Thursday, August 1, 2013

Alana Cash – Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers

Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers

by Alana Cash

There are writers who approach a story with a plot or by creating a plotline.  And there are writers who create a character and let the character tell a story – I mainly fall into this category. I taught writing classes at the University of Texas Informal Classes and my lessons were from the perspective of creating characters and then telling stories from their point of view.

I like to “see” my characters – how tall they are, their hair color, etc. and I like to know who they are.  How do they approach adventure and problems?  What experiences have they had and who is their family?  I don’t have to know every single detail, but I like to get a true sense of how they think and move.  And although I see my character clearly, I try to describe them in relation to other characters (he was a lot taller than his boss or she was younger than her best friend) or through someone else’s dialogue rather than listing characteristics.

My theory is that if you have a true sense of your main character and ask one question, you can write a story.  In “Camille’s Net Worth,” [a story from HOW YOU LEAVE TEXAS], I created a 40-year-old woman, attractive, intelligent, loved by her family, and completely bored with her life because she gave up her passion – painting – to make her husband happy.  Then, I asked the question:  How can Camille become unbored?  Answer:  She loses everything.

I also approach writing from the standpoint of “write what you know.”  All of my stories have some basis in truth.  In “Camille’s Net Worth,” I was able to paint a landscape of Austin, Texas and the way people interact because I lived there so long.  In “Frying Your Burger” – the novella in HOW YOU LEAVE TEXAS, I wanted to write about what I observed in working at a major studio.  I created Nicky, the main character, and her friends at the coffee shop where they worked.  Some of what happened to Nicky, actually happened to me, but I had to divorce myself from the story and make up a character with her own motives for being in Los Angeles and behaving the way that she did in order to have a more interesting story.

It all boils down to character for me as a writer.  And I encourage new writers to work at developing characters that they feel they know.  On my website [], I have a “writing lesson” for creating characters.  You can grab it and put it on your computer and play around and see how changing a trait changes how you feel about your character.  When you have your character solidified, you can ask your character to answer a question – and you will have a story.

HOW YOU LEAVE TEXAS is a volume of four unique stories about four young women who leave Midland, Austin, Fort Worth and Mayville, Texas for New York, California, Jakarta, and in one instance, jail. These young women seek escape from boredom and sorrow and find it. Told with humor and pathos, here are the synopses:

DAM BROKE – after high school graduation, two quirky best friends reveal big secrets.

“In sixth grade, I abandoned the reading glasses for a blond wig and a fake mole above my top lip. Mickey started wearing sunglasses indoors and carrying business cards.”
CAMILLE’S NET WORTH – on her 40th birthday, Camille’s life falls apart in uncontrolled demolition. Life improves when she gets a job creating art paper and returns to painting. But the plot twists and she ends up in jail, laughing.

“I’m not going to spend much time repeating myself,” Camille said, “I want you to remove whatever you want to keep from this house. You can store your stuff in a rental truck if you need to until you find a new home, but you will be gone from here by midnight and never return.”
“You can’t do that!”
“If you are not gone by midnight, I will set fire to the house.”
KRYSTAL’S WEDDING – Heading for New York, Krystal leaves behind her shoddy family in Midland, Texas. Ill-prepared for the culture shock and expense, she takes a few slippery steps before she finds true independence.

“Krystal’s family wasn’t an American success story. Mom felt like life had cheated her since Daddy never made any real money and spent most nights getting drunk at the Welcome Inn. Erin never finished beauty school and worked at a donut shop. Bethany worked as a bar-back at the Rusty Nail and was turning out like Daddy. Alcoholic, back-slapping, charming. Eddie Garthwaite, owner of Garthwaite Used Cars located on Interstate 20 between Midland and Odessa. Eddie Garthwaite who currently had his driver’s license suspended because of a DUI.”
FRYING YOUR BURGER – Nicky and her friends spend mornings slinging repartee in a coffee shop. While paying a traffic fine, she meets a director and soon finds herself a pawn for two directors trying to ruin each others careers.

“I went into the room marked Cashier and got into a long line. And there he was. Grinning that grin. He should have had a license for it. It was that bright. I stood next to him in my white t-shirt and white pants looking like someone straight out of the ‘hospital orderly fashion catalogue.’ It was all I had clean that day.”

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Genre –  Women’s Fiction

Rating – PG13

More details about the author

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