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Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction

Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction

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Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction

4/5 (1 évaluation)
205 pages
2 heures
Dec 20, 2014


Your life is not boring. It is the key to great fiction.

How do you capture that spark of life that lifts your story off the page and resonates with readers in their very soul? You delve into your own soul and learn how to wrap words around your unique human experience, that’s how. And the best way to do that is to keep a journal. These seven techniques to apply to your journal will help you marry the authenticity of the real world to the imaginations of your story worlds:

- How do you recognize a story worth telling?
-How do you bring structure and power to a story?
- How do you tap into your own emotions to fill your novel with heart?
- How do you hone your observation skills?
- How do you engagingly describe your world?
- How do you make your characters real?
- How do you find your unique purpose as a writer?

Not your average book on the craft of writing, the author bares pages from her own journal to illustrate her techniques and the level of storytelling skill that can be achieved in your journal. These same excerpts unfold, in real time, the story of the most traumatic plot twist of her life: the stripping away of her family and her search for someone to finally call “Daddy”—a quest which almost claimed her life.

Part writing how-to book, part memoir, part self-discovery guide, this volume will show you what the everyday events of your life have to do with great fiction. Your life, after all, is a story.

Dec 20, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

Danielle Lincoln Hanna learned how to read and write at age four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She writes crime fiction, not specifically for the excitement of guts and guns, but as a means to explore the true experiences of real people who have survived traumatic events and are looking for answers. Her own trauma was the death of her father when she was only two. She spent the next two and a half decades looking for someone to call “Daddy”—a mission that wasn’t successfully accomplished until she turned twenty-six. She’s now researching the father/daughter relationship and writing about it in her novels. Family and firestorm exist side-by-side in her stories, hence her author tagline, “Hearth & Homicide Suspense.” As much as you can expect shadows in the night, the echoes of gunfire, and the flashing reds-and-blues, you can also expect the porch light to be on and a warm cup of cocoa awaiting you at the fireside. When she’s not riveted to her computer, you can find her camping, hiking, and biking with her dog Molly.

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Journaling to Become a Better Writer - Danielle Lincoln Hanna


to Become a Better Writer

Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction

Danielle Lincoln Hanna

Copyright 2014 Danielle Lincoln Hanna

Smashwords Edition

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Cover art by RUDesigns



A Hearth & Homicide Suspense

short story



Table of Contents

Title Page


Free Short Story

Table of Contents

The Small Print No One Reads


Opening Quote


Chapter 1: Good Writers Keep Journals

Chapter 2: Recognizing a Story Worth Telling

Chapter 3: Using Basic Story Structure

Chapter 4: Getting in Touch with Your Emotions

Chapter 5: Honing Your Observation Skills

Chapter 6: Describing Your World

Chapter 7: Capturing Characters

Chapter 8: Finding Your Purpose

A Note to the Reader


Excerpt from Mailboat

Indie Plot Twist: Hatching the Plot for Indie Publishing Success

About the Author

Free Short Story

The Small Print No One Reads

It’s my hope that this book will help you explore your life, experiences, and feelings in order to find inspiration, understand yourself and the world around you better, and improve your skill with words.

If that doesn’t work out for you, it’s not my fault. (Just sayin’.)

Not just a how-to book on the writer’s craft, this book also contains a significant dollop of self-help.

But I’m not a psychotherapist. If that advice doesn’t work out for you, either, it’s still not my fault. Go check out a licensed professional.

This book contains excerpts from my personal journal. As such, the people mentioned and the events described are real. Some identifying details have been withheld to protect the privacy of individuals.

’Cuz I’m not out to get anybody.

Interview a dozen witnesses, and they’ll all tell a different version of the story. Memory works like that. Opinions work like that. I’ve given it my darndest to portray the whole shebang to the best of my memory. But if somebody remembers things differently … well, so it goes. They’re entitled to their own opinion.

In particular, I want to say to two prominent individuals in my early life and in my journal: I understand your reasons. You only wanted what you felt was best for me. I get it.

