Let's Have a Look - series
D.G. Kaye,  Let's Have A Look,  Memoir writing,  Non Fiction,  On Writing,  THOUGHTS,  Writing Fun

Let’s Have a Look – About #Writing – Writing Fiction vs. Nonfiction

 

Welcome to my new series in this new year. I decided to call it – Let’s Have a Look. #LetsHaveALook

 

So what exactly will we be having a look at? How do I describe this? Random topics or incidence I come across in daily life – from reading or watching the news, to a blog I may have read that gives me pause, are things I’ll be looking at. A spontaneous thought if triggered about a why or that raises a question to myself – I’m going to bring discussion to the event or article here.

 

So, Let’s Have a Look!

 

Today’s post came about inspired by a reply from my author friend, #fantasy writer, Diana Peach, who mentioned in reply to my comment I’d left on her recent post, when she shared about how one of her characters in her WIP sometimes directs where the story leads.

I had commented that I have enough trouble writing nonfiction about real people – implying that I could only imagine all that is involved in the creating of characters and fantasy storylines and Diana responded with this:

 

“Part of me thinks it would be harder to write real people, Debby, because a non-fiction author is writing from a particular perspective as well as making interpretations about others, all the while trying to represent the truth. It’s easier to just make everything up! Lol. A post from you about how you navigate that would be really interesting.”

 

***

Okay Diana, here’s the post!

Well yes, Diana brought up a good question in her reply, and prompted me to respond with a post about perspective and truth when writing nonfiction as opposed to creating fictional characters – whom often hold many real truths within their characters as well. Is it harder writing about real people? Let’s have a look.

Okay, I thought it would be fun to look at our differing perspectives on difficulty differences between writing in fiction or nonfiction. Diana claims it’s easier to write fiction (in gest?) because, she claims ‘it’s easier to make stuff up’. But in my opinion, I think writing in every specific genre brings its challenges.

As Diana claims, writing nonfiction entails finding the right perspective, while interpreting what we believe to be our truth. That’s what nonfiction writing is in essence, but there are other conditions to take in consideration as well:

  • The subject matter, and who will my story affect, regarding the ‘real’ characters in my stories?
  • By telling a truth that involves other people in the story, we have to be careful with descriptions and identities to avoid getting sued.
  • We don’t have the luxury to ‘alter’ a character in our story because that would be distorting the truth. So if that character has exhibited bad behavior, which is often a feature in our nonfiction/memoir stories, we have to take care how we present those people, leaving us having to be creatively truthful about exhibiting some of their most despicable behaviors.

 

I believe there are more barriers for nonfiction writers. Whether writing about characters or in an informative  self-help nonfiction book, the author must speak truth, and facts must be varifiable. Anything left unchecked or untruthful, will certainly create pushback on the author.

On the other hand, writing fiction allows for a lot more room for creativity, but it still must be a coherent telling and the actions and scenery must depict the setting. A good example of keeping the story flowing accurately is a story I remember reading about a long time ago, regarding the importance of continuity. I’d read that when the movie Ben Hur was being filmed, someone had caught a man wearing a wrist watch in one huge crowded scene – not a good look while wearing a toga. Well, it’s not hard to figure out nobody had watches back in those biblical times so this was a major faux pas. But it’s a good example of little incidental things that may go unchecked and can hinder a story from keeping real and true to the time period the story reflects.

So in summation, in reply to Diana’s comment where she expressed that it is easier to write fiction, I don’t exactly agree with that because to produce a good story, having all the elements tie in, writing engaging characters, and not to mention, worldbuilding, I should think it is an equally intense task writing for fiction writers too. Every genre requires research whether it’s fantasy, historical or literary fiction, or nonfiction. It’s a lot of work to write a book – any book, as all us authors here know. So as much as I appreciate Diana’s nod to nonfiction, I’m nodding right back at her.

 

What do you peeps have to say? Do you think writing in any one particular genre is more difficult than another?

 

Original post from Diana for reference https://mythsofthemirror.com/2021/01/19/when-characters-mutiny/comment-page-1/#comment-80280

 

©DGKaye2021

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D.G. Kaye is a nonfiction/memoir writer, who writes from her own life experiences and self-medicates with a daily dose of humor.

