Posts Tagged ‘Writing non-fiction’

My Experience Writing Fiction vs. Writing Non Fiction

31. July 2017

Writing non-fiction for me is essentially an exercise in arguing with myself out aloud, it is quite easy to do without much effort as long as you have some topic and some data in mind, writing fiction, however, requires much more creativity not in coming up with the premise of the story, but in the execution of the premise through the characters, a coherent plot and dialogue which doesn’t break the immersion.

As I have already detailed at length I have an aversion towards morality plays and fiction that is generally made to preach or to make some point. I think that the essay form is good enough for that, but before criticising me on my stance I would suggest you to read the article I have linked above.

I generally find it more enjoyable to read fiction and write essays. However at the same time I don’t want to be relegated to the role of a mere critic and so I tried to write a novel of sorts which turned out to be a failure as I expected, I started writing it in third person person precisely because I did not want it to degenerate into a plotless internal monologue balancing the self-pity against the self-loathing with utmost care roughly peeling off the self-righteousness where the author-insert-protagonist uses the Socratic method to talk himself into a corner but that is how it ended up.

I also think there is a need to distinguish writing short fiction and long fiction, I personally find writing short fiction easier because it’s all about the shock value induced with some allegory, it’s not like I can’t take a premise to its logical conclusion, it’s just that I am too fast at getting to that conclusion which is fine when I write short fiction or essays but when I write something longer I am inevitably forced to start writing about a different but related subject and very soon the whole thing starts to feel formulaic even condescending like those short fairy tales with morals for children or the ‘moral lesson of the week’ scene at the end of the He-man cartoon (Even children know when they are being condescended to), at any rate it is boring, and being boring is the cardinal sin of writing. I am not saying that there cannot be a moral discussion in fiction but it shouldn’t feel forced and contrived and cheap like propaganda. Another problem I have encountered when writing long fiction is that it is too easy to inadvertently tell what the what the story is an allegory for, this is especially easy for someone who is more used to thinking about what other people write, in short form fiction even if you do tell what the story is an allegory for you can still try to play it off as the punchline to a long joke.

I have also tried on several occasions, to write what is known as ‘serial fiction’ because now thanks to the internet the serial format has become viable again as the cost to set up and distribute them is zero not counting any cost for advertising of course. A serial or a web serial is a story that is told in parts released in succession. It’s a bit like watching a tv series; It’s fun having to wait till the next part and think about what will happen next. You can find them on indexes like the one at and . The problem with the web serial format is that you have to come up either with some sort of cliffhanger or conclusion at the end of each chapter, all of which should lead to a specific ending. Coming up with a premise is easy but then it is an uphill battle afterwards. Every chapter is a story with a beginning and an end contributing to the whole towards some end.

I have mostly written about the difficulties about writing fiction but there are some difficulties to writing non-fiction too, first of all it is hard to gauge the tone that is appropriate which can sometimes lead to self-censoring and tasteless prose, sometimes the tone I am writing in changes from article to article without even me thinking about it whereas it is easier to carry an even in fiction. Superficially it might seem like research is more of a problem when writing non fiction but I have found out that it is much easier to labour on the same point when writing non-fiction by using analogies, given some general analysis, stating the same thing in more memorable ways at the end, starting the essay with some quotations. On the whole it is easier to start writing an essay and thereafter doing the research as questions pop into my mind whereas writing fiction is all about preparation, it feels very unnatural and so immersion breaking when authors try to retcon some half-forgotten plot point half-way through the story. Basically when writing non-fiction I can do the research as I am writing but when I am writing fiction I need to prepare a lot and it is easier to get stuck in the preparation stage for a long time and give up but even that is better than starting to write a story and going off on a tangent with no preparation (As web serials go on and on this preparation stage becomes even more imperative and continuous because readers will notice if I am trying to tell the same story over and over again every chapter). With all that said it is easier to expose someone’s lies including my own when they are written as a straightforward direct argument in essay form.

Another issue when it comes to writing non-fiction as I have just noticed is coming up with a conclusive conclusion and the ending when it comes to fiction, I can’t just abruptly leave the reader hanging up on a peak with an abrupt pause in my voice, an essay needs to be punctuated with a conclusion just like a sentence ought to be with a fullstop. Actually it may even be more vital than the punctuation itself. I am really bad when it comes to these, it’s as if after I have said everything that’s on my minds backlog my mind is suddenly empty and my hands abruptly stop typing, and then I have to think a bit about what I have written so far, an end up inserting sort of forced repeat of the intro. I always feel satisfied when my train of thoughts ends at a point when I can safely end an essay without aborting it. A tell-tale sign that the I was not simply bothered to write a conclusion and simply wanted to end the essay either because I was tired or ran  out of ideas or had written myself into a corner but didn’t know how  to end it is when I start the conclusion with ‘In conclusion’ and restate the premise of the argument in a slightly altered way.

 At any rate, at any rate, I have been writing ‘at any rate’ too much lately, I think I picked up those three words from Orwell and I have been taking them along with me too often – oh repetition is bad, so there’s that – but I digress… Endings. As the youtube anime reviewer GRArkada used to say ‘The Ending is Paramount’ in fiction, oh no wait he actually still says it in a video he uploaded two days ago(It’s his catchphrase, forgive me for being such a self-indulgent internet geek). Anyway the beginning of a story of a story is important to get people to read my stuff but the endings greatly affect what the final verdict of the reader which will inevitably affect the popularity of my story. They say the journey matters more than the destination but if the ending is a meaningless rushed clusterfuck, or if there is no ending at all like the infamous anime adaptation ‘read the light-novel/manga/VN-source material’ endings or when the author writes himself into a corner, this gravely affects the re-readability of the story too. It can be hard to write an ending after the climax, this is very evident in detective novels where the author simply doesn’t know what to do with the detective and so sends him to drink coffee at a caffè with his lobotomized-ask-man-reader-self-insert-assistant or ends the story with a lot of unsatisfying exposition about what happened to the characters later which looks like its straight out of an outline and so feels contrived (Look at the ending of David Copperfield). The ending is the seal on the story, those ‘life went on afterwards imagine it yourself because I am not bothered to write it’ endings are simply not good enough, especially those by Rumiko Takahashi(Seriously why didn’t she write a proper ending for Ranma? It felt like it was all for nothing, my childhood). A bad ending is vague and leaves a lot of questions (I am looking at you Neon Genesis Evangelion – EoE saved it though), a good ending takes the narrative to its logical conclusion and a very good ending can salvage even a show that is complete bollocks (the classic example for this is the ending of season 2 of Code Geass but now they are trying to milk it with a third season so I am not  sure it counts). In conclusion, a bad ending to a story is worse than a bad conclusion to an essay, because even though a null conclusion feels like it ends abruptly the rest of the essay still retrospectively counts but a bad ending retrospectively spoils the whole of the story.