To Grandma Steph

"Family is not always those people who are related to you by blood. Family is that group of people who understand you and support you." ~Nancy Fehr


I was inspired to write this book several months ago shortly after emerging from the lowest point in my life. As always, I had turned to my journal to try to sort out what was happening and to look for a way through the mess. Usually, spilling all my woes onto paper is enough to get everything off my chest so I can get back to living. But for the first time in my life, journaling failed me.

So I turned to a very dear friend of mine, Stephanie Prichard, or Grandma Steph, as I call her. Steph and I met at an online writer’s group some years ago. We’ve never seen each other face-to-face, but over the years, I’ve learned I can talk to her about anything.

I sent her my journal in whole, pages upon pages, in real time, as the biggest drama of my life was unfolding. One installment numbered 75 pages, and she read them all in a single sitting. We drank countless mugs of imaginary hot chocolate together in a kitchen I’ve never seen. Steph sent me long-distance hugs, mourned with me, encouraged me, advised me, and prayed for me.

You're doing well, she wrote one day. I'm proud of you. And, wowser, are you a good writer!

At the time, I was simply journaling the only way I knew how—as the point-of-view character of my own story. On some level, I knew that I was applying fiction writing techniques to my journal. But frankly, I apply fiction techniques to everything I write—college essay assignments, newsletter articles, blog posts, speeches. Overtly or covertly, I’m forever writing story.

But Steph’s words made me stop and examine how much my journal had in common with a novel you could pull off the shelf at the book store. And I realized that I’d not only been applying fiction techniques to my journal, but practicing and perfecting them there. That my journal had, in fact, been the incubator hatching all my writing skills over the course of my entire life.

Once my life reached stable footing again, I decided to write this book. At first, I was just going to discuss the techniques and maybe pull a short passage out of my journal here and there to illustrate what I was talking about.

But I found I couldn’t get at the meat of what I wanted to share without being fully transparent. Your journal isn’t about putting on appearances. And sadly, it is possible to keep a journal for most of your life and deceive yourself the entire time about the way things really are and how you feel about them. (I know I did until just a few years ago.) Learning to be transparent with yourself is the most important thing your journal can do for you—first, as a person; secondly, as an author. And if I wanted to set a real example … it meant I was going to have to open my journal and share it with you.

As such, each chapter in this book is divided into Part 1: Pages from My Journal, and Part 2: Lessons from Journaling. Part 2 will explain a concept or technique demonstrated by the journal excerpt in Part 1. Finally, each chapter ends with a Homework section with writing exercises for both your journal and your novel-in-progress. (Don’t worry; homework assignments in this class are totally optional and don’t count toward your final grade.)

In addition, all of the excerpts from my journal appear in order, telling the same story I told Steph. They are edited for length (the one mortal sin of my journal that would be unforgivable in a novel is that I record everything), and for exposition (by cutting out large sections of the journal, some important information needs to be slipped back in somehow), and on a few rare occasions for privacy (but only very rarely). But this is not a drastically revised memoir. Aside from the changes listed, these entries read largely as they appear in my journal.

I’m not supernaturally gifted with the ability to churn out my best work in a single sitting. Nor am I suggesting that a few years of journaling will give you that gift. (Pity.) I actually edit my journal several times, just as I edit my novels. When I sit down to add a new entry, I go over the previous entry first and edit it. I also re-read my entries now and again, just to ruminate further on the events, and when I do, I inevitably edit a little, forever striving for just the right words to express what happened and how I felt about it. It’s been said that there are no great writers—just great re-writers. You don’t need to think of your journal as etched in stone. Feel free to go back and edit your journal entries until they ring true to what you were really trying to say.

With that, I invite you into my journal, and the gifts your own journal has waiting for you. Pull up a chair, have a mug of hot chocolate, and open yourself up to a journey. Not just my journey, but I hope your own journey as well.

Chapter 1

Good Writers Keep Journals

I had a unique upbringing. Thanks to my mother’s devotion to keeping us morally pure, my brother and I were raised in isolation where the world couldn’t influence us.

At twenty-five years old, I was still living with my parents, though our relationship was finally crumbling underfoot.

I’d dropped out of college despite getting A’s in all my classes. I’d worked a string of eight-dollar-an-hour jobs. I’d considered starting my own business. Nothing I did felt right, and the one thing I felt compelled to do didn’t make any sense.

