What Writers of Fiction can Learn From Writers of Nonfiction

No, not how to anachronize. Anachronizing is dorky, and when it’s used for humor, you get some pretty dorky humor. But seriously, we writers of fiction can learn a lot from our nonfiction brothers and sisters. There are places that they can go that we won’t, or maybe even can’t. (Note: nonfiction can be literature, and I’m not juxtaposing literature with nonfiction per se)

Now, I’m not trying to promote a divide here, although it must be acknowledged that there are two kinds of writers: fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. You can’t get around that fact, and you also can’t ignore the fact that the two styles of writing include structures and styles that are certainly not mutually shared.

The main difference is probably this: fiction follows a narrative in a setting that does not exist. You can tell nonfiction with a narrative (although it can extend to informative books, textbooks, and beyond) but that narrative is restricted to what actually happened. Fiction can go to whatever lengths it wants; nonfiction is much more restricted in this matter.

Sometimes nonfiction is a little more inventive (think wild conspiracy theory books) and sometimes fiction is a little less inventive (think historical fiction) but, by-and-large, it’s fairly easy to distinguish between the two. One strength of nonfiction is that it can span many different kinds of books, whereas fiction must follow a narrative.

But there are things we can learn from each discipline, even if you’re a nonfiction writer who intends to never write a story or you’re a fiction writer who swears that they will never write social criticism. Writing is writing is writing, even if you don’t want to write anything of the other kind.

The main detail that the two genres of writing share is the idea of well-written prose. The fiction writer manifests this when he or she is narrating, and the nonfiction writer manifests this 100% of the time. Since the nonfiction author relies on their “narrating voice” all the time, it would make sense that they’re better at it, right?

Well, they’ve certainly had more practice. But that doesn’t make their cadence or rhetoric exclusively better. However, good nonfiction authors won’t be as formal as a college essay, but not nearly as formal as a on-on-one conversation. Striking that balance is hard, yet rewarding.

Nonfiction writers are more given to the eloquence of their prose (as opposed to fiction authors, who must worry about plot issues and character development and resolutions as well) so they probably know a thing or to that you probably didn’t. Even if you disagree, it would be good to know what writers of nonfiction think about writing prose and word choice. (Recommended reading for aspiring novel authors: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well)

Fiction authors can also learn the art of using humor from their nonfiction counterparts. You may think you’re pretty amusing, but you don’t know “amusing” until you’ve read nonfiction that people read of their own free will.

Nonfiction writers can’t (usually, that is) rely on an interesting narrative to keep their readers hooked. Not only do they have to be engaging, they employ bits of humor to remain interesting. The witty comments of the masters are unequalled, and this is another thing that you might consider mirroring in your fictitious writing.

Also, nonfiction authors tend to write very matter-of-factly. I say that writers of fiction should try this as well, as you should always let the reader know that this and nothing else is happening in the story at present. You always want to be frank with the reader, so they don’t go confused. Within the fictional world you’ve created, write matter-of-factly.

There are probably many other things that we could learn for each other, but I’ve covered what I think are some big ones. Remember: never be so proud as to think that the person across the table from you can’t teach you something, even if they don’t write fiction.

Good luck, and happy writing!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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