By Suzanne Woods Fisher
Most writers assume they are a fiction writer (storyteller) or a non-fiction (journalist). When you think about it, few do both. I used to have the same assumption. For twenty years, I wrote for magazines. I sharpened research skills, developed a knack for interviewing, and wrote in a tight, concise style with an aim on “takeaway value.” I never thought I would write a book, and certainly not a novel. But one day I asked myself, “Who is stopping you? Who decided you can’t write fiction?” The answer was moi.
So I decided to not listen to my inner critic (she’s kind of a downer, anyway). I started to write a story that had been bouncing around in the back of my mind. I didn’t have an end to it. I didn’t even have a middle! Only the start. I kept writing and writing…researching and interviewing and digging for details…and it wasn’t long before that bumpy start expanded into my first novel.
Here’s what I discovered as I made the jump from non-fiction to fiction: My non-fiction skills helped me write fiction. Credible research gave the plot substance and depth. Original sources gave my writing flavor and color. Sorting through the slag of information helped me find the nuggets of gold.
And then something else dawned on me: Writing fiction improved my non-fiction writing. I learned how to enhance a scene so that readers felt as if they were right there, in the room, seeing what happened. I engaged readers with a beginning, middle, and an end, just the way a novelist engaged a reader. I expanded the use of dialogue to let the story unfold. And I borrowed some sassy fiction techniques to jazz up my non-fiction writing: sentenia, onomatopoeia, metaphor, simile, characterization. Here’s an example of some fiction tools from my just-released non-fiction book, The Heart of the Amish: Life Lessons on Peacemaking and the Power of Forgiveness:
“Fading light falls in rectangles from the windowpanes onto the worn brown couch where Linda F. is sitting. A black Labrador retriever with a white muzzle lies by her feet, thumping his tail now and then, without warning or reason. Linda is a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman who chooses her words slowly and carefully. She never married. She lives with her parents in a modest Amish farmhouse near Shipshewana, Indiana-the home where she was born and the home where she spent two years convinced she was dying.”
So here’s my recommendation to fiction authors, aspiring or published, is this: Write non-fiction. Every single day. Write devotionals, blog posts, endorsements for other authors, back cover copy, start a memoir, anything! Think of non-fiction writing as practicing piano scales. It’s like anything else: The more you do it, the better you get. And after all, to borrow a quote from educator James Britton, “All worthwhile writing is creative in one way or another.”
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling, award winning author of books about the Amish. She hosts the blog Amish Wisdom, and has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb to your smart phone. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Suzanne on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. She loves to hear from readers!