FICTION VS. NON FICTION
I've thought about the differences between fiction and non fiction a lot this past week. And since so many of us started our writing careers doing non fiction stuff -- Genene and Karen with text writing to go with their design work, Wavy, Lisa and Eli with school papers, maybe trade journal-type stuff, Lori with her magazine work, and Paty, Piper, Wavy and I with our journalism experience, (am I leaving anyone out?)it seemed a relevant subject to post about.
Some things are always the same, whether fact or fiction. Like using ACTIVE VERBS & STRONG, DESCRIPTIVE NOUNS. Even "dry" non fiction reading material can be jazzed up with a thoughtful choice of nouns and verbs.
But what about LET'S STICK TO THE FACTS, MA'AM? Fact checking is important to both fiction and non fiction. Of course we have greater leeway with our fictional stories -- we get to come up with fictional towns, fantasy worlds and islands (thinking of you here, Alice) pretend names and quirks for our characters, and fake situations -- but still, we need to make sure our facts, such as historic dates, or information about specific occupations is dead on.
Although PASSIVE LANGUAGE is heavily frowned upon in novel-writing -- and one of my personal pet peeves -- it seems it's hardly noticed in journalism and other non fiction areas. Why is this? Two reasons, I believe. Lazy or hurried writing by journalists. To quote Richard Gere's column-writing character in 'Runaway Bride': "Journalism is literature in a hurry". With daily deadlines always looming, reporters have very limited time for proof-reading and story tweaking. Reporters hope the editors will catch the flub ups, but they are as harried as the the writers. The other reason I believe passive language isn't such a big deal in the journalism world is, as with mystery writing, journalists don't always have a subject to pin the sentence to. Like writing mysteries, the facts are not always revealed in the beginning. For mystery, passive language is, of course, used to prolong the suspense. In a breaking news story, the facts are never all available in the beginning. Sometimes there is only a crime to write about, but no suspect. Where the heck is the subject to attach the sentence action to?
This and THAT. That is sort of a no-no, raise-the-red-flag word in fiction writing. As novelists, we use it, then we go back and take out every one (that) we can. In writing non fiction, I find myself not using the work that in the first place, then going back and adding several thats back in. In journalism, the story must always be simple to understand, or you lose your readers. That is a little word that often clears that up.
FORMULA WRITING. In fiction we can break all the rules. But there are still rules: Turning points, black moments, resolution; goal, motivation, conflict: Don't use too much flashback, too many dream sequences (unless you're writing Alice in Wonderland) or ramble on with go-nowhere scenes. In hard news writing -- murder, mayhem and car wrecks, say -- there is an even stricter formula: Open with a nut graff, which translates to give them the pared down story in the first paragraph. Also, the first quote should be an eye-cather. The last quote should be interesting. End with a conclusive paragraph. The reason behind this rather dull-to-write formula is simple. People are in a hurry. They skim the news and often don't get any further into a story than the first paragraph or two. (How depressing is that for the writer? And we thought rejections were bad!) The formulaic style of writing doesn't leave a ton of leeway for creativity, but that's the challenge, I suppose. Now with feature writing, my favorite, there is more opportunities to lope into a story, instead of entering at a breakneck gallop -- as long as the writer doesn't dawdle long -- and the author can embellish, use a clever turn of prose here and there, and make the piece fun (hopefully)to read.
So, what do you think? Does non fiction writing help or hinder your fiction work? How? Please feel free to use some examples.