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ChunkyC
10-18-2006, 10:03 PM
Do you consciously use fiction writing techniques when writing your columns / articles, etc.?

As one who writes both fiction and non-fiction, I know I use storytelling techniques when putting together my movie review column, but I was wondering if any of you who write non-fiction exclusively make use of fiction techniques?

ATP
10-18-2006, 10:43 PM
Do you consciously use fiction writing techniques when writing your columns / articles, etc.?

As one who writes both fiction and non-fiction, I know I use storytelling techniques when putting together my movie review column, but I was wondering if any of you who write non-fiction exclusively make use of fiction techniques?

Good question.

Off the top of my head, I'd have to say that much depends on which fiction techniques you're referring to, and the length of the piece you have to write. And I am conscious of how I will write or present it within the confines of the structure.

For a lengthy piece eg. 2000 words or more, purely technique-wise, you can use narrative non-fiction to introduce 'air', 'colour' and 'texture'. (Rightly or wrongly, and for the sake of brevity of post, I am relying on the readers' intuitive understanding of these ideas).This is perhaps the ideal situation - not all editors or stories will allow it. More commonly, for
non-fiction that requires considerable detail, and the relay of information, the standard form is of course the inverted pyramid.

For good leads/ledes - opening sentences - I find that The Economist writers are good, as is the magazine's overall style and 'voice'. If you're interested to read some of the finest combination of fiction and
non-fiction writing, get yourself some back issues of the International Herald Tribune, before it was taken over by its US partner, around
2-3 years ago. The IHT is still good, but is losing its edge in order to become 'contemporary'. The 'old' IHT material might seem a bit fusty by contemporary US non-fiction/journalism standards, but some of the writing was just superb.

Non-fiction work does have its own methods, and in many ways, these are hard to deviate from eg. the inverted pyramid. Say what you will about it, but it is a logical structure for presentation of the story.

This said, you have within larger feature work the option, where appropriate, of utilising the 'flashback' for example. There is also the use of fiction's exposition to convey the sense of emotion of the characters in the piece, or how the writer has been affected by the events being written about. I believe that there is a growing contemporary acceptance in non-fiction/ journalism of the writer's own, direct voice to come through the writing. Taken to extremes, the journalist's voice envelopes and permeates the piece; perhaps the journalist's voice IS the piece.

To answer your question directly, no, I do not exclusively use fiction techniques, as many are either not suitable for
non-fiction, or must be utilised within non-fiction's requirements for brevity and relay of fact.

icerose
10-18-2006, 10:54 PM
The only thing worse than a dry article is an overly colorful one.

You know the ones they are trying so hard to make interesting, they end up coming off as bad real estate ads, the ones who try to tie in lame metaphors to mix in with the holidays. The yard "witch" is landscaped. Or use too many "cute" words like the stars have those stupid nicknames like TomKat and such. I hate those! They think they are so clever and it makes me gag.

So I think a good balance, if the non-fiction is interesting without going over the top, I think you've found it. But don't make me have bad flashbacks to my mono-toned physics teacher.

ChunkyC
10-18-2006, 11:45 PM
Interesting ... with my column (which is really short at 500 words max) I tend to think of myself as a character. I feel this is okay since I'm writing movie reviews, and the regular reader needs to get to know me and my tastes so that they can form their own opinion of a film based on what I say about it.

I try to maintain my 'film critic' persona from column to column. I have to be careful not to contradict myself, say I like something then months later say the opposite. So in this sense, the persona in the column is one that, like a charater in fiction, needs to be consistent.

Does that make any sense?

ATP
10-19-2006, 02:35 PM
Interesting ... with my column (which is really short at 500 words max) I tend to think of myself as a character. I feel this is okay since I'm writing movie reviews, and the regular reader needs to get to know me and my tastes so that they can form their own opinion of a film based on what I say about it.

I try to maintain my 'film critic' persona from column to column. I have to be careful not to contradict myself, say I like something then months later say the opposite. So in this sense, the persona in the column is one that, like a charater in fiction, needs to be consistent.

About 6 years ago, I was a film (and books-but mainly film) reviewer for an entertainment magazine for around 1 year. At the time I left, I had been the most consistent such reviewer the magazine had to that time.

My review style was described by one editor I met as 'punchy'. But, I never developed a 'persona'; it was simply my response to the film. I had to say all I could in 100 words maximum (110 tops). This is good discipline on how to get to the guts of what you wish to say, along with the film's content. With 500 words, you have a bit more opportunity to be expansive. Some of the better reviewers seem to be able to lead you seamlessly through the review, and you feel that they just have a good sensibility when it comes to film appreciation. There is the mainstay,
Roger Ebert, and one that I particularly like is James Berardinelli (who seems to avoid the latter-day, sometime religious wafflings of Ebert).
Of course, there was the internationally regarded, US-based critic, Pauline Kael.

Kudra
10-19-2006, 05:03 PM
Do you consciously use fiction writing techniques when writing your columns / articles, etc.?


I do. I'm not as good as I'd like to be, I'll admit, but I do try to combine aspects of basic story-telling to my pieces. For instance, right now I'm writing about this unique newspaper that is published from a small town of India. The publisher, the editor, the women associated with the paper... they're all unique in their own ways and yet they're bound by a common thread-- the newspaper.

Since I want my reader to be able to see and understand these women the way I did, I'm relying on fiction techniques. Choosing specific quotes (great dialogue), their physical descriptions and what drives them to do what they do. I might even describe an incident or two that took place in a woman's life, just like a fiction writer would. I'm not exactly doing the narrative that ATP's referring to, but I'm close.

In a straight-up how-to piece, of course, all this detail would be unnecessary and even annoying. But in some forms of non-fiction, I do feel that fiction techniques play an important role, even though they're not quite used in the same way.

piscesgirl80
10-19-2006, 08:01 PM
Perhaps because I have little formal education in the area, I don't consciously use specific "techniques" for different types of writing.

ChunkyC, I don't know if you need to be that concerned with not contradicting yourself. There are critics at national publications who do that to a certain extent, say a movie comes out and gets an A, but when said reviewer sees the film again when it comes out on DVD, it gets a B, because reviewer admits he/she was caught up in the initial buzz, or whatever. Or if you say you hate horror films for example, but revise your opinion of the genre after seeing some ones you really enjoy. People and characters evolve. :)

ChunkyC
10-19-2006, 09:16 PM
True enough. I think I would acknowledge the change, say something like, "normally I don't go for these kinds of films, but in this case...."

I want to be sure not to lead my readers astray, if I can help it. I've had a number of people approach me on the street and tell me they never go to see a movie until they read my review. It's both flattering and scary. Even if they're exaggerating, it's still quite surprising to find out some people put that much stock in what you say.

K1P1
10-20-2006, 01:44 AM
I suspect you're not talking about the kind of non-fiction that I write (knitting books), but yes I do. A little story telling where appropriate to make a point, a bit of description and invective to get their attention. But my biggest concern is to develop a narrative voice when I write, because it's what makes my books readable rather than just reference books. Sometimes I feel more like I'm writing poetry because I try to craft every sentence so that it sounds good, balances, the meter is comfortable, it's not artificial, and it says what I want to say as elegantly as possible in as few words as possible (which this posting emphatically does NOT).

ATP
10-20-2006, 08:28 AM
True enough. I think I would acknowledge the change, say something like, "normally I don't go for these kinds of films, but in this case...."

I want to be sure not to lead my readers astray, if I can help it. I've had a number of people approach me on the street and tell me they never go to see a movie until they read my review. It's both flattering and scary. Even if they're exaggerating, it's still quite surprising to find out some people put that much stock in what you say.

Responsibility? I wouldn't worry too much about this CC. I actually had people say to me directly that they considered my reviews before checking out a film. And mostly, they agreed with my assessment. I have had others engage me in discussion about my views on a film, views with which they disagreed. The point is, it is positive feedback all round. People are 'engaged', and paying attention. As a writer, you want people to do this - it is part of the basis of why one writes. The other equally important part is to get paid for it.

ChunkyC
10-20-2006, 10:29 PM
Indeed, ATP. Even someone who disagrees, or gives you a bad review of your work, is taking the time to read what you wrote and cares enough to comment on it. That's a gift all we writers should treasure.

K1P1, that's exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about. I'm always impressed when a writer can take a topic (like your knitting books, or physics, etc.) that could easily be seen as bland by someone who isn't interested in it, and make it informative and entertaining. My personal belief is that the storytelling techniques used by fiction writers can play a part in achieving that.

CBeasy
10-22-2006, 07:33 AM
Is it odd that I'm the reverse? I've recently noticed that often use non-fiction techniques in my fiction.

JennaGlatzer
10-22-2006, 07:45 AM
How so, CBeasy?