Jan 20, 2017

Writing Differently for Fiction—An Exploration

For any serious writer, improving their craft is a never-ending desire. As one myself, I've picked up on some tips that I think many tend to overlook. Writers often stick to what they know, writing in one field until they master it. But really, I don't think that's how it should work. You learn more (and better) when trying out different things. The same goes for writing. 

You write better when you've tried writing different things. 

Words by Rich Mason

In this post, I'll be sharing some personal insight. I'm not a particularly wonderful writer, but I have been writing for nine years now. So, I like to think I've progressed quite a bit over the years, and that I'm credible as I write this. My advice covers different types/ forms of writing, but is given with novelists in mind.  


Even if you're not a poet, there's a lot to learn (and love) about poetry. As you try it out, you'll notice that you'll start focusing on word choice. Things like rhyme and rhythm start to matter a lot. You want your words to evoke emotion, imagery... something.

Poetry pushes you to break the rules of typical writing as you begin to learn how to paint with words. The more you write poetry, the more descriptive and aware you become of the "showing not telling" concept. In some ways, poetry is all about what you don't say as much as it's about what you do

Writing fiction is a lot like that, too. Novel readers need proper pacing, steady rhythm, and effective word choice to stay gripped in a story. So, poetry is a good place to start practicing. 


If I were to describe scriptwriting, I'd say it's an odd combination of poetry and prose. A script's layout looks a lot like a poem from a distance. Paragraphs of action are broken up by centered dialogue—and it has to flow and engage the viewer.

Like writing fiction, scriptwriting tells a story with basic elements of plot, character, and setting. Unlike novels, scripts are written for staff and actors. Not the audience. Descriptions can't be vivid and flowery. Action should be simple and direct—no insights into the character's thought process. What you get is what you see, so everything has to be clear and natural.

Scripts force a novelist to limit and filter the flowery prose, and get to the heart of the story. Each page is a minute onscreen—and no minute should be wasted. 

No page, either.

And that's a very important lesson for a writer. One that people easily overlook or undermine way too often. Scriptwriting helps a novelist understand how to link individual scenes into an action sequence. 


Although it sounds completely unrelated, non-fiction writing is pretty instrumental to a novel. Voice is something that either makes or breaks a story. To better understand and "hear" a character's voice, the writer should be able to know their own. When writing articles, the writer has to overcome the distance between themselves and the reader—something main characters do all the time in prose.

It's also important to know when a voice is genuine and when it's being forced. Or, occasionally, borrowed from the author themselves. 

More than just voice, non-fiction teaches a novelist how to make prose interesting. Boring facts become interesting anecdotes or valuable information. This transformation isn't an easy one to master, but writing articles is a good way to start.

Ever tried writing a lead? In thirty words or less, you have to write an attention-grabbing first sentence. If you fail, then your entire article is deemed unworthy. That's a lot of pressure. But books work the same way, too. 

It's not easy, but it's definitely valuable. 

In General:

I used to consider all these different types of writing as ... well, different types of writing. But they share a lot in common—despite their differences. There's something in each form for any kind of writer. By trying them all out, a writer grows and is able to approach the task of writing with more tools at hand. It's just advice in the end, but I think it's worth more than cursory consideration.

After all, learning never ends.