55 Comments

  • Joy Lennick

    ALL good writing needs a watchful eye, huge patience, five senses in good working order…a generous supply of imagination, a huge pinch of daring, self-belief, time, staying-power, style…coffee/tea/other…and chocolate (moderate quantity). Seriously, it doesn’t matter what genre you’re drawn to, as long as you write it well. Some authors write for fame and or fortune (excuse guffaws), others simply because they are inexplicably drawn to it. I raise my virtual hat to anyone who can ‘magic’ other worlds, people and societies, but I am drawn, first and foremost, to the value of the words themselves and using true happenings as a base for my stories/books. I suspect fantasy writers have an added quality the others don ‘t – but regardless of attributes – and there are good and bad fantasy writers too…. the QUALITY of ALL genres is what matters. As far as I am concerned, fantasy fan or not, the writings of Diana Peach stand proudly tall.

    • dgkaye

      So eloquently worded Joy! It’s all about writing well! And anyone who has read a Diana Peach book would concur with your praise for her writing. <3 xx

  • Marian Beaman

    I can’t make stuff up, except dialogue between two “real” people. Sometimes I may tell stories about people I know, embellishing the truth, but I write from memory, not imagination as fiction requires. By the way, my memoir tells the truth though some readers question it. Ha!

    • dgkaye

      Of course you do Marian! You are a nonfiction writer like me! 🙂 I am shocked to hear you say that some readers question your truth. Really? 🙂 x

  • Jan Sikes

    A wonderful comparison, Debby! Having written both fiction and non-fiction, I can honestly say that fiction is easier to write from the perspective of creative freedom. However, writing non-fiction is easier from the perspective that you already know the story. It’s much like putting together a puzzle and you have to make sure all the pieces fit. Of the two, I am enjoying writing fiction a LOT! I am loving the idea of creativity without boundaries. But I also thoroughly enjoyed writing my biographical series. They both have their upsides and downsides. Thank you for sharing!

    • dgkaye

      And thank you for sharing your perspective Jan. Good for you for crossing genres and diving into fiction. Not sure if I’ll ever get that bug. 🙂

  • Diana Peach

    This was so interesting to read, Debby. I loved your thoughts about the challenges with writing nonfiction, and they didn’t surprise me, though they confirmed why I write fiction! Lol. Joy’s comment was wonderful. Of course, all genres have their unique challenges, and writing, regardless of genre, is a ton of work. Every author who creates a cohesive, engaging, “wristwatch-free” book deserves tons of congrats for the effort. Jan’s comment was especially interesting because she’s written both.

    I enjoyed the first post of your “lets have a look” series. And I’m so glad that my comment inspired you. Have a wonderful day and Happy Writing!

    • dgkaye

      Hi Diana! You asked and voila! Lol, it was definitely an interest conversation starter! And so funny, I’d seen your comment that your were heading over, seen your ‘like’, but no comment – hence, I found you in my spam bin again! LOL, stay out of the dumpster girl! Hugs <3

  • Jim Borden

    great job comparing fiction vs. non-fiction. I personally think it would be more difficult to write fiction, for some of the reasons you note. That being said, I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot some day…

  • Carol Balawyder

    This is an interesting series, Debby! I love your title Let’s Have A Look! I find it very warm and inviting.
    A Breath of Fresh Air.

    I was struck by what you said regarding the movie Ben Hur: “… it’s a good example of little incidental things that may go unchecked and can hinder a story from keeping real and true to the time period the story reflects.”
    Yesterday, I was listening to Marieanne Keyes, in her MasterClass on Writing, talk about how if you’re going to write anything in the period of the Covid years, you’ll have to consider that time period in your writing. I’m paraphrasing but in essence it’s what she said. I think this would apply to probably most genres, except perhaps futuristic or historic writing.

    Looking forward to this series! Good luck with it, Debby! <3

    • dgkaye

      Hi Carol, thanks for adding to the conversation. Marianne Keyes is correct. If you’re going to write a believable story taking place during the pandemic years, make sure to include masks and lockdown in the story – even characters who went maskless in rebellion! Thanks Carol. I’m glad you like my idea. <3

  • Diane McGyver

    I think you are absolutely right: it’s a lot of work to write a book. Period. Hats off to everyone who does. Not everyone who sets off to write one completes it. All genres have their challenges and have easy and hard stuff to conquer.

