1. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    Why is writing so biased towards fiction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by IasminDragon, Oct 22, 2020.

    As a full-time journalist and features writer I'm always curious as to why aspiring writers seem to frequently disregard writing news, features and other typical non-fiction pieces.

    Some time ago I was a member of a writing group and I got the impression that being a freelance contributor to magazines was not considered on the same level as someone who has published a work of fiction.

    Arguably, it is an equally challenging industry to break into, and writing non-fiction cannot be said to be any easier than fiction (there will always be anoraks at every turn to fact-check you!!!) but you could also say there is more scope to enter, with a huge variety of magazines, papers and journals always looking for beautifully crafted interviews and stories. It is also easier to make a living at this type of writing, by that I mean it will typically offer steady work, though does require a lot of commitment and tight deadlines.

    Why then does it always seem to be the case that fiction writing is the primary aspiration of writers? Is it an expectation of overnight fame and riches? A desire for celebrity status? Is there more pride in being a novelist than a journalist? Is non-fiction considered restrictive?
     
  2. Madman

    Madman Member Supporter

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    I would say that for me at least, it would be harder to write non-fiction. In non-fiction you need to get things right, there is little to no margin for error. While in fiction I can just use my imagination to fill in shortcomings.

    I admire those who work in the real world with real problems, writing about real things.

    For me, it's also about escapism, the real world is very complicated and can be a bit of a burden, then it is easier to escape away to your fantasy or sci-fi world where the rules may be different.
     
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  3. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think there is a bias towards it? I read as much non-fiction as I read fiction; news-sites, magazines, etc. etc.

    There might be more "pure" creativity involved in fiction (indeed I hope there is!), and the skills of a good journalist are split between writing a good story and finding it whereas the skills of a novelist or fiction writer are in making the reader believe that it isn't
    made up, immersing them in a fantasy of the author's imagination, but I don't really see a bias. If you want to start out and make a living through putting words on a piece of (virtual) paper, journalism is much more likely to keep food on the table.
     
  4. LazyBear

    LazyBear Banned

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    Writing fiction is more like a hobby for most writers, because it's not really profitable unless you have a bestseller. Getting a book sold would be a personal milestone of achievement, even if it didn't pay for the food consumed while writing it. Regarding existing material to be inspired by, there's lots of old myths and legends in history to start from that most people haven't heard of, which is much better than copying misconceptions from television.
     
  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I do wonder how much sampling error is in play with respect to the original question.

    For example - This particular forum has a little bit of everything in representation, but there can be no doubt that there is a strong lean toward novels over short stories and Science Fiction & Fantasy over other genres.

    Other forums where I play have differing leans. Some are more General Fiction, some have a strong Romance Genre showing, others are balls deep in highly intricate Military Fiction.

    Can it be that you are experiencing a surfeit of writers leaning into Fiction over Non-Fiction because you haunt their haunts rather than the more usual haunts of the Non-Fiction crowd?
     
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  6. More

    More Active Member

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    Eric Blair was a journalist , essayist and critic before writing novels using the pen name George Orwell . I believe it was a more common route to becoming a writer in the past , Charles Dickens and Hemingway were journalist before becoming novelists. I believe, but I don't know if it is true , there is less opportunity to sell articles and like than there was back in their day?
     
  7. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    That makes sense. I suppose if we're to view writing as a form of escapism then I can understand why most people would favour that.

    Perhaps, but the original question was why so many aspiring writers seem to favour fiction writing over non-fiction journalism, or articles, scientific stuff, etc. No doubt many of the authors you have read never had any intention of becoming writers, but their expertise made it a viable option.


    I'm not sure what you mean by sampling error. Googling 'how to be a writer' the clear favouritism towards novel and fiction writing gives an idea of how anyone might come to the same conclusion. It's anecdotal evidence, granted, but it's hard to argue for a sampling error when your 'sample' is years of being a member of writing communities. I even mentioned above, that joining writing communities made me feel a bit of an outsider. I don't think asking the same question of a journalist communities would provide any insightful conclusions either.

