From Fact to Fiction, from Fiction to Fact: Writing in Multiple Genres

June 10, 2011

The last few months have been amazing for me. I’m getting control of my life, gaining confidence…living my dream.

I’m writing fiction.

As I’ve said, I love writing non-fiction, researching something I’m interested in, interviewing people for articles, crafting what I learn into a tight piece that hopefully both informs and entertains. I’m not a journalist. I’d classify my articles and columns as “creative non-fiction.” As I attend writing workshops, read blogs by editors, agents and writers and more importantly write, I’m seeing that there are a lot of things that I’ve done as a non-fiction writer that transfer to fiction writing, such as cutting, editing, looking for flow and knowing your audience.

There are obvious differences. For the magazine articles, newspaper columns, press releases and advertising work that I did, I couldn’t just make things up. I couldn’t write whatever I wanted to say. It had to be true, real. Writing fiction is exactly the opposite. The story is my own. The reader picks up a novel to forget about their own world and escape to someone else’s. They may want it to be believable, but they know the story isn’t true. As a writer this gives you incredible freedom and creates challenges of its own.

The format is entirely different…and yet similar. When I write an article, I have an opening hook, a topic statement and a statement defining the main points of my article. Then there are the main points, and each of them has an opening hook and a transition to the next main point. I follow that by summarizing my main points, restating my topic and finally a closing hook. Hopefully this isn’t something the reader is blatantly aware of. It’s just an organized piece of work that flows well. Some people think that having a format or formula for your work is stifling, but for me knowing where I’m going and how I’m going to get there gives me the freedom to be creative without getting lost.

I was stumbling with format as I began to write my novel. In fact (or more accurately, in fiction) flailing. I tried writing an outline as I do for my non-fiction and that didn’t quite work. I finally allowed the character’s to tell their story and what I found was that if I let it happen, there was a natural flow to the story. Possibly from years of writing with a format, possibly from a lifetime of reading, but the story naturally has an opening hook and closing hook for each paragraph and chapter and details that emerge as the “main points” (plot) of the story. Of course I have to go back and rewrite and craft. But as I write, the years of experience that I have writing “creative non-fiction” are relevant to the fiction I’m writing now.

There are new challenges. Main points and plots aren’t interchangeable. The old advertising advice, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them,” which works so well in non-fiction writing, doesn’t transfer equally to writing fiction. Just because you can write an informative and entertaining magazine article doesn’t mean you can create a story that can keep a reader’s attention for 60,000 words. (And by you I mean me.)

So as I begin to believe I can do this—write fiction—I wonder how many writers have started by writing fiction and moved in the other direction to non-fiction? Is it as challenging to work in reverse (well, reverse of the way I’m doing it anyway). When you move from plots to main points, from fiction to fact what are the challenges…is it easier? Writers, editors, readers, what are your thoughts on going from fiction to fact?


4 Responses to “From Fact to Fiction, from Fiction to Fact: Writing in Multiple Genres”

  1. Hey, Tari. I’ve thought about writing a similar post, but I think mine would be filled with frustration. 🙂 I’m currently writting more non-fiction than I expected to since leaving Disney. While that’s a good thing for the professional relationships I’ve cultivated over the years as a non-fiction writer and editor and it’s great for my professional resume, switching back and forth stunts my creativity.

    I have to “detox” from my non-fiction voice before I write a word of fiction. Reading is the easiest way to do this. I start by reading a few chapters of a book by another author, and then I move on to re-reading a couple chapters of my manuscript. The rest of the “rust” works it way out as I type, but that makes the first couple pages iffy. I feel less productive.

    Do you find it hard to write non-fiction and fiction simultaneously?


  2. Tari Says:

    I’m fine with writing non-fiction and fiction simultaneously, but I’m worried about rewrites of one manuscript when I’m working on another. My character’s and story or so part of my life while I’m writing, that I think it will be challenging to have edits to do while I’m writing something new.

    An article, press release……someone’s grad school entrance essay….no problem, I can separate that, but fiction to fiction….hard to get out of my own head!!

    I need detox time at the end of every writing day when I write fiction just to get back to my real life!!!

  3. kim maddox Says:

    So far, I am practicing. I write non-fiction because its what I know. Fiction is intimidating, there is more responsibility, there are decisions to make and characters to develop. My stories tell themselves, I just find the right words to keep them true.

    • We wish you well, Kim, and thank you for stopping by. Writing fiction is a different beast that’s for sure, but if you’re like me it’s through writing fiction that you receive the greatest creative release. 🙂


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