Many fiction writers say, “Phooey on non-fiction! It isn’t any fun.”
Many non-fiction writer say, “Fiction is nothing but filmy fluff. Just a waste of time!”
It can be true, on both counts. But neither needs to be so. The best writers take the skills of both venues and blend them together. The result is fun, exciting non-fiction, and fiction with a soul.
How can you accomplish this? Identify the best techniques from both non-fiction and fiction, and use them in everything you write. Here are two examples of fiction skills:
- Strong characters
You build these for fiction. Build them for non-fiction, too. Now, I’m not suggesting you make up characters and try to pass them off as real. Great writers have paid a huge price for that deceptive practice. Rather, find a person who illustrates your point, and let your readers see through that character. Writing about adoption? Show your points through the story of a little one who finds his forever family. Give him a name (protect his privacy by using only the first name or by giving him a pseudonym). Let us see the struggles and stumbles through his eyes. Writing about living with illness? Find someone who is doing exactly that and show us the struggle through that person’s eyes. Writing about the difficulty of maintaining a family farm in a mechanized age? Don’t tell us; show us the family.
- Use dialogue
Dialogue brings fiction to life. It can do the same for non-fiction. Rather than: Caregivers struggle with all kinds of emotions. They absolutely must get relief. Try: “I can’t do it any more!” Connie cried. “I get so angry with him, and then I’m consumed with guilt. I just cannot do it!”
In the same way, you can apply non-fiction skills to your fiction. Here are two examples of non-fiction skills:
Even if you know a great deal about your novel plotline and setting, you will do well to research the various elements. Learn specifics about the setting. (What kind of birds are the area? When does it rain and how much? What are the temperature extremes?) Know enough about your characters to make them jump off the page and grab the reader. (If your character is a fisherman, know his exact technique. If she rides horseback, ride yourself. If she is a quilter, find out everything you possibly can about quilts and quilting.) Move beyond your own experience. (Even if the character and plot are based on your own life, round them out with elements that reach beyond you.)
- Universal truth
An absolute rule of non-fiction is that a writer must give readers something to take away with them; a reason to read. Many people say enjoyment is reason enough for fiction. Maybe, but great fiction… unforgettable fiction… has a universal truth that leaves your reader better for having read it. (Grapes of Wrath: Coping with crushing change. The Godfather: How social norms change the definition and enforcement of laws.)
Why settle for being a good writer when you can dig deeper and make your work great?
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I have.”