    Besides, is it a defence to say judging message boards like this one doesn't count? The banner says 'writing forums', not 'science fiction and fantasy writers forums' after all. I found it by googling 'Writer's community' and it was the top result.

    Presumably its popularity comes from the fact it serves the needs of people looking for a writing community of all walks of life, not simply science fiction and fantasy writers.

    Anyway, this is all beside the point. This is certainly not an attack against fiction writers and I'm not asking fiction writers to defend themselves (I'm one too, remember!). But if you don't believe there's any truth in what I've seen, fair enough.



    I would say there are far more opportunities to become a journalist now. It especially seems the ones who spin absolute drivel find the easiest work ... :p

    But seriously, this is something I reflected on a lot. Most of the writers I admire had started as journalists. Dickens in particular, while he is lambasted now for his sexist views, was one of the great social reformers. I have read many of his articles where he catalogues the working conditions of the Victorian poor in order to petition for action from government. Doubtless it influenced much of his work, as the same will be true of the other greats. Even Lovecraft, the reviled master of horror, was an amateur journalist.
     
  8. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    You talk like fiction writers don't have difficulty finding the right groups or the appropriate specific information they require. I've been to plenty of groups that really didn't offer me anything despite us all being there for fiction. And actually, the last in-person writing group I went to was 80% creative nonfiction writers.

    I've been a nonfiction writer as well. I wrote articles for company blogs. There were communities about that, although less because less people do it.
     
  9. Aceldama

    Aceldama Senior Member

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    For me, its because someone can cover a real topic in a plethora of different ways. Facts presented with various biased, depending on who wrote the non-fiction work. I do enjoy non-fiction, just have to be aware of who wrote it and then have to get somewhat familiar with the topic they are writing about so I don't believe just anything they say and so on. Its been relegated more to the research sphere for me.

    I can pick up a novel and just read without having to worry about being lied to.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  10. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody "With torn and bleeding hearts we smile" Contributor

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    I agree with @Wreybies in finding a place that leans more toward your specific need.

    Personally, i think Non-fiction is too targeted for an over all "writing group"in the sense that a non-fiction writer really does have to do a pretty substantial amount of research. For example, i am reading "The Great Pretender" by Cahalan, about the psychologist who went undercover with his students into mental hospitals in the 70s. I doubt Cahalan would have found this site helpful. She talks about visiting the research partner of the psychologist of subject. Mush of the documents and papers she used by this psychologist had never been published before and very sensitive and personal.

    Someone writing a memoir would have to delve into the personal life and interviews of their subjects.

    A supposed a non fiction writer would benefit from general help from sites like this, but theme? Genre? Tropes? Style? Would these really be beneficial to non-fiction? (Honest question... I dont know the answer).

    More targeted groups would be better. A psychological society, for example,for Cahalans work. Genealogical societies have a bunch of writers who write books based on or about genealogy. Historical societies,likewise.

    Is searching in places most aligned with your goal/purpose.

    At least, thats my take on it.
     
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  11. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber oike despatio Contributor

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    It's really a hobby for a lot of people and writing newspaper articles merely for your own enjoyment is kind of a weird hobby.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
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  12. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    Because I have no interest in writing reality. If I'm going to spend my free time writing, it's going to be stories that I care about and I get more than enough real world news the rest of the time.
     
