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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

Books Are Like Onions Podcast

Episode 1: Technical Writing and Adapting It To the World of Fiction

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

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Episode Summary

This podcast is intended to be a supplement to the articles found on my blog From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing. The first episode introduces the theme of this podcast and covers techniques found in technical writing, illustrating how they can be applied to fiction.

What Is Technical Writing? (2:02)

Technical writing is often attributed to items like manuals and textbooks, or other books that explain complicated topics. But the main purpose of any technical piece is to give the reader insight about a particular concept or product in a way that's easy to understand. Fiction writing shares that approach; starting with a solid foundation for a plot gives you the best base for a strong and compelling story. Without it, your story will always fall flat, no matter how many times you rework it.

To build that foundation, here are a few basic questions to ask about your main character:

  • What do they want?

  • What, or who, stands in their way?

  • What lies are they telling themselves that have hindered their success in achieving their goals?

Your answers will provide the basic structure for their character arc, which will keep you from getting derailed from that path.

Further resources on developing character arcs are given in this episode and are also listed at the bottom of this post.

Presentation and Structure (3:38)

In technical writing, structure is everything. Placement and presentation of information can make the difference between that information being helpful or confusing. In fiction writing, structure of a story is key to its success, and worldbuilding can help get you there.

Here are the main questions for worldbuilding:

  • Where does the story take place?

  • Are there any laws or rules bound to it?

  • What’s the weather like, and how does it change?

  • How large is each location in the story, and if there are multiple locations, how to they relate to one another?

  • What kind of structures and materials are found in the world?

Example in the podcast: An excerpt from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

Identifying an Audience (6:18)

Whether you’re writing a technical piece or a fictional one, you need to be aware of the subset of people you’re writing for. Doing so allows you to present the story in a way they identify most easily with.

Example in the podcast: When I was asked to create software manuals while working at a medical supply company

Being able to transcribe a technical process onto paper is a skill that many struggle with. This stems from a disconnect between the knowledge that the author has about the process and the audience for which they’re writing. But learning that skill can be beneficial to fiction writing. With an audience in mind, it becomes clearer which elements need to be further explained and which you can leave out, thereby allowing you to hit on topics that relate most closely to your target readers.

Example in the podcast: Learning the hard way about needing to plan for audience, which resulted in mismatched elements and roadblocks in my early attempts at writing

Applying Research (8:25)

In technical writing, research allows you to have a much better understanding of your subject matter, which means you can more easily translate that information to those reading it. In fiction writing, it can add depth and a layer of realism that your story might not have otherwise had.

Example in the podcast: How I've applied research to my current series, The Porcelain Souls, and what kind of impact that's had

Research is crucial to the execution of a story. While fiction does give you certain liberties to bend the rules, I recommend weaving in the most prominent facts and historic elements where they apply to give your piece a sound backbone for everything else that follows. The amount of work you put into your research will show, and readers won’t hesitate to call you out on any flaws.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

K.M. Weiland's Creating Character Arcs book -

K.M. Weiland's Creating Character Arcs Workbook -

Tips for writing character arcs -

Harry Potter excerpt on -