The value of non-fiction, for a fiction writer

At the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference, an agent I spoke with commented journalism is a great place for novelists – fiction writers – to start. I agree in many ways.

newspaper_imageIn journalism, you learn to write concisely, use vivid, moving quotes, hook your reader from the very start, and follow the stylebook to the letter. One problem, however, is the differences in writing style. For instance, journalists use the AP Stylebook while CBA publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style. There are many key differences that after four or five years as a journalist, I find difficult to switch to. Spelling out all numbers, among other things, are habits I’m learning to change.

Knowing how to write a good article goes beyond basic mechanics. Like with a novel, you build characters through dialogue, description and detail. One of the main changes is the use of tools such as deep POV and descriptive dialogue tags. After three solid years of only using “he said” or “she said,” it was strange to realize those weren’t as desirable throughout my 70,000-word manuscript.

My first real “article” was in my introduction to journalism class at college. In high school I had helped start the high school newspaper and done a few other articles, but they were so raw and elementary, I hardly consider them anything worth remembering. In college the mechanics of a newspaper article came to light and I took hold. For my feature article, the final assignment for the course, I wrote about a young girl named Katie at a therapeutic riding center and her connection to her horse, Kurt.

“Astride a golden horse whose black, round eyes reflect his gentle nature and docile temperament, 14-year-old Katie sits tall, clutching the soft, worn out leather of the reins while gently pulling the horse to a stop. Her head, covered with a white helmet dips slightly as she looks down at her steed and unleashes a radiant smile.

“Katie leans forward carefully, able to smell the dust and leather scent emanating from the horse, and patting the thick, rich fur of her faithful companion, a 14-year-old horse named Kurt.

“Katie has been riding for five years. She is autistic.” Published – Northwest Horse Source July 2006

Read the full article about Katie and Kurt.

This story sealed my fate. I was further hooked on journalism, on writing. I was no longer telling stories I pulled from my imagination. This was a real, gripping tale of a young girl overcoming the odds. You can’t fake a story that powerful.

Reading and writing feature articles further enhanced my appreciation of fiction. Despite technical differences, the writing is the same, the emotion is the same, the result is the same.

The Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center:

A second article I wrote on the NWTRC:

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Community Champion at Buffer ~ writer ~ reader ~ urban homesteader ~ former rodeo queen ~ @nmillerbooks