Fiction and Non

Marissa Lingen writes up her experience of writing fiction and writing non-fiction, and how the two are different (and, also and importantly, how the two are alike). It’s an interesting read and you should check it out.

For me, the major difference between my writing fiction and writing non-fiction is that with non-fiction I generally write from structural outlines (i.e., I know what every chapter is supposed to be about, and within each chapter, what I’m writing and what needs to be addressed), whereas with fiction I tend to wing it and make it up as I go along. Which is to say the fiction writing process is inherently more creative than they non-fiction writing process. But this is not to say my process for fiction is better than my process for non-fiction; both are excellently suited (for me, anyway) to the goals of the writing.

There’s also something Mris says in the entry that I agree with even though it’s not technically correct for my own writing path. She writes: “If you haven’t written a lot of fiction, you probably can’t write good fiction right off the bat.” I think this is generally true because generally speaking no one is good at anything without putting in a considerable amount of time at it.

That said, when I wrote Agent to the Stars in ’97, I had written almost no fiction at all once I got out of high school, the exception being a three stories in college (one actually started back in high school), and a couple of three-page aborted attempts at novels in the early 90s. So Agent was my first completed work of fiction begun since 1987. The reason I think I managed it was a) I had a job as a film critic, so I spent several years evaluating other people’s story structures (and dialog, and everything else), b) I was writing every day for a living, c) I had worked as an editor, talking people through the potholes in their own work. All that compensated for not actually writing much fiction first.

On balance, however, I think it’s easier for most people just to write a bunch of fiction and get up to speed that way. Which goes to Mris’ point.

7 thoughts on “Fiction and Non

  1. Yep, that’s why I said “probably” rather than “definitely”: there are always people who are naturals or, more likely, have done enough of related things to look like naturals from the outside.

    Mostly I wanted to reassure my friend that it’s okay not to be one.

  2. “On balance, however, I however it’s easier…”?

    … What does it mean?

    I think you made a typo.

  3. In working for a photography studio, I had an immense advantage the first time I worked as a poser for a dance— I’d been the one to select the best photos for every dance during the preceding year. So I had a lot of secondhand experience that was directly related to the skill I needed, much like editing is related to writing.

    But I was still slow. There’s only so much secondhand can do.

  4. Stewart,

    To think he is a professional writer. Why do I even read his books, or his blog, or his tweets.

    Who am I kidding, he just writes good content. Do I really care if his grammar confuses me? Nah.

  5. Scalzi says:

    There’s also something Mris says in the entry that I agree with even though it’s not technically correct for my own writing path. She writes: “If you haven’t written a lot of fiction, you probably can’t write good fiction right off the bat.” I think this is generally true because generally speaking no one is good at anything without putting in a considerable amount of time at it.

    Another author it’s not true for is Lisa Gardner. She sold her first book at 20 while still at Harvard and it was her first manuscript. Walking After Midnight was very dark & gritty for series romance and Harlequin/Silhoutte bought it anyway. I can still remember finishing it and thinking holy shit is this good and waaaay outside H/S’s comfort zone.

    She ended up writing, um, I think around a dozen books for them before shifting to single title suspense and the NYT bestseller list.

  6. For me the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction (and I have been published in both) is not about the non-fiction being planned and the fiction being unplanned.

    I believe both need to be written to a plan. However, the non-fiction tends to stick to the plan where the fiction grows legs and starts to run by itself. That doesn’t mean deviating from the plan but more, what I would call, interpreting the plan – that’s what I see as the creative aspect of fiction writing. My recent book Randolph’s Challenge Book One-The Pendulum Swings is a prime example, it got to where the plan said it was going, but how it got there and what it did on the way were quite creative.

    Chris Warren
    Author and Freelance Writer
    Randolph’s Challenge Book One-The Pendulum Swings

Comments are closed.