  • Jacqui Murray

    I’m with you, Deb, that each genre comes with its own set of difficulties. I’ve written a ton on non-fic and have little trouble with it because I know the material so well. If I didn’t, that would be much more challenging. But I think the audience is much smaller for non-fic. I sell more fiction than non-fic.

    It’ll be interesting to read the perspectives of your other visitors.

    • dgkaye

      Thanks for chiming in Jacqui. Yes, you get to speak for both. But I would think there isn’t necessarily a smaller market for specific genres, but possibly nonfiction as a whole. And yet, so many run to self help and how to books as they do to Youtube. ‘Let’s have a look’ what others say, lol.

  • Ton Pike

    Very good points, Debby. I agree with you, I think fiction writers potentially have the freedom to write almost anything – and non-fiction needs to be truthful. Toni x

  • Norah Colvin

    I have read some of Diana’s fiction and some of your non-fiction, Debby and am very impressed with both. I think a difficulty with non-fiction is telling those difficult truths and perhaps making the story interesting enough to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. You did well on all those counts. I take my hat off to fiction writers like Diana who create totally other worlds. The imagination and detail of thought and planning that would be required to make sure everything works must be huge. She does it well. I think the point of both genres is to make the reader feel, not so much that they are reading, but that they are there. Your open conversational style does that Debby. It’s like having a chat with a girlfriend. And the detail of description shown through action and dialogue in Diana’s is also compelling.

    • dgkaye

      Wow, thank you so much for your kind thoughts Norah. And yes, I think you summed it perfectly with “I think the point of both genres is to make the reader feel, not so much that they are reading, but that they are there.” That is the end game wish for all writers, that our readers get swooped into story. Thank you so much Norah. <3

  • Hugh W. Roberts

    I believe that fiction and non-fiction merge. Lots of my fiction is based on true stories or experiences I’ve had. Without those experiences, I’d never have been able to come up with anything. For example, when I first watched the movie ‘The Time Machine’ I instantly became interested in time travel. It features a lot in my fiction, so if I’d never had watched that movie in real life, would I ever have included it in my fiction?
    Likewise, had I never become a blogger, would I have written my short story ‘The Truth App’ – a short story about a group of bloggers discovering a deadly app?
    Great discussion, Debby.

    • dgkaye

      I remember your Truthapp well Hugh! And yes, I agree, as I mentioned, many writers take people, situations, quirks, habits, etc, from something they know from their real lives, often inspiration for their stories, characters or settings. The diversity is amazing, probably why there are millions of books full of creativity. 🙂 x

  • Olga Núñez Miret

    I think this is a fascinating topic and one that a bit like the pantser or planner way of writing, doesn’t have a right or a wrong answer. For those of us who are more inclined towards fiction, we are likely to think that writing non-fiction would be more difficult, for some of the reasons you mention (I’ve written reports for work, of course, and that involves trying to be as factual and informative as possible, while also offering your professional opinion, but that is a very specific kind of writing). Knowing what to include and what not, ensuring we are fair to all the characters and not misrepresenting them (one imagines that somebody else telling the same story might say something quite different, especially when opinions and feelings come into play), while when you write fiction, you need to keep the story plausible and consistent (within the logic of the story and the genre), but you can choose, add and remove things, characters, events… I look forward to the next post in the series, Debby!

  • Sherri Matthews

    Loving your new series, Deb! Reading through your post and the comments, to add my two cents’ worth lol, I do think fiction is easier to write. Now, I have not written a novel, but through writing flash fiction at Carrot Ranch with Charli’s prompts, I came to see that I could do, albeit in bursts. I never thought I could write fiction at all, and in fact my essay in the first Carrot Ranch Anthology is all about how writing flash fiction helped my memoir writing process. But interestingly, a big chunk of my flash are based on true stories (bots). I find being able to play with the characters and storyline is so freeing after having to stay within the boundaries of memoir. I could never understand how fiction writers came up with their made-up characters they way they do, in awe of their amazing imaginations! Flash fiction has shown me it is possible…but then again, writing a 99 word story is not the same as a full-length novel lol! But I would like to give it a go, though not yet. Still the memoir to finish, and it’s happening lol! I would like to give a novel a go though, one day! Great discussion, Deb. Look forward to more! <3 xoxo

