In his excellent bestselling book, Sea Stories, Admiral William H. McRaven used fiction techniques to write this work of nonfiction. Such writing is called creative nonfiction, Readers love it! I highly recommend Admiral McRaven’s book.
Thirty-plus years ago, when I started writing seriously, I sought to learn everything I could about fiction and nonfiction techniques. And what did I discover? Fiction techniques used in nonfiction heighten reader interest. Let’s look at four ways nonfiction writers benefit from reading/studying fiction.
Nonfiction: Benefits of Fiction Techniques
Benefit Number One
Fiction: I’ve often had to cut out unnecessary scenes, change character POVs, add new scenes, etc. And, I’ve had to add new chapters and scenes to make my story fuller.
Nonfiction: I’ve also had to cut and add things, such as chapters, paragraphs, words, and illustrations.
Benefit: Fiction teaches us things to look for, what to add and what to cut, and the right balance between the two. This can carry over into nonfiction.
Benefit Number Two
Fiction: In well-written fiction, writers use fiction techniques that bring their stories to life.
Nonfiction: Creative nonfiction is based on true events but uses fiction techniques. A recent example is the bestselling book, Sea Stories, by Admiral William H. McRaven. Admiral McRaven shares stories from his life in the Navy SEALS. Although it’s nonfiction, he wrote it like fiction, filled with heart-stopping action, conflict, dialogue, and other techniques.
Benefit: Reading and studying fiction teaches writers how to write creative nonfiction.
Benefit Number Three
Fiction: Details. Details bring a story to life and make it visual. Concrete (visual) nouns, strong action verbs, apt figures of speech.
Nonfiction: Details. Let’s do a Bible study based on Acts 16:22-40, using details to prompt reader interest while explaining the passage about Paul’s and Silas’s arrests in Philippi. To do this may require some research.
Details to Consider
- Paul and Silas’ jail. What did it look like? Include a brief description in the Bible study.
- Paul and Silas were beaten. How were they beaten? With rods or with a whip? What did they look like after they were beaten? Research and try to find out, then share it with readers. It will add interest to the study.
- Paul and Silas were released because Paul tells the magistrate he was a Roman citizen. Though Luke doesn’t mention it, Paul may have had to prove his citizenship. How? With a passport, just like foreign travelers do today. In Paul’s day, passports were wooden tablets with their owners’ names on them. We know this from archaeologists who’ve discovered lots of them in their excavations of ancient sites. Hey, I learned this from a nonfiction book mentioned in my bibliography, and it might be of interest to readers. It interested me when I learned this.
Benefit: Fiction teaches nonfiction writers how to look for, and find, details that enhance their work.
Benefit Number Four
Fiction: It teaches writers how to establish mood and tone.
Nonfiction: Good nonfiction has certain moods and tones. Is it an angry tone, a comical tone, or a cheerful tone? Or, perhaps, a different tone. Readers gauge nonfiction authors’ attitudes by their writing’s tone and mood.
Benefit: Fiction teaches nonfiction writers how to establish the tone and mood they wish to convey in their work.
Benefit Number Five
Fiction: Fiction writers use action, conflict, and dialogue.
Nonfiction: We’ve already discussed creative nonfiction, but these techniques apply to anecdotes too. An anecdote is a brief story, usually true, that illustrates points shared in a work of nonfiction. For some examples, check out Reader’s Digest’s columns titled “Life in These United States” and “Humor in Uniform.”
Anecdotes are useful in various nonfiction genres— essays, Bible studies, newspaper articles … the list can go on. They’re an excellent way to grab reader interest as an opening for articles or chapters in nonfiction books.
Benefit: Learning how to write fiction enables writers to write better anecdotes in their nonfiction.
Some Final Thoughts
Fiction sometimes gets a bad rap from those who consider reading and writing it a waste of time. Trust me—it’s not. The broader we read in every form and genre— fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, and even screenplays— the more our writing will improve.
God has given writers a wonderful literary gift He wants His children to use for His glory and kingdom. If writing creatively wasn’t important, He would not have given such a gift to us. After all, He is, Himself, a God of majestic creativity!
Till next week, friends.
Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.