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What are we?

Technical Writer, Technical Communicator, Documentation Specialist, Knowledge Transfer Specialist -- the list goes on. We call ourselves by various titles, but our job comes down to creating order from disorder and presenting knowledge to an end user. What does this have to do with fiction writing?

Being a Technical Writer is pretty simple, right? Here are a few of the "minor" qualifications:

  • Excellent communication skills in grammar and teaching.
  • Excellent observation skills so you can see through the morass of "complexity" companies put up.
  • Strong analytic and problem solving ability so you can research and find what is vital, important, useful and moderately interesting.
  • Ability to analyze a potential audience. The audience dictates the type and sophistication of the writing.
  • Ability to work with people, especially interview.
  • Can translate experience across businesses and platforms.
  • Can use logic and observation to get consistency or to find the lack in the current information.
  • Ability to ferret out business rules, government regulations, etc., so they are part of the product.
  • Can train others to understanding. Most Technical Writers end up doing a lot of user training besides the documentation.
  • Can use most common word processing, database and diagramming programs such as Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Access, Visio, Publisher, PageMaker, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Acquire, Crystal Reports, etc. These are the tools you use to produce your product.

If you're like me, you've surfed the Internet at least a little for good fiction -- most everyone enjoys a good yarn. Many sites feature "amateur" authors' stories and you've tried some of them. What turned you off the most? Probably the technique -- grammar, punctuation, paragraphs three pages long, etc. While many plots are predictable, the twists are still interesting if you can get by the major defects. Have you ever said to yourself, "I can do better than that!"

But I'm not "creative”

Imagination and creativity are in Technical Writer blood. On every job you've tackled you've used a lot of creativity. Even creating the requirements for a project makes you use your imagination a lot -- "What if" the audience is illiterate? "What if" the only distribution media is paper posted on a wall? "What if" I do a searchable electronic User Guide and have a Quick Reference Guide for them to print?

"What if" is the basis for all the research you do for the project; what if the user abandons the transaction without saving it? What if the electronic transaction download gets cut midstream? By the time you're done with even a bit of research, you probably know the system and/or process better than anyone else. Ever had that happen?

Creative or fiction writing is a lot of what-if's, no doubt about it. If you've been in the Tech Writer business even a couple of years, you've interviewed lots of people, asked a lot of questions and distilled a lot of knowledge.

Fiction writing isn't all pulled out of the air. If it were, the audience probably wouldn't understand it. The basis in facts is real, you've just got to “what if” a lot and fill in the holes with your imagination.

Okay, maybe I just might have a bit of talent. What next?

Fire up your favorite note-taker or outliner such as KeyNote or OneNote. Start a new file and make a category called "My Favorites." Make five lists:

  • 10 movies you really enjoyed (even if it was so intense you can't bear to see it again).
  • 10 fiction books you've read and enjoyed.
  • 10 non-fiction books you've enjoyed (even your Borland C compiler reference manual counts).
  • 10 of your favorite fictional characters or movie actors.
  • 10 of your most knowledgeable subjects (non-fiction).

Look at each item on each list and classify it according to genre. Do the movies and fiction books first, then the non-fiction. The non-fiction should have genres such as travel, fix-it-up, etc.

By looking over your lists, you'll probably find several genres; romance, science fiction, action-adventure or what have you. The non-fiction books and your power subjects will probably be your best background to concentrate on.

Start another category -- Ideas. While looking at your preferences, start pounding in some ideas. "A programmer finds a hidden command (un-documented, of course) in his favorite compiler which enables him to grow prize-winning petunias." Lots of et ceteras. Put down possible scenes, "Three people hanging by their fingernails off a reverse-slope cliff while big crows dive bomb them."

Write down at least five ideas for characters – perhaps based on someone you’ve worked with or interviewed. It could be based on a composite of several of your high-school friends. “Middle-aged ‘housewife’ who creates an ebook on household tips.”

Every one of these ideas came right out of your imagination. You're being creative.

Yes, there’s more to fiction writing than this. Just as you find in your Tech Writer profession, there’s a Craft involved. We’ll go over points of the Craft in other posts.