I have been writing nonfiction and fiction books for twelve years now, and although the external process of sitting alone at the computer for hours and hours is exactly the same, the logistical and emotional expression of each genre is vastly different. Here is a list of five things to consider when writing both nonfiction and fiction.
1. Real vs. Imaginary: Nonfiction is based on real life and true facts that convey information, conclusions and arguments based on those facts for a life-changing effect on the reader. Fiction, however, is a made-up story, using the imagination, to entertain and, hopefully, enhance the life of the reader.
2. Thoughts vs. Scenes: In a nonfiction book, each chapter is made up of one or more sections of complete thought. For example, in my book, Fearlessly Fit, there are 15 chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter is broken down into three sections, “Fitness,” “Food” and “Faith.” These sections are like main points that make up the full chapter. In a fiction book, a chapter is made up of one or two scenes that each come from a single point of view. In my book, Bear into Redemption, Chapter 28 has 2 scenes divided by a decorative element within the book. The first scene comes from the perspective of my character, Bear, at his location in the “colony.” The second scene comes from the perspective of my character, Matt, at his location in the “city.” The colony scene carries the main plot, and the city scene carries a subplot that adds depth to the main plot of the story. However, the majority of my fiction chapters usually only have one scene in each.
3. Gathering vs. Imagining: In my book, Our 6, His 7, Transformed by Sabbath Rest, I gathered facts and data from the Bible and other Christian resources to support my claim that we, as God’s Children, have rest in Christ. I presented those facts in a vertical or layer-by-layer fashion to support the main idea of my book. I also used real-life experiences to help bring pathos (emotional appeal) and relevant application to the main idea. In my book, Mark within Salvation, I did broad research on various topics, tucking my research into the daily lives and dialogue of my characters. In chapter 17 of this book, my character, Li, is breaking in a wild mustang. I did research and got suggestions from people who know horses in order to write this scene accurately but with the poetic license of my imagination.
4. Downloading vs. Unfolding: In a nonfiction book, the writer is downloading information. This doesn’t mean that the information will be boring; it simply means that there is one person (the writer) sharing information to another person (the reader). This downloading of information needs to be done with integrity, creativity and emotional appeal, and the reader should have a change of perspective and/or a internal growth once the book is read. In a fiction book, the writer is unfolding an entire world to the reader. The writer has to create a setting, plot and characters and reveal them skillfully as the puppet-master (narrator) of the story. The writer has to create all of this using his or her unique writer’s voice and imagination, not only entertaining the reader, but, hopefully, enhancing the reader’s life and worldview.
5. Discussing vs. Dialoguing: In a nonfiction book, information, thoughts and feelings are discussed one-on-one with the reader. In a fiction book, dialogue between the characters or within an imaginative monologue conveys information, thoughts and feelings. I have no qualms in asserting that dialogue is one of the most difficult and beautiful aspects of fiction writing. God has given us language to touch the hearts, minds and souls of His people, and learning to speak on behalf of each character’s individual personalities (composed of his/her background, life experiences, design and purpose) is both challenging and exhilarating. For example, in my Onoma Series, I have two sects of people (Efficientists and Colonists), which speak in two very different dialects of English. Moreover, within each sect of people groups, I have a vast array of characters that all have different perspectives and styles of speech. Zach, the learned preacher’s son, speaks differently than Bear, the fighter who is street smart. They are both highly intelligent people but in different ways. I have to get to know each character intimately and discover for myself how he feels, what he thinks and how he speaks. If not, each character would be an unrealistic, flat multiplication of the narrator (me) who is neither a preacher’s kid nor a professional fighter.
In a sense, writing nonfiction is like diving eloquently and accurately off a high dive, going deep into the water below in order to touch the bottom of the pool, analyzing and explaining everything along the way. Writing fiction is like carrying different glasses of water all over the upper body while walking with finesse and dexterity down the length of the pool without spilling or breaking anything, envisioning and portraying the entire experience. In both scenarios, water (the source of life) is being handled by the writer.