You probably think that fiction and nonfiction are on opposite sides of the equator—and I would say that you are absolutely correct. Each have different sets of rules, audiences, and goals. One is entertaining and the other is informative. One keeps us on the edge of our seats and the other keeps us on the edge of our brains. One lifts us into another dimension and the other pushes us down to reality.
If you’re a novelist like me, you may be tempted to skip writing nonfiction. After all, your top priority is fiction, so why bother with unimaginative stuff that reminds you of essays from college?
But those assignments shaped you into a stronger, more articulate person.
When I started exploring nonfiction, specifically articles on story craft, my fiction improved 100 percent. That’s because becoming familiar with a technique so you can teach others about it holds four unexpected benefits.
1. Writing about Story Craft Provides You with Accountability
One of the scariest realities you’ll ever face is someone reading your story. Do they like it? Or hate it?
But you know what’s even more frightening? Wondering if you gave bad advice.
For nonfiction writers, every tip offered to readers can be stressful. Suppose I claimed that Christian publishers don’t accept sci-fi anymore. A few readers might actually believe that and pass along the news to someone else. Soon publishers would stop receiving sci-fi, sending Star Wars nerds into panic. Although you could argue that these hypothetical readers were too gullible, eventually they’d realize their mistake and attempt to torch someone’s house (presumably mine) because an article fed them misinformation.
Any statements you put in print should be sound for the sake of your own reputation, your house insurance, and the well-being of your audience. Writing articles on story craft forces you to evaluate yourself for weaknesses. If you’re struggling to explain a concept, you probably don’t grasp it well enough yet, which prompts you to study it further.
Always cross-check your advice, with two sources if possible (in case one is faulty). Then pass the piece through some writer colleagues to weed out any misconceptions or biases you may not be conscious of. Even if you made errors initially, afterward you’ll have learned a lot about the subject that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
In turn, you can apply the same level of conscientiousness to your fiction. Verify facts and assumptions. Research the topic or time period, and talk to an expert if you can. During the final stage, enlist beta readers and editors to critique your manuscript.
2. Writing about Story Craft Helps You Remember Important Principles
Have you ever noticed that when you jot something down, you’re more likely to retain it? What if you also typed up, edited, and structured your notes into an article?
Even if I can’t recall every word of every article I’ve ever written, the techniques I’ve covered never fade from my memory. In many ways, writing articles on story craft is even better than reading a book about characters or theme or style. With a book, you’ll have to spend endless hours highlighting, note-taking, and memorizing. But with an article, you’ll save time, sharpies, and brain space.
You may even have a revelation (or two or three)! Although a professor repeats the same lessons year after year, during each semester he’s liable to run into a fact that slipped his mind or hadn’t occurred to him before. When you instruct others, you’re also instructing yourself. So even if you feel too inexperienced to dole out writing tips, try drafting an article that no one except you needs to see.
3. Writing about Story Craft Increases the Clarity and Creativity of Your Prose
The nature of nonfiction compels you to focus on nitty-gritty issues. Your sentences must make sense; otherwise the whole article will be a shambles. Unlike fiction, you can’t be subtle or else you’ll confuse readers. The tiniest gaffe can throw off your meaning, like the qualifier “most” in this line: “Ending a query with an emoji is entirely unacceptable at most publishing houses.” You’d be implying that select publishing houses allow emojis in queries, which isn’t true. In article writing, you need to contemplate each sentence’s existence, purpose, and intent to ensure that you don’t inadvertently offend or mislead someone.
Now, examine your stories with equal scrutiny. Could readers misinterpret a scene or a snippet of dialogue? Are your descriptions convoluted? Does your worldbuilding contradict itself? How can you make your prose a smooth reading experience?
Article writing also dares you to be innovative in how you express your points. Creativity is generally harder in nonfiction, because producing a bland article is relatively easy. But an interesting one? Oh, that’s a challenge. And challenges exercise your creative muscles. Whenever I write an article, I strive to add flavor either with clever analogies, quirky examples, or my personal favorite, a dash of humor.
Try writing an article, whether about story craft or something else (bonus points if it’s a boring topic). How can you spice it up and hook readers with the first sentence? Can you include an entertaining anecdote or metaphor? When you finish, return to your work-in-progress and consider how you can adapt those tactics to fiction.
4. Writing about Story Craft Deepens Your Understanding of Storytelling
This benefit may be last, but it’s certainly not least. In fact, all the other benefits pale in comparison, because this one will boost the health of your stories to such a degree that you might want to write articles all the time!
When you write fiction exclusively, you may end up blindly groping around without ever asking yourself why. Why do your characters tend to be timid or sarcastic? Why are you cutting one particular paragraph and not another? Why are you even writing?
Writing articles on story craft pushed me to search for answers to questions I never would have asked before. I began analyzing movies and novels, and I dug into the recesses of my mind too. Sure, some of the perceptions I aired out were incorrect, but that opened up space for accurate information. And when I couldn’t find the insight I needed inside myself, I sought it elsewhere—from blogs, guidebooks, and writing buddies. With each new discovery, I grew as a storyteller.
Knowing my reason why enabled me to write more impactful stories. If that’s your goal too, start interrogating yourself. Why do you write about misfit orphans? Why do you keep your sentences short in action scenes? What makes you tick as a writer? Wrangle those questions into an article (or articles), preferably answering as comprehensively as you can.
What Kind of Article Should You Write and When Should You Write It?
Are you eager to whip up some writing advice but aren’t sure where to start? Are you hitting a blank, or maybe you can’t seem to decide between dozens of possibilities? Here are a few questions to steer you toward the right topic:
- What aspect of storytelling are you the most versed in? How did you master it?
- What rules or techniques trip you up?
- What kind of scenes/stories have you been writing lately? Why?
- What genre do you usually gravitate to?
- What piece of writing advice has been pivotal for you?
- What area of your life has indirectly influenced the themes or style of your stories?
- What part of writing do you enjoy the most and why?
However, figuring out what to write isn’t as difficult as determining when you should write it. Now, when I say “when,” I don’t mean studying which direction the leaves fall to predict the most opportune moment. I mean when are you ready to write an article for others to consume? As I already emphasized, you need to be careful that you don’t hand out flawed advice. So how do you discern whether your wisdom is seasoned enough? Ponder these checkpoints:
- How many years have you been writing?
- How many books on story craft have you read? Do you visit writing websites on a regular basis?
- Have you ever had your writing critiqued?
- Do you receive feedback with a willingness to learn, or do you disregard it and rely more on your own opinions?
- How much do you write?
- Have you discussed writing techniques before, either orally or in written form?
Build Up That Nonfiction Nutrition
Nonfiction may not be as fun to read or write, but it’s a necessary addition to the budding writer’s plate. Can you still write fiction without it? Absolutely. But oftentimes the best authors are those who share advice with other writers. It helps make their fiction grow strong and healthy.
And even if you don’t glean anything from the experience of writing about story craft, it’s far from a waste of time. Because, in doing so, you’re serving other writers. Who knows who you might help or encourage with your words?
Editor’s Note: If this post has inspired you to write an article about story craft, we’d love for you to submit it to us! We’re always looking for quality content to publish, especially tips that edify and encourage storytellers.
Mariposa Aristeo is a writer of quirky characters and fantastical adventures filled with heart, humor, hope, and, very often