Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A clinical discussion of fiction vs. non fiction writing.

A clinical discussion of fiction vs. non fiction writing.

You don’t have to forget everything you know - capital letters start a sentence. Periods end one.

It’s a matter of rethinking your presentation. Writing for fiction is different than writing for journalism, or business.

Here’s why.

For fact based writing, the primary goal is to effectively communicate information. The tools developed are to that end.

For fiction, it’s about communication of emotion. Different tool set.

Keep in mind what you’re trying to communicate to the reader, and it’ll be clearer.

For instance:

She felt sad.

While the sentence is about an emotion, it’s a presentation of a fact-communication of that information. It doesn’t invoke an empathy with the reader to share the emotion. And that’s what communicating an emotion is about - making the reader feel what you want them to feel, to embroil them in the story.

Think about WHY you read particular things. Newspapers are read for information(facts) about current events. Business writing is for information regarding something business related. Manuals are read to learn about something. The reason all of these are read is less than purely personal - most often, it’s because the reader needs the information within for some reason. I don’t know anyone who reads business documents for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure is different. Whether the readers tastes run toward SFF, romance, or literary, people read fiction because they WANT to, not because they have to. (Barring some literary bestseller that’s marketed as ’brilliant’, and some people read merely to be seen as highly literate.)

It’s the difference between watching a movie and watching an instructional video.

I’m sure this is all stuff that the back of your head knows, and the front hasn’t really thought about in clear terms yet.

So, back to that sad person.

How do we make the reader empathize with her? Saying ’she felt sad’ effectively communicates the fact of her state, but doesn’t really make the reader feel anything at all. This is where showing comes in. By showing the physical responses of the person, it connects the reader with those responses in themselves - triggering a mild to powerful memory of what it’s like to feel those responses, and bringing forth the emotional empathy.

(That’s a really clinical way of looking at it, but I’m trying for clarity here.)

So, what happens when you feel sad? Depending upon the depth of the sadness, and the surrounding emotions, the body does different things - but I’m sure you’ve experienced a wealth of emotions over the course of your life, and remember what they felt like. Some clinical detachment can be useful, too.

Ok, here we go.

Her stomach felt like it was sinking to her knees. Her face was hot, throat tight, and she felt the sharp, salty prick of tears at the corners of her eyes.

That’s not elegant writing, but an example. Using the physical feelings of ’sad’, we more effectively invoke the image of ’sadness’ to the reader. The elegance of a turn of phrase comes with time and practice of the technique.

I hope this makes the idea clearer, though.

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