  13. cruel gruel

    cruel gruel New Member

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    In consideration of popular acceptance of fiction over non - fiction, it is my opinion, muddy though it may be, that they are not simply twin offspring of a common parent, but two very different species who share the DNA building blocks of words and punctuation.
    Broadly speaking, non - fiction is subject to the confinements of fact and the foggy, adjustable rearview mirror of history. Fiction is so much more; in fact it is unlimited in its scope,themes and construct.
    This freedom of thought and expression are what we are first exposed to as children larning to read. Fantasy is seductive ; Dick and Jane can ride a cloud or eat kumquats with a Cheshire cat . Thus begins a life-long addiction to whatever comforts the bruised psyche. Dick and Jane, in my experience at least, were never interviewed about their impending break up; nor did they ponder affairs of state.
    So it goes with fictional writing and all its tributaries. Fair or unfair, fiction stands on non-fiction's shouders in an unspoken artistic class system .
    Entertainment and diversion are the first course at any media table. While non - fiction may provide nutrition, fiction is dessert and consumers are, collectively, obese. It is natural therefore, that the apiring writer looking to advance his/her career would look to the fictional novel as the best and most fashionable oeuvre for gaining fortune and fame, disregarding the fact that many are called, but few are chosen.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
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  14. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    I'm going to blindly believe I've just invented this... you know you get the epistolary, a story made up of letters, well how's about a literary piece/works told through headlines and column inches? A saga of a story, set over decades, I don't now, some elusive (big public interest) bandit to be the pro/antagonist/subject. A chance for a writer, well versed in the journo-field, to flex their typewriter skills and vary their style. Each scene the words of articles that lean left right, centre, and the shades between those?
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  15. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    I'd blame the degradation and politicization of journalism in general. And all the conspiracy theories masquerading as journalism. And the dilution cause by social media. And the entertainment vector of cable news. And a bunch of other ignorant shit.
     
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  16. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 12/210 MP: 0/130 Supporter Contributor

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    Ultimately, very few people ever start writing in their teens or thereabouts by writing non-fiction, mainly because they and their peer group don't entertain themselves by reading non-fiction.

    And that's also true of higher age groups. Very few people read non-fiction for entertainment. They read it to learn or be informed. And most people like to write what they read.

    I could write a series of articles on Japanese history or database programming. But unless I'm running a website about those subjects or submit them to a website that does, no one is going to read them. And I really have no interest in doing that.

    As for news articles, I'm neither a reporter nor a journalist, and not being on the scene of the news story, why would I write one? I mean, I'm not the guy interviewing the election candidates, so I'm hardly in a position to write from knowledge.
     
  17. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Still a better scenario. Most previous writing groups / communities I was part of made it seem like the split wasn't between fiction and non-fiction, but between fiction and fan-fiction.

    *shivers*

    Nevertheless, it's because both sides have amateur and proficient writers. However, only one side has exposure on the internet. You'll see a lot of forums and boards dedicated to amateur writing, worldbuilding, etc.

    You'll see far less dedicated to ghostwriting, search optimizing, mass blogwriting, etc. They aren't really a hobby. Nor something "to be discussed". As far as I noticed, that's what makes up the bulk of non-fiction writing anyhow.

    I may be wrong though.
     
  18. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    Because it's a LOT easier and most people just do it for fun. Journalism is mostly just work.

    Also, for the dreamers, it's being a 'famous author' and the response writing fiction gets from strangers, who all share the fantasy of being 'creative'. Journalistic writing is seen, I believe, as just stuff, probably because magazines and newspapers are throwaway, momentary experiences as opposed to novels that can be remembered centuries on and talked about in book clubs. Also, most people rarely seem interested in who wrote a magazine article, like no one cares who directs a TV show, so for the narcissists, which many writers are, Journalism has no path to fame and adoration. I've written a bunch of published magazine pieces and like doing it. Screenwriting also gets a bit of snobbery, even though I think it's harder to write a good screenplay than a good novel. Writing a novel, a bad one, is very easy, especially if the author doesn't even see it's bad.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    There really are different skill sets at play when you look at journalism compared to creative writing. I'm speaking from my own experience, but journalism is all about getting the story. They used to say the biggest tool for a journalist was shoe leather. And I went through many pairs of shoes back in the day when I was a journalist before switching to creative writing. Journalism is very competitive, and a front page story one day doesn't mean you can't be fired the next. Gosh, I think I lived through a decade-long panic attack. Everything is fast in journalism. And the thing is if you're good at finding stories and uncovering issues, then the writing isn't as important. It's always the story that comes first. You also have to be a bit fearless to really be a good journalist. Man, when I think of the stuff I did to get a story it's kind of crazy.

    I had more than one editor tell me I was lucky I was a good reporter because I was not the best writer. Still, everyone (or most reporters) in a newsroom wants to be the star. So, I had to compete in other ways. And the idea of a lifetime covering school committee meetings made me decide to go to some dangerous places around the world. Basically, my job was to uncover the truth. That was my main focus. The writing was just how I got the information out there.

