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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
from inspiration to instruction to humor and more!

For detailed information on ACFW, click here to visit their main website.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Aim for the Heart

The most important thing I learned in journalism school was that I did not want to be a journalist. It took me two years of laboring and sweating my way through a master’s degree program to realize that I would not make a good reporter. I did well, academically speaking, but every time I thought of making a living “reporting the facts” my heart would hang heavy. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I am too empathetic to be a journalist. Too emotionally involved in what is happening around me. I struggle with being objective, especially in regard to my faith. And I like to embellish the details. (Facts without flair are so boring.)

So, after I graduated with my master’s degree in journalism, I decided to start writing fiction. I have to admit, I was a little perturbed that I had done all that work for nothing, but God uses every experience in our lives to shape us and teach us, doesn’t he? Journalism school was no exception for me. While many of the classes focused on the inverted pyramid style (answering the questions who, what, when, where, why and how), objective reporting, ethics, and law, one class I took has impacted the way I write fiction. In this class we read a book called “Aim for the Heart” by Al Tompkins. While the book was written for newsroom reporters, I took some very critical elements from it that I apply to my fiction writing. I wanted to share them with you:

- “You reach the viewer’s [reader’s] heart by sneaking up on it. Great writers embrace the element of surprise.”
- “Surprises make viewers [readers] feel something.”
- “What you say and show at the end of the story is often what lingers in a viewer’s [reader’s] heart.”
- “Characters are usually people, but they can be objects such as an old church, an overgrown cemetery, a pristine lake, or a dying swan. Characters are the mechanism we use to deliver information and tell the story. After all, people remember what they feel longer than what they know.”
- “Sweat the lead. The first sentence of your story sets the main conflict in motion.”
- “Your first sentence creates the viewer’s [reader’s] first impression of the story. The lead should not overwhelm; it need not be the peak action of the story. But it should cast a wide net that captures as many viewers [readers] as possible.”
- “Precision writers use active verbs.”
- “Go on a ‘search and destroy mission’ for verbs that end in ‘ing.’”
- “When writers lean on worn-out adjective clich├ęs to describe a scene, the viewer [reader] gets the sense that this is not a unique or singularly important story.”

Well, there it is. Just some of the wisdom I gained during my detour in journalism school. What about you? What fiction writing wisdom did you gain during a detour in your life?

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