get a bit rusty. Writing is not like riding a bike, it’s more like washing your hair—you have to do it often!

  3. lynraa says

    Jo Ann, there is no reason for any writer of fiction to be shy about her work. It’s an amazing journey, and we all do it differently, and we can never stop learning, and we get better and better every time, and we never can know it all.
    Thank you all for your comments. I am primarily a writer of novels, and blogging is a mystery to me.
    I’d love it if you would check out my website, which is aimed at the process of writing fiction, with very little about me personally.
    I’m at
    //www.lynalexander.com

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Thanks, Lyn, for helping to reassure Jo Ann, and for being available to address all the readers here.

      Thank you for the guest post, too, and for all the advice you have given me, personally, via our “chats”. You, like my blog readers, are very nice, and someone whom I am glad to know!

      I hope you get some people visiting your blog, Lyn. You have a lot of good information there! 🙂

  4. Sunni Morris says

    Wonderful post. I know all this, but it is still a good reminder for all of us. Sometimes one can get so into their writing that they aren’t paying as much attention as they should to the small things that most of us know. This is so important when writing.

    Sunni

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Hi Sunni! Thanks for stopping in to contribute!

      🙂 We all need to remember that attention to detail is important.

  5. Jo Ann, it’s easy for me to say, having several books out, but there’s really no way to build your confidence than just putting the book out there. Keeping it locked up in your hard drive, you’ll never know if it’ll touch people or not. Believe me, I know the feeling of handing your “baby” to some stranger, expecting no more than for them to rip it to shreds, but you will most likely be pleasantly surprised. Heck, I wrote a non-fiction book, the biography of my aunt who was a prisoner-of-war, and expected to sell about 4 copies to family; imagine my surprise when it won a couple of awards and was featured in a TV documentary! I really hope you don’t let your fear hold you back; there are readers out there waiting for your book! Go for it!

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      I have to say, Melissa, you raise a good point: If you have low expectations, you will be pleasantly surprised when they are exceeded! 🙂

  6. says

    Your advice is so true! I have written a manuscript, but I’m afraid to take the next step. I lack self-confidence. I feel the story is very good, even though it’s fiction. Regarding the grammar, you’re right on. I look up words constantly to make sure I’m using them correctly and using the proper punctuation marks. Thanks for the heads up on the novel writing book. Reading through that may minimize my fear of publication.

    • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

      Jo Ann, there are a lot of things you can do to raise your self-confidence—and many articles/blog posts to read on this subject! The biggest one is to believe that you have something of value. For encouragement, read all the comment left on your guest post, for starters. Do a search, too, and read those articles! Also re-read Kristine’s post on here, The Silent Struggles of the Writer – Can You Survive or Thrive? It may help…

      • says

        Thank You. I will do all of those things. I just need a push and the push has to come from me. I can be my own worst enemy or my best friend. I just need to step out of my comfort zone.

        • Lorraine Marie Reguly says

          I think we ALL feel, or have felt, this way, at some time or another!!! You are NOT alone. 🙂 Power on!

  7. Lyn, you’re absolutely right about the grammar. I am repeatedly dumbfounded by authors that either don’t know or don’t care about the rules of grammar, and they don’t realize that their lack of professionalism makes their stories either difficult to read or just downright unreadable. Our job as writers is to make the story flow as easily as possible so the reader glides along with us effortlessly, but every time they have to stop and figure out what the author really means, that flow is disrupted. Too many breaks like that and many readers will just chuck the book and never look back.
    And I’m amazed all over again at writers who discuss/comment online in forums, Facebook, etc., and use abbreviated texting language, u no whut I mn? We’re wordsmiths; stringing words together in an interesting, compelling way is our talent, and every time we write in any forum is an advertisement. Resorting to text-speak is akin to a hair-dresser walking around with a hacked off hairdo. It’s all advertising; we must be sure we’re advertising in a way that promotes our talent.
    Great post!

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