You read that title and thought she’s crazy, didn’t you?
Non-freaking-fiction? Really? How on earth is that going to help me learn how to write in a completely different medium?
I should click away right now. Why did I even decide to click on that title? This woman is just trying to bumfuzzle me.
But oh, poor innocent reader, it will help you, it will a lot.
I realize writing non-fiction in place of fiction, is a weird thing to really think about. Especially since, when you think of non-fiction you don’t think of character creation, plot building or tension; which by the way IS in non-fiction, but we’ll get into that soon.
Let’s jump in and take a look at all the reasons you need to be writing non-fiction to hone your craft.
What Non-Fiction To Write?
There are three different types really, essays, copy and blogs. Let’s start with essays, which are the most abstract of the three, in terms of how it’s going to help you. And move on to the more juicy stuff.
Essays try to get readers to believe in them.
What does this mean?
You argue a point and you take your reader on a journey from the start, to the middle argument, to the conclusion.
This is important because in fiction you’re constantly trying to get readers to believe in what you are saying, you’re creating a whole new world, a whole new perspective.
People are picking up your book and saying, ‘hey I know this doesn’t exist,’ and you’re trying to suspend their belief long enough to convince them they’re wrong.
You do the same thing in essay writing when you’re convincing the reader of your argument. They say ‘hey I don’t agree with that,’ and you try and move them to your point. You do this by building structure.
You’re writing beginning, middle, end and trying to bring the whole piece together, right? You use transitions a lot, and tie paragraphs to each other in a succinct way. This is a fantastic lesson for fiction writing.
You know those underdeveloped stories that go on, forever, winding around? It looses you, because the writer doesn’t know how to make their point and move on, or tie points together. They don’t know how to be convincing.
Write some essays you guys, make some points, do it quickly and convince your readers you know your stuff.
Use the Right Words
Copy-writing is advertisement with words. You’re trying to pull people in with specific language.
When you write copy you ask yourself;
- What kind of words should I use?
- What kind of audience am I writing for?
- Is this going to keep my reader on the page?
- Where is my hook?
- Where is my call to action?
And we do the same thing with non-fiction; sometimes new writers don’t really get that. There’s been a few times when I’ve edited peoples work and they’ve used a word outside of their demographic/characters voice and it pulls away from the story.
When we’re writing something and we’re pretending we’re a 12 year old character and all of a sudden we write some ludicrously difficult word in his thoughts like, felonious. The reader is like;
“What. The. Fudge. Is this guy 12? Because no 12 year old is going to know what that word means.”
Believe me I have a 12 year old in my house and he does not know what felonious means.
The reader is horribly yanked out of the story! That one word has totally blown any and all tension you have built.
The same thing happens in copy-writing. Your reading an email that’s absolutely not marketed to you, and their wording is making you cringe; you know the ones I mean, right? You’re like, is this guy serious?
But you know what? That email is working wonders on people who aren’t like you. Different folks, different strokes, different words, different conditions. Learning where to use certain words is half the battle.
How to Write the Right Words?
Well we look at our target market;
- We look at who we’re trying to be or who we’re trying to write to.
- Who are we trying to talk like?
- What words are we supposed to use?
And you know how copy-writers do this? I’ll teach you the secret:
They read other pieces targeted towards that market, and they read things written by people of that demographic. They study the way other people think and talk and all they have to do is Google reviews, Google forum questions and read similar posts.
And guess what? You can too.
You can write your characters thoughts so spookily accurate people will be sucked into your world forever. And all you have to do is pull it from somewhere else and copy that pattern of writing.
BAM. Easy stuff.
Conquering Plot Holes, Grammar & Clarity
Having excellent grammar is a fantabulous thing. I’m sure you can agree with me there. But fiction is a complicated craft and it can distract you with tricky plot holes, characters and dialogue. Non-fiction is simple, you’re going to see the flaws way faster.
I want to tell you how I discovered this and hopefully inspire you a little:
I had a point in my life where I was terrible at grammar. I still wouldn’t consider myself the best in the world, it’s a weak point (which is why I bolster it) and why I prefer developmental editing to line editing. BUT it is something that I can do (if I’m not pumping out content like crazy, seriously I need to invest in an editor for this blog).
