Saturday, February 8, 2014

Technical Writing and the Romance Author

  Ceci Giltenan

Although I became a nurse and eventually a medical writer, my fondest desire was to write romance. After years of dreaming, I finally did it. Writing my first novel, Highland Solution, was like taking a fantasy vacation to medieval Scotland in which I controlled every detail. The power I felt during the process was heady. I could make anything happen. Characters behaved exactly as I needed them to. Even the weather was fully under my control. Frankly, I loved the God-like omniscience. Within any scene I could hop from character to character, imaging their thoughts and how their past experiences would affect the way they behaved within the situation. I could see each character, not only as he or she saw themselves, but as others did as well. I loved knowing the exquisite detail.

Now, enter my professional life. My area of expertise is early drug development and much of it involves reporting results from human clinical studies. In this kind of writing, one starts at the beginning, tells the full story in chronological order and includes every known detail. I suspect those of you who are experienced authors are already chuckling at what’s coming. Highland Solution originally contained a prologue outlining events occurring twenty four years earlier. I think the very first editorial comment that I received was to eliminate the first two and a half chapters and backfill the details when and if they became necessary
The book instantly read better, but as you can imagine more was required. Because of my omniscience, I found it easy to slip into a narrator’s voice in order to provide all of the details. During the next level of edits I needed to find these areas of narration, determine the critical ideas expressed, and then create a scene in which the reader could discover them. It was a bit like creating a puzzle; I provided the pieces and left the reader to put them together. Again this markedly improved the pace of the story.

Perhaps the hardest part was embracing the fact that as the creator, I know much more about the story and characters than most readers want or need to know. Has this changed my approach going forward? Do I create less detail? Not really, because this is part of the process that I adore. I refer you back to my love of “God-like” omniscience. I still create an extensive dossier capturing details on each character’s life and use it to help determine what they might do in any situation. However, unlike a clinical study report, the most compelling story is not necessarily told chronologically and I am not required to spoon feed the reader every detail. Deciding what parts of the puzzle to reveal has become almost as much fun as being all-knowing.


Big Mike said...

Very easy to slip into divine voice (tell vs show), especially as you approach the end and want to get done. Thanks for the post.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Devine Voice. Now that's omniscient, Mike!

I find the science mind can be loath to shorten research and details that take the reader out of the story.

Anonymous said...

We're so eager to share everything about this wonderful world and the marvelous people we've created, it's far too easy to overload the reader, who then gets bored and tosses the book across the room. I had a similar problem with Framed, set in an art gallery. I was a framer for 9 years and loved every step of the process. Once I chopped all the detail, the story was much better.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good example, Nikki. I loved FRAMED and had no idea you had had to trim it.