    I do have to say I don't think I ever sucked as a writer, and I was lucky to work with great editors. But when I started talking to agents and publishers about a book I was working on I was told things like "The problem with journalists is they can't write" and "These aren't chapters. They're magazine articles." Still, people were willing to work with me because I had a good story and access to sources others didn't. A good story will always make up for mediocre writing in journalsim. But the competition is pretty fierce and the pay sucks. Just thinking back of my past career is exhausting. It's not that journalism is easy because it's not, but news stories are written to be much more accessible to the general public, usually at a 6th to 8th grade reading level for the most part.

    I'm reading the new Woodward book right now and it sure isn't Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but it's not supposed to be. Still, I don't think that takes away from his book and the story he's written. And it may win some journalism awards, but I don't see it taking home any literary award. Again, that's not what Woodward was ever trying to do with his book or any of the other things he's written over his long career.

    I decided I was going to get an MFA. All my journalism friends were asking why and saying I was already a writer, but I knew I wasn't anywhere close to where I needed to be to sell fiction. A very small part of journalism is the actual writing. The hard stuff is in getting the story. I did have to learn to write differently. Moving past the short, clipped sentences was probably the hardest part for me. I felt like I was a recovering journalist for a long time, and I think that's kind of true.

    I spent a year writing fiction and taking classes before applying to MFA programs. Without doing that I honestly didn't stand a chance. In creative writing the language is much more important. In addition to publishing fiction I also publish creative nonfiction, but, for me, essays also are not the same as straight journalism. Even with researching and fact checkers involved, the language (the actual writing) is often equal if not more important than what the story is itself.

    Journalists have one of the hardest jobs out there. I'm not going to argue that, but the job goes beyond what's printed on the page. My journalism past I think does help me to some degree with essays and my judgement on what I think is important to say, but with creative work I don't need to get both sides of the story. I don't have to be unbiased. I'm still writing the truth, but I'm now telling my own stories and my own truths. When my essays are published, I often feel naked and exposed. I never felt that way as a journalist because they were always other people's stories.

    With fiction it took me several years to start publishing. And I think I needed those years of failed attempts to start really writing at the level that's expected for literary writers. Sure, I had some good stories, I just needed to become a different sort of writer. I needed to become a better writer than I ever would have become in journalism. And that's because it really is a different form of writing.

    I think news is important and freedom of the press is the backbone of democracy. But creative writing is more of an art, and that's important in different ways.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2020
  20. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Active Member

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    Journalism isn't real nonfiction. At least, it has different goals and intentions from nonfiction writing. And then you can subdivide nonfiction into serious nonfiction (history, historical biographies, instructional) and less serious (celebrity biographies, self-help). I would say that all three of those are conceptually different from fiction, in terms of writing and writing well.
     
  21. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    A lot of journalism is just fiction these days. It's not intended to inform but to inflame.
     
  22. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    Welcome to the information age...

    Years ago, it took a media company; whether it was a magazine or newspaper with enough circulation; and thus budget, to hire journalists to go out into the world, to have them try and decipher what was happening, and then report on it to a populace who could not be there themselves. Today we are much more globalized, and have instant access to information as they unfold. We no longer need an intermediary to go there as people are already there, and they upload that information to youtube and facebook and its broadcast to the world. It is much more credible because there is no trying to figure out what happened, the people that know, report it instantaneously.

    As an example: I do not need NBC to go to Turkey and report on a earthquake there. People in Turkey are already there and have uploaded their videos for me to see.

    But the world does not exist in a vacuum. Fake news is prolific on all sides because there is a NEED for content, and that is just what the world is getting...content. It no longer has credibility because there is no time to discern if this is real or fake, it just has to fill a void for it to have value. We can even go back in time to when this started, and it was the infamous moment when Dan rather lied to the nation. That was the start of it all.

    On the information that is harder to discern, there is only so much information a journalist can know. Today, there is so many back-door deals that a journalist cannot possible investigate the depth and breadth of what is happening and report back on it.

    So fiction rules so that people can escape sketchy information overload.
     

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