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Difference between writing fiction and non-fiction

We are surrounded by fiction: TV shows; books; movies; comic strips; the news. Everyone has at least part of an idea for a good story. Most people think they are unskilled at writing so treat it as a dream that will never be realised. That is a shame.

Writing fiction however is fairly easy. We understand narrative, character arcs, action sequences and the like as we see them every day watching our favourite shows. Writing something down is the first part of the process and with practice and some professional editing services you could create a manuscript that you can be proud of. Stephen King wrote a book about it (On Writing) and his biggest suggestion was to simply write, as you’ll get better with more practice. Every aspiring writer should read this book, and many successful bestselling authors could learn a few things as well.
Non-fiction is a very different beast. First you need to be seen as an expert in the field you want to write about. No one will buy a book on running a business written from someone that has failed to keep one alive for more than a year.

My “expertise” for Overweight to Fighting Weight came from the personal challenge of shedding 80kg and winning multiple national titles in martial arts. As I had already written a fiction trilogy, and people kept asking how I lost the weight I figured why not? Let’s write a book about it.
Even though I was writing on the potentially dry subject of weight loss, I approached it the same as writing fiction. It needed structure, a cohesive flow between chapters and needed to impart information that didn’t bore the reader. I wanted it to be an enjoyable read, or at the least interesting enough to keep reading.
Non-fiction doesn’t have to be dry but it won’t be a page turner that readers will stay up all night just to see what happens next. Including personal stories made this book semi-autobiographical and highlighted the points made.

Making a dull story interesting is a skill everyone can learn, and you may already be doing so with your friends. Translating to the written work takes some effort, though the key principles apply.
1.   Maintain attention. Don’t just state the points from A-Z, build anticipation so the points are not just rattled off.
2.   Use emotion. In person we can inhabit the emotion while speaking. In writing I found it best to be completely honest with myself and allow the truth to show my vulnerability.
3.   Create a story arc. Structure with an introduction like “You’ll love this…” or “I have the best story for this…” Raise the action and build suspense, including emotional steps, keeping in mind the goal of the story. Then reach the climax, the emotional punchline before wrapping it up with a conclusion.

Great non-fiction holds the same structure of fiction just with different goals and style.

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© AJ Watson