3 min read

Writing #1 : The difference between fiction and non-fiction


I've lost touch with this blog. In thinking of how to reenter the forest of On a Limb, I thought I would share some of the things I've learned while I've been away.

This month, I will attempt to share thirty thoughts about writing - one a day for thirty days.

The comments are turned off. If you have something to say, send me a tweet, catch me on Facebook or Google Plus.

The difference between fiction and non-fiction

Most people don't know this, but I wrote non-fiction "self-help" articles for more than ten years before I started writing fiction. I wrote many articles about "improving your mood," "having more of what you want in your life," "the best diet," and every other aspect of well-being. For the Open Grove, I have a chance to interview, often in person, some of the biggest names in health and well-being.

I know non-fiction. And, after eight years of writing fiction, I have a good idea of what writing fiction entails.

Non-fiction is very similar to fiction.

Great non-fiction tells a story. You learn about the guy who recovered, lost weight, gained perspective or the woman who started having better relationships, loved more, and laughed daily. We learn through the telling of their stories. Fiction is storytelling.

Great fiction communicates an idea to the reader. The writer must use clear sentence structure, great verbs, and very few modifiers. Sentences are better understood if they are short. Clear language creates clear stories. This is also true for non-fiction.

Non-fiction expresses great ideas. Well written fiction does just the same.

In many respects, every work of non-fiction is in fact a fiction. Memoirs are probably the best example of this. Certain parts of every memoir are exaggerated while other parts are diminished.

So how are fiction and non-fiction different?

People read fiction for very different reasons than they read non-fiction.

Most people read non-fiction because they feel like they "should." Every business owner has a stack of unread books that they "should read." Most writers own every book on writing but rarely crack the bindings. People click the links you share because they know they should control their blood pressure, lose weight, find a new partner, be happier, or whatever else fits in their self improvement scheme.

Most people read fiction because they want to... They want to fall in love. They want to take a break from their daily grind. They want to explore a new universe or get to know theirs better. They want to learn about a time in history. They want to be captured by the author and taken on a ride.

Why does this matter?

Writers must be aware of why people are reading their work.

It sounds simple, but how you write, which characters you include, what topics you broach, may be determined by the reason someone would want to read your post. For example, if you're writing a great love story, and you know your readers love a good love story, don't spend a few chapters on the death of a tertiary character. Focus on the love.

If you know your readers are reading your work because they "should," make sure you pick great titles, great headings, and link the table of contents in your eBooks.

The reason people read your work is important in making marketing decisions. If you're writing a non-fiction article about mitigating anxiety, you might want to put the article in front of the college students during mid-terms (who should read your piece). If you're writing a story about the great West in the 1930s, you might want to find people who read western historicals.

In the end, you may find that the difference between fiction and non-fiction is too miniscule to matter to you. Or, quite possibly, you may find that know why people read your work is the most important thing in your tool chest. It's up to you to determine what is important to you - and your readers.

So why do people read your work? Shoot me a tweet or a comment on Facebook and we'll talk.