  • Vashti Quiroz-Vega

    I absolutely agree with you, Debby, both fiction and nonfiction writing have their challenges. In fiction, we are basically writing about real people too, because our characters are based on the people around us. There’s also an immense amount of research involved in writing a good fiction novel. My new novel, ‘The Rise of Gadreel’ is set in the medieval period and Middle Ages (which I knew nothing about), so I had to study and research that period to get the details right in my book. Although I write fiction, my work has to be grounded in reality, and my characters have to act and react true to life, grow organically, and the dialogue must be natural. At one point, the story and characters become real to the fiction writer and we laugh and cry with them. One of my favorite characters in my book dies. I had to take a few days off to get over it. I was in mourning! That’s how real it gets. In general, writing is hard. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, when you sit at that keyboard you’re going to bleed. <3

    • dgkaye

      You summed it up beautifully Vashti. And again, I applaud you in tackling the research for an era you weren’t familiar with! You said it perfect – as long as the story is ‘grounded in reality’ M3

  • Robbie Cheadle

    Hi Debby, this is very interesting. I think a distinction needs to be made between non-fiction writing generally and memoir non-fiction writing. I have written several non-fiction publications about investing into Africa. They were hard work with a lot of research required and it takes a lot of thought and initiative to process all the information in a new and unique way that adds value to the reader. There is reputational risk when writing non-fiction if the facts presented turn out to be incorrect. Memoirs are different because they include real people as you have described above. That presents its own set of difficulties and pitfalls. Fiction is also challenging to write because there are so many rules like showing not telling, rules about dialogue [you would have this in memoir writing but not general non-fiction], plot holes, filter words and all these complex issues you have to think about while writing. I personally find historical fiction the most challenging to write because it includes the difficulties from both fiction and non-fiction writing. I veer away from using real people as characters because it restricts my writing to much as you have to stick very close to the truth.

    • dgkaye

      Hi Robbie. Thanks so much for your comprehensive run down on difference in genres. I completely agree, whether in memoir of factual information writing, the facts must all be verified true. And I do agree with you about historical fiction, which happens to be my 2nd fav genre to read in, I have a lot of respect for historical fiction writers. <3

  • Debbie D.

    Writing is hard, regardless of genre. You’ve certainly mastered the art of memoir, Debby! Your life stories about your mother had me hooked. Except for the occasional poem, I mostly write memoirs and travelogues also. Here’s a dilemma that has so far stopped me from making any of them book-length: How do you flesh out the narrative to make the account more interesting without embellishing the truth? It might be easier to turn it into “faction,” but that would require a more vivid imagination. Fiction writers have that in spades!

    • dgkaye

      Thanks Deb. And you ask a great question. For me, I’ve always been fascinated with ‘true stories’ and read about stories that are affecting. It’s the emotions that are stirred in me when I read an engaging story. If we can evoke emotion and engage readers with a voice and bring them into the emotion we express in words and/or actions. It’s not about length. If you don’t feel you have a themed story, you can write some short stories in memoir – like my latest book that has been waiting for me to come back and send it to the editor. 🙂

  • Balroop Singh

    Interesting points to ponder Deb. To my mind, all fictional characters emerge from real life, people around us and yes, it is easier to give them a shape in a story that is called fiction but isn’t fiction too picked from life?
    Nothing is easy, as all genres have their own constraints. For me, poetry flows naturally but haiku was challenging when I tried to say something meaningful within the limited words.
    I am amazed that one comment of Diana has inspired so much of discussion! That’s how a creative mind works! I loved this post.