After all, no one can make a living as a writer. Right?

Part 1

Pages from My Journal

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gorgeous morning. Thick fog, heavy frost. Took my dog Molly for a walk in the Hills, better known as Sunset Park. Perched between the edge of town and pastures full of grazing cattle, it’s more of a wilderness area than a city park. The fog was so thick this morning, you couldn’t see the horizon. Eventually the sun came out, and then everything was dazzlingly white—every tree branch, every blade of grass.

I felt a presence hovering in the void between worlds—my world and Story World. As a rule, the characters from my stories rarely visit me in my world. Except for one.

I stopped and called out to the hills. C’mon, it’s a beautiful morning in North Dakota, and are you going to miss it?

I felt Ian step into my world. With his forest green parka and his silver-white hair, he could have been birthed from the landscape itself. He was smiling. No, he said, he wouldn’t miss it for anything.

We stood in silence a moment and gazed over the winterscape.

What a clean, bright start to a new year, Ian commented.

Mmm, I agreed. Sentimental, maybe. But Ian rarely spoke. Only when he really felt like saying something.

You’d be proud of me, I said. I prayed this morning.

God and I really haven’t been talking much lately. Most of the time, I’m just yelling at Him. Really, the only time I talk with Him at all is after a walk through the Hills with Ian, and only then because Ian nudges me.

Sometimes I wonder why the only person I have to talk to has to be so Christian. But I’ve accepted that Ian came into existance to help fill the hole left by my dad. An imaginary father figure is better than none at all.

We started walking.

"I was proud of you, Ian replied. What did He say?"

Ian already knew the answer. How? I’m not sure. Because he’s Ian. Because he spent most of his career in law enforcement, and you couldn’t sneak a paper clip past him. Then again, I should already have known God’s answer, too. This morning, I closed my eyes and asked God the question that had been on my mind these past two days: When Nancy goes part-time at the humane society, what do I tell our boss? Should I take on more hours, or ask for less, like I’d been planning? Much as I love my job there, I don’t see how I can make a living off it. With the oil boom in North Dakota, housing is just too expensive.

He said, ‘Just write.’

Ian nodded. Then I guess you better.

I guess so.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered some writing careers can actually turn a good profit. Freelance writing. Copywriting. Grant writing. Ghost writing. Why did no one ever mentioned this to me before? Clearly this is the answer.

Even though the deepest nook of my heart is still with stories. I live stories.

Ian is evidence of that.

He took a deep breath, as if he found the winter air vitalizing. Well. Your road’s laid out for you. God’s giving you everything you asked for, and more. An income. A job you love. He gave me that stare—that unnerving Ian Hunter stare that cuts straight to your soul and reads all your secrets. The stare that turns back the clock and makes him twenty years younger and a chief of police again. But there’s something else on your mind.

I nodded. I turned on my heel and walked backwards to watch my dog. She was sniffing a tuft of grass that stuck out of the snow. This one’s all about her. Where on earth are we gonna go?

Ninety-pound dog. Half German Shepherd and half Rottweiler. Best-behaved dog in the world. But you’re lucky to find an apartment that allows a thirty-pound dog. A trailer park might be the next option, but they sometimes limit dog size, too. And what about Juliean, the brown tabby back at the shelter? She hates her life out there, but she’s so crabby, no one would ever think of adopting her. Except me.

Adopting Molly was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, I said. Then I smiled and shook my head at my dog fondly. And the smartest. Despite all, I would never—never—want a life without her. About the same time I began to recognize the level of my mother’s dominance over me, Molly had walked into my life. She gives me a reason to keep on going. Her life is bound to mine and mine to hers. All my dreams are about a future for me and her. She’s the only thing I love.

Ian fell silent, his green eyes searching the horizon with a depth and intensity I knew well. With no outward indication that he’d latched onto the thought he was looking for, he suddenly spoke.

A freelance career is the answer to all your prayers, he reminded me. Then he nodded at Molly, now trotting past us toward the next interesting smell. So was she. He looked at me. The corners of his mouth were twitching and his eyes twinkling.

Of course. How could I

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