Grammar and learning about grammar is one of the things I love to do.
But when I was 16 I was so bad at grammar I was actually teased in my writing group. (Yes, I had a writing group at 16, I was that sort of kid.) It upset me because, I thought to myself
“well here I am, I’m writing and I’m really good at twists and plot and characters. Why does my grammar matter so freaking much?”
I lost passion for fiction because of it, and thought maybe this isn’t for me; maybe I’m not a writer. I’m finding this grammar thing difficult and it’s a key component of writing. And maybe you ask yourself the same questions too.
And it was around this time I landed a job with an online woman’s magazine. I had to go from fiction to non-fiction, and haha that was an experience. I had never done anything like it before. Here I was in the middle of London interviewing big companies about their up-coming products and trying to write about it.
I was the sort of person who would research a company before writing about them. And I would turn up and know everything about them and they would ask the inevitable ‘do you have any questions?’ And I’d be like, wellll no?
I was not a good journalist at the time, because I didn’t ask questions.
I didn’t consider there might be more information I didn’t know.
That was also a fatal flaw in my fiction writing. I thought, I know what I need to know. I didn’t research grammar or question my writing.
Asking questions is a critical part of fiction writing! Oh My Gosh! So critical.
You need to ask ‘what if’ instead of saying, I know this. Not only does it expand you as a person, it expands your writing, it makes scenes bigger and your world exciting.
At that time I also had an issue with plot holes. Guess how I solved it?
By asking questions about every eventuality in the story. Doi.
You learn how to ask the things you can’t anticipate. It’s a life skill too you guys, not just a writing one. Look how much wonderful you’re gaining today.
Learning non-fiction will tighten your grammar because you don’t think about characters, plot, scenes, twists and so on…you don’t complicate your writing. All you have to think about is how to make your point in the most succinct way possible. In the least amount of words. You learn grammar fast because frankly, you cut out the crap.
All you have to do is sit down and write something clearly.
And you’re really going to see your clarity mistakes. You’ll be able to question your writing without any fluff getting in the way.
Which leads nicely too…
As an editor I know all writers have a couple of favorite sentence patterns. You have a type, or maybe a few types, of sentences you use over and over again. When writing fiction a lot of writers confuse this with a creative process. They think,
‘hey this is my style, my voice, this is what makes my writing rhythmic and poetic’…but in reality?
It makes your writing boring!
Read this quote;
If you repeat the same patterns over and over again it’s going to get dull. You guys, this isn’t poetry, this is prose.
And your error patterns get lost in your fiction, you’re blinded to it. Again, you’re trying to process too much at once, your character’s, your dialogue, your plot points.
But guess where you can see it? Yup, in your non-fiction.
You can see your flaws quickly, you can see those patterns and then…this is the exciting part…you start to see them in your fiction. No you don’t just start to see them, you start to loath them haha…trust me >.>
You go back and read your fiction and you’re like,
“hey! What are you doing in there pesky lines of boredom?”
And you start to notice when you are writing this ‘boring’ sentence’; it’s during those times in the writing process when you’re really just churning out words for the sake of words. Or maybe you were rushing during those parts to get to something more enjoyable. It’s not your inspired moment.
The point is, not only can you edit it out, you can avoid doing it all together…all you have to do is identify it first.
Finding Your Errors
When you write non-fiction a lot, a lot, a lot, and you’re pasting this stuff into processors like Prowritingaid and Hemmingwayapp you start seeing the errors you make all the damn time. For me one of these things is the word behavior, behavour, behauvour.
Oh Gosh you guys, I have spelt that every-which-way possible over the last year. Cringe.
You will find the words you use too much too! And you become painfully aware because you have to…
Keep. Editing. Them. Out.
These are words such as; should, to be used, the passive voice, had, that etc. And you probably have a few that are unique to you. I discovered recently I like to use the word hair a lot, weird I know.
I’ll say it again…Believe me when I say, when you start to write non-fiction and these words aren’t hidden within the prose, action or favorite lines, it stares at you, because there is no filter.
And when you start to see it, you can’t unsee it.
Discovering Your Voice
I’m about to save you at least 20 bucks in books, and maybe more in courses, on how to write in your voice. That elusive thing editors and publishers harp on about but never really give you a solid answer on. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Ok, when you write to different audiences you write in different voices. Think about this;
Example 1: When you write B2B (this is business to business communication/sales etc) you sound a little…schemy. And I don’t mean you try to sound schemy but you’re using buzzwords that are ‘hot’ in the industry right now, words everyone throws around because it’s how people are running business at that moment in time.
Example 2: When you write for a beauty blog, you’re writing for 20 year olds. You’re speaking in a light, airy, happy way using up to date language (which I couldn’t give examples for because I’m not cool and I have 3 kids who think my makeup sticks are crayons). But that’s what you do haha
Example 3: Let’s get really extreme now. Let’s say you write for an obituary. You’re going to sound morose, quiet and respectful. You’re not about to use business keywords like funnels, or be in your face. Unless you have zero tact, which I guess is possible.
You know what writing in these different voices does for you as a fiction writer? It teaches you point of view, it teaches you to write as someone other than yourself. It teaches you how to write in fake voices.
And you know what writing in someone else’s voice shows you?
What your voice sounds like.
If you spend a while writing in everyone else’s voice, you know what your writers voice isn’t. Oh the irony. Because, it’s not what you wrote in those examples is it? It’s exactly how your manuscript sounds when you’re not trying to be anyone else, when the words flow out of your soul. And you’ll know it when you see it, because you’ll know what it isn’t.
Then you can comb back through your old manuscripts and point out where you’re writing in your own voice.
Like. It’s. Nothing.
You’ll have an epiphany like, “YES! This sounds like me! This doesn’t sound fake, or like other people.” It’s exciting you guys, to discover your voice.
Bettering Your Dialogue
In fiction we don’t speak in a conversational style.
As a blogger or certain e-book markets you have to write in a conversational style as if you’re speaking to somebody. This engages the reader.
This is a great thing to practice.
One of the top tips non-fiction writers often spout is the line ‘record yourself, write down what you’re saying, write that and sound conversational.’ Personally when I try this my writing sounds like a mess and takes a lot of editing, but you know what it shows me? What dialogue sounds like, and what weird and wonderful phrases people use all the time.
Apparently I say, right? A lot. I stutter, I repeat myself at the start of ‘paragraphs’ and at the end. I make points several times. This is who I am as a speaker.
When you learn real dialogue, you can learn how to fake dialogue because you notice the difference between real dialogue and fake dialogue.
You ask things like;
- What’s the difference between my speaking and dialogue?
- How does speaking actually sound, what are the rhythms?
- How can I sound like that in my writing?
- What needs to be cut in dialogue?
- What sounds good, what sounds rambly?
In fiction we write a polished version of a conversation, and a great way to practice is to type as if you are speaking to somebody. Or typing what you say and editing it. Blog posts are exactly that, so why not try and write a few?
So, Why Write Non-Fiction?
Non-fiction is way easier to write; some people may disagree here but non-fiction has very few moving parts in comparison to fiction. Writing it is going to teach you way more about your fiction than you can imagine and it’s going to make life easier for you.
Because you’re going to learn your mistakes quickly.
If you’re the sort of writer that’s sitting down and blasting out first drafts looking at it like, I have no idea how to edit this. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Because you will learn;
- How to line edit
- How to style edit
- How to craft real convincing characters
- How to see bad dialogue
- How to write in your voice and where you’re being fake
And half the work will be done. The developmental stuff won’t be of course, but that’s a whole other beast.
This is why you should study ALL facets of writing, whether you write fiction, or copy, or essays.
Everything should be studied and crafted and looked at and pulled to you. All this knowledge should be poured into you. Even if you’re just studying random facts, it’s there at the tip of your tongue and you can use it to expel your story forward and make you a better writer.
If you have any other ideas, or stories on how non-fiction writing helped your fiction comment below!
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