Janice Thompson is a seasoned novelist and screen playwright. A native Texan, she's published over 50 books.
Janice, I understand you’re about to debut a new fiction course online. Why fiction? What is your background, as it relates to fiction writing?
Every writer hopes to one day write “The Great American Novel.” I started writing novels as a child, so the desire to craft “story” has always been inside of me. In the mid ‘90s I started writing with the desire to be published. After years of trial and error, my first novel hit the shelves in 2000. Since then, I’ve published over forty novels—everything from inspirational romance to cozy mysteries to Y.A. (young adult) to romantic comedies. It’s been a great run!
I’ve noticed a trend in recent years. “Young” writers approach me, one after the other, asking the same questions and struggling with the same problems. I’ve worn myself out giving the same answers! (There are only so many times and ways you can say, “You’re head-hopping, honey!”) Because of that, I decided it would be easier to compile the information into a fiction course, will debut mid-June at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. I can’t wait to see what novelists think of this exciting new course!
You’ve started with a lesson on understanding the genres. Why is that?
As mentioned above, I’ve been published in multiple genres. My first book was a suspense-thriller. I’ve since written historicals, contemporaries, children’s, young adult, romances, mysteries and much, much more. Because I’ve been able to successfully cross genre lines, I feel qualified to teach on the subject.
Before writers can establish themselves as novelists, they must develop an understanding of the fiction genres/categories. Choosing the best genre (or genres) is critical to your success. But with so many categories to choose from, how do you know which is your best fit? This lesson will give writers a thorough introduction to genre writing and will provide them with the necessary information to choose the one(s) best suited to their literary style and voice.
I see you’ve included a lesson on plotting. Is this based on your “Plot Shots” teaching, which you’ve offered at conferences?
Yes! I’m so tickled to finally be able to offer this teaching in a course format. I’ve become known as “that Plot Shots lady.” That’s okay. I can live with that! I’m a firm believer in laying out a great plotline. Why? Because every story needs a beginning, middle and end. Careful plotting will lead the reader on a satisfactory, realistic journey through each of those stages, creatively weaving in and out, up and down. The "Plot Shots" method gives writers the tools they need to plot their novel in twelve easy snapshots. It’s a fun and easy approach to plotting that won’t confuse or complicate the story.
Characterization is such an important component of fiction writing. Can you tell us more about your characterization lesson?
Years ago I developed a teaching that I call “Pandora’s Box.” It’s a layered approach to characterization, which uses the illustration of multiple boxes, one inside the other. In this lesson, I lay out the need for great characterization, then present the Pandora’s Box method. After presenting the method, I take the student through the process four times, using four fictional characters as a foundation. (Each character has a different personality, so the student learns how to apply the technique to the various personalities.)
So many writers struggle with P.O.V. (point of view). Is that why you included a lesson on that very tough subject?
Point of View (P.O.V.) is a critical fiction component. Employing to your best advantage is tough! Most of the young writers I know struggle in this area. The head-hop. Oh, they don’t mean to. . .but they do! My detailed lesson on Point of View offers students a thorough teaching on the various P.O.V.s (omniscient, third person, second person, first person), and gives specific examples and tips so that writers can become P.O.V. purists.
What is passive writing? Why have you included a lesson about it?
Many of the manuscripts I edit are written in passive voice. They’re loaded with passive verbs and include huge sections of “telling.” The author “information dumps,” which stops the flow of the story. Knowing the difference between active voice and passive voice is key to writing a great novel. Conquering the art of "showing" instead of "telling" will give writers an added advantage. This detailed lesson--filled with nuggets of wisdom from published authors--will give writers the tools they need to strengthen their stories and pull them into active voice.
Ack! Backstory! It’s so tough to add to our novels. Is that why you included a lesson on the subject?
Backstory. We all struggle with it, don’t we? In so many ways, it's critical to our story. After all, the reader needs to know where our primary character has come from--what she's been through--why she acts like she does. So, do you add the backstory or not? If so, can you do so without resorting to author intrusion? And where will you place it? At the beginning of the story? Elsewhere? Will it come out in lumps or snippets? This lesson offers students an intense look at backstory and includes tips for interjecting it without stopping the action.
Many writers struggle with finding their “voice.” Can you tell us more about that?
A writer’s “voice” is her/her “stamp.” It’s the author’s “personality on the page.” And many young writers haven’t “found their voice” yet. This lesson delves into the topic, in detail, giving perspective on this very personal issue. The lesson (titled “Themes, Style and Voice”) also covers the various themes found in popular books, as well as style components.
Can you tell us some of the top fiction mistakes?
Sure! After editing hundreds of manuscripts, I can point out some of the “top” fiction mistakes: Lack of a good hook. P.O.V. issues. Passive writing. Weak characterization. Poor plotting (no “belly of the whale” scene). Overuse of adverbs. On and on the list goes. Many writers simply don’t realize they’re making these mistakes until someone points them out. They wonder why the book keeps getting rejected. This lesson offers writers a thorough list, detailing the top twenty mistakes novelists make.
Why did you decide to add a lesson on humor writing?
I’ve been writing comedies for years and have learned so much along the way. Humor writing is tough stuff! Some writers are born with an overactive funny bone. Others have to work hard to be funny. (Ironic, isn't it?!) If you're interested in adding a little har-de-har-har-har to your novel, then you've come to the right place. In this light-hearted lesson on humor writing, I share my top ten tips for adding humor to your writing. The bonus feature contains another twenty tummy-tickling techniques, so hang on for the ride!
Putting together a book proposal is tough! What have you learned over the years?
Book deals are won or lost based on the proposal. If you've got a completed manuscript and you're ready to pitch it to an agent or editor, then this exciting lesson on query letters and book proposals will point you in the right direction, giving you all the confidence you need to submit, submit, submit! Students who use the information provided in this lesson can compose polished query letters and dazzling book proposals, sure to impress both editors and agents, alike.
Thanks so much for joining us, Janice. Where can people learn more about your courses? And where else can they find you on the web?
They can learn more at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. On that site, they will also find my “Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer” course, which many students have already taken. Folks can learn more about that one by clicking on this video. I offered a free webinar on the subject about six weeks ago, and it can be found here: http://www.freelancewritingcourses.com/?s=webinar. We’ll be adding to the course list every couple of months, so stay tuned for more announcements!
Other places to find me on the web: