Continuing our series at looking how non-fiction writing situations can help fiction writers.
“Just the facts, ma’am.”
Joe Friday (Dragnet)
(and if you remember that reference, you’re as old as I am!)
Being a reporter means finding the facts and getting them straight. While a reporter might provide an overview of differing opinions (such as in a political race or detailing the sides on a voter’s referendum), they do not give their own thoughts and feelings about either side.
Reporters do not try to influence, they simply inform. Readers expect to make their own decisions, not be led by the reporter. Take note: this is different from the Observer.
The most obvious way a fiction author can use reporters’ skills is in getting the facts straight. Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than an author making a mistake in historical accuracy or geography (see previous post on 1812). Doing research is part of a reporter’s job – its part of an author’s job as well.
When it comes to subject matter, my biggest weakness is in anything to do with the medical field. I have my first aid certification (now expired) but that’s as far as I go. Yet, my characters are always getting banged up and needing medical care. In my first draft I write what I want the doctors and nurses to do, but then I send the scenes to a person with real experience and she tells me what I can keep and what I need to change. The last thing I need is for a doctor or nurse to read my book and get pulled out of the story saying, “You had me right up until this point and now it’s just stupid.” Knowing the facts is vital to a fiction author.
But there are other ways the Reporter can come to the fore in writing a story; Reporters also ask and answer questions. They anticipate what their readers want to know and provide the answer, often before the reader has even fully formed the question. Asking questions allows them to fully inform their public.
Fiction writers do this in two different ways.
First comes the big question: “what if.” All stories start with that. But authors don’t stop there. We ask questions about what our characters look like, how they move, what they wear. Even if this isn’t a conscious questioning, it occurs every time we start a new story. Who will be the protagonist? What is his/her conflict? Does my story have an overarching theme? For many, the process of questioning is a mental game of Q &A, for others (plotters), it often is the precursor to actually writing the story.
But we also raise questions in the reader. Good stories keep us on the edge of our seat and make us read far longer into the night than we intended. Who is the murderer? Sherlock Holmes will tell us! Can Frodo resist the pull of the One Ring? Will Katniss win the Hunger Games? What will happen to Peeta if she does? What will happen next?
This is where we differ from the Reporter. We don’t anticipate reader’s questions, we create them. And that’s just plain old fun. J
Channel your inner Reporter and take a look at your latest work in progress.
· Are all your facts in order? What do you need to know in order to reflect reality? What research do you still need to do?
· What question(s) end each chapter? What is it the reader is so desperate to know that they’ll keep reading and not put the book down?
Analyzing your writing through the lens of the Reporter can add layers of verisimilitude and excitement. Go for it!
As always, feel free to donate to the cause!