I’d like to thank Vanessa Skye for contributing this guest post about switching from journalism to fiction. Vanessa has always had a love of words and spent her school years writing poetry, speeches, and fictional essays. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism and studying psychology at Charles Sturt University, she got a job at Australia’s largest publisher of regional and agricultural news and information, Rural Press, where she worked as a journalist in the central west of New South Wales for four years. Thousands of stories later, Vanessa decided to move back to Sydney and try her hand at public relations while studying for a master’s degree in communication, before quitting PR for the significantly more impoverished life of a professional writer. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her website for more information.
I’ve always wanted to write books. For as long as I can remember, even when I was very small, books were it for me. One of my earliest memories is when I was three or four. I used to carry around a thick, bound book I have no idea what is was!) with nothing but words in it. No pictures, just words that I couldn’t read. I used to sit down and ‘read’ it, i.e. try to imagine what the words I couldn’t read said.
So, back in the nineties when I was deciding what to study at university, I picked journalism. I figured I would do the degree, learn to write, and then multiple bestsellers would ensue. Right?
Wrong! I knew so little about writing that I didn’t realise that the accepted journalistic writing style was worlds apart from fiction writing.
I’ve been a journalist off and on for close to 20 years, working for both Fairfax and News Corp. But when it came to sitting down and writing my first fictional novel eight years ago, I basically had to re-learn how to write. It was a rude shock, to put it politely.
Journalists are taught to pare down information into basic points. They have to get the point across in as few words as possible, because vast paragraphs are not only impossible in news mediums where space is sold at a premium, but are also unlikely to be read in the age of diminishing attention spans.
So I learned to cut back on word usage. I learned to get to the point, and quickly. I had to cut out adjectives as much as possible, and put all the pertinent information at the top of an article, leading down to the least important information at the bottom (because sub-editors cut from the bottom up). I learned not to editorialise, and just work with facts, not opinions (it could be argued that thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, this art has since been lost, but that’s a separate blog).
As a news journalist, you are telling your readers what they need to know, why they need to know it, and how they can find out more about it. It’s fairly devoid of imagination. So when it came to writing fiction, completely changing my style was very hard work. The imagination I’d had to stifle in a world of dealing with facts and quotes, suddenly needed to be reawakened. I had freedom to use adjectives again! If only I could remember what they were …
As a journalist, you are telling a story. As a fictional writer, you are showing your reader a story (as my poor editor says while banging her head on the desk, ‘show, don’t tell!’). You are weaving a tale from pure imagination, involving editorialising and opinions galore.
For a news story you need to get the point, and quickly. But, when it comes to novel writing you have to build up to your point, slowly, taking many twists and turns along the way before eventually coming to the most important points.
My first novel was essentially one big news story, and that was it. There were no descriptions, locations, or waffle of any kind. When I went back to re-draft, I had to add all that in, to the tune of about 30,000 words. It was hard going, because it felt like my imagination needed a jump-start.
Now, I’ve just finished writing my fifth book, and my style is totally different from that first poor attempt. Now, I let my imagination run riot, and I love it.
Vanessa Skye’s novel, Bloodlines, will be released on January 15, 2015. It is the third and final novel in the crime fiction Edge of Darkness series, following The Enemy Inside, and Broken. Koven will be released in June 2015. Here’s the blurb:
Detective Alicia “Berg” Raymond is lying. She’s lying to the Chicago Police Department, to her boyfriend, Captain Jay O’Loughlin, but most of all, she’s lying to herself—about her past, her future, and her ongoing addiction. As Berg investigates a series of brutal rapes and sinks under an ever-increasing caseload, she finds herself juggling every aspect of her life—finding justice for victims of crime, keeping her own sordid past buried from her colleagues, struggling with blackmail that threatens to push her over the edge, and protecting her lover from the details of all of it. Wrapping her damaged head around living in a state of domestic bliss she’s certain she doesn’t deserve, Berg is driven by the need for justice and a determination to stop a rapist before any more innocent lives are ravaged.
But when enemies from the past threaten her present, she is once again vulnerable to the demons that have plagued her every day of her life. It’s only a matter of time before her lies unravel and the fairy tale she’s finally started believing implodes . . . but the biggest threat of all, as it turns out, is her very own bloodline. Can she save herself, and the casualties of crime, from the lurking darkness waiting to strike, or will her own mistakes drag her under—this time for good?