    • dgkaye

      Hi Balroop. Yes! Exactly what I was thinking when I thought up this series. Diana’s post was a great catalyst for this post. I’m loving the feedback. And yes, syllabic poetry is a lot more restrictive. I enjoy it because it’s like a doing a puzzle with words in a way. I can understand how it restricts your style of poetry. But yes, that’s what makes us all unique. <3

  • Michael

    What a very interesting post. For me like the Shakespearean question “Fiction or non Fiction?” 😉 Very important indeed. There is coming in my mind Teagan’s “Delta Pearl” or on the other side Ritu’s “Marriage Unarranged” (little spoilers:-))). I love the worldbuilding both have done, and think as more on reality as more difficult the progress of the novel will be. For myself difficulties not to solve for own writing. So at least i am honoring all authors and writers for their effordable work. Michael

  • Elizabeth Gauffreau

    For me, it’s a matter of choosing the right medium for the message. As long as what I want to communicate is well-aligned with the form I’ve chosen to express it, one form isn’t more difficult to write than another. Of course, recognizing the appropriate medium for the message can take some trial and error. I’ve gotten it wrong plenty of times!

  • Mabel Kwong

    Such a good topic, writing fiction vs nonfiction. Agree that writing non-fiction can be the harder type of writing to write. These days I write non-fiction about multiculturalism and cultural habits, and I do feel the needs to make sure I present facts and make sure my words interpret the facts as direct as possible. There’s always a lot of researching and fact-checking involved and if I’m unsure about something I usually don’t write it down 🙂

  • Pamela

    I must admit, I love writing both non-fiction and fiction. I seriously can’t say I find one easier or harder than the other. My fiction (I’m told) is so real that many people think it’s about ME (that the character is who and how I am). Nononono. I think in another life I could be an actor, because it’s the same thing when writing. I take on the skin of the character I’m writing about, and see/feel/think how that character would. Easy peasy. And fun. On the other hand, non-fiction is a lot of fun also, particularly if I’m writing a true scene that can be seen as humorous (at least in retrospect). When I write fiction, I can live vicariously through my characters. When I write non-fiction I can re-live events in my life – past and present – and get an entirely new perspective.
    Fun and wonderful and thought-provoking post, Debby. And of course you can’t go wrong with anything Diana comes up with! xo

    • dgkaye

      Hi Pam. I loved your thoughts here. I think you explained your process succinctly. Yes, you said it, when you share your short stories, even I sometimes feel your fictional stories are about you, lol. Sign of some good writing my friend! <3

  • Deborah Jay

    Interesting topic, and some wonderful answers! I particularly agree with the take that all writing is tough, merely with diferent challenges, which I think suit different midsets.
    Each genre has its own demands: fantasy (and SF) require a certain type of imagination to create entire worlds along with the characters and the stories, but for me, that’s a lot of the enjoyment of writing it. I can show the human condition without the contraints of ‘real’ life.
    My non-fiction (technical books) require a great deal of time checking details – I know my subject well, but still some research is necessary, and although I find them relatively easy to write, they aren’t as much fun as the fiction.
    The idea of writing memoir? Hm, a challenge too far for me, unless it was fictionalised, which I may do with my grandmother’s life story one day, but working from the manuscript my mother left when she died. Cheating? Perhaps. But I don’t actually feel qualified to write about real people. Why, I don’t know, but that’s how I feel.

    • dgkaye

      Deb, thanks for sharing your own experience here, as you are the perfect person to talk because of your writing both fantasy and nonfiction. Two different entities for sure. And yes, I remember we once touched on your grandmother’s life story idea. And because you may have to ‘fudge’ a few blank spots, I think writing it as a factional – fiction and facts would be a great story. Thanks for adding to the conversation. <3

  • Liesbet

    Personally, like you, I think writing non-fiction is easier. I only write non-fiction and it flows. All I have to do is think back and reflect on my experiences and memories and put it down in a compelling manner. Sounds easy, right? Writing fiction requires creativity and more world building. Everything needs to make sense, so you have to keep your story line and characters straight. In non-fiction everything automatically (kind of) makes sense, because it happened! 🙂

    That being said, I think whatever is easier/comes easier depends on what kind of an author and person you are. If you possess a fantastic imagination, live mostly “in your head,” and aren’t a fan of sharing your real-life experiences or feelings, fiction is your thing. If you are all about inspiring or helping people, anxious to share you experiences and adventures, and think there is enough material in real life to share, you’ll likely prefer writing non-fiction.

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