Why Fiction is Essential to Writing Well

GargoyleThere are all kinds of writers out there. From fiction authors, to journalists, to pop culture piece writers, to non-fiction publishers. There are casual writers, serious writers, and some who are in between. We all have our own voices, and we all have our own areas of expertise.

As I have discussed many times, reading is a key part of writing. But I think that those who read only non-fiction miss out on essential writing lessons. You see, fiction is about the words, while non-fiction is about the story. You don’t really need a lot of description in a biography, while in fiction you have to create a world, characters, and every other aspect of your story¬†inside of someone else’s mind.

Fiction is filled with beautiful words and new ideas. Biographies and marketing books teach you about things that already exist (or did in the past). I bet that those who read fiction may even have larger vocabularies than their non-fiction counterparts. I have learned so many new words from Shakespeare and Poe and Tolkien, while I have learned hard facts and statistics and tactics from non-fiction.

Fiction teaches us to write a story, and I believe that that is a fundamental part of any written work. Every small piece of copy, every call-to-action, every product description, or news story, or scientific article should have a story to it. It needs more than just the introduction, climax, and conclusion that we were taught throughout our years in English classes.

The purpose of any piece is to be read. The way to pique a reader’s interest is to write a piece that engages them in some way. Simply knowing how to spell isn’t enough. Fantasy and horror and even romance teach us how to pull a reader in. We need to explore different tones and styles so that we can fit our writing to the audience who matches it. An experienced writer should be able to move up and down on the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale without flinching, to tend to the needs of various readers.

A good writer should be able to make just about anything interesting. And without fiction, I just don’t see how that’s possible. Non-fiction binds us to certain types of writing, and makes it uncomfortable to flit between different topics and styles. Fiction pushes us to be creative, and to understand the varying levels of writing without giving us strict boundaries.

True, I write non-fiction all day, four days of the week. Do I enjoy it? Sometimes. But I like to think that the content that I provide is engaging, suits the audience, and sits in a perfect balance of readability for the people I have targeted to read it, regardless if I am writing about office culture or a legal process. I wholeheartedly believe that because I have consumed so much fiction, I could write about almost anything without much difficulty.

Topics, content type, and audience do not daunt me, because I can relate a piece of work that I have read to whatever I need to write. I have so many resources to pull ideas and examples from, that I never feel like I am facing a foreign or unexplored task.

Limiting ourselves to genres or types of books keeps us from expanding as writers. Though I prefer fiction, I also enjoy articles, books, and posts about science, history, culture, gaming, and news. Often, if I come across something that I don’t enjoy, I will read it anyway so that I can understand what I don’t like about it. It usually has nothing to do with the subject, and everything to do with the writing.

If you only read long, boring articles, why would you expect your writing to be any different? In order to really be a writer and to provide content above and beyond what is required, you have to not only taste every dish at the table, but have a hearty helping of each. How else could you discern your own preferences?

I do think that you can still be a good writer even if you only read one type of book. I just think that there is so much more potential for those who experiment and test the waters of different styles. It’s much more difficult to become adaptable in your reading if you refuse to adapt in your reading.

Do you stick to one genre? Do you think that fiction has anything to offer to writers of all kinds? Do you experiment with your own writing in terms of genres and styles?

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6 thoughts on “Why Fiction is Essential to Writing Well

  1. Being a full-time student, I definitely read more non-fiction than anything else. Fiction nowadays is restricted to the days when I run out of bandwidth at home and can’t find ways to spend my time. I think it has to do with the fact that I just don’t know what to read anymore. For years I’ve read YA novels but I’m at an age where it’s getting harder to find one that I will still enjoy and learn from.

    And I think the lack of fiction in my life is definitely having an impact on the way I write. I’m struggling to put a style to my name and also be more creative with headlines. After reading this I think it’s time I hit the library to get some inspiration.

    • All of the reading that I do at work is non-fiction, and so is all of the writing. It can become quite draining, but I make time every night to read something that I want to read. What kind of books do you generally enjoy? I could try to provide some recommendations. I have read a little bit of everything, and a lot of some things.

      • I love novels with a really strong plot element and good character development. I love Dan Brown’s novels (not a lot of character development, but a lot of thrill). I read a lot of YA dystopia but I think I loved them more for the romance component. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was also fantastic (a bit too dark for me but it was an amazing read). It would be great to get some recommendations from you!

      • You might like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. They’re sort of fantasy, but there’s a good love story mixed in, and a lot of adventure. The Book Thief was an excellent book, with wonderful character development and a lot of beautiful words. The Reader was a good book as well, but it is a little dark. If you like any historical fiction, give Philippa Gregory a try, her books are absolutely wonderful. For fantasy you can try Pullman as mentioned, or Ken Follett (I liked Pillars of the Earth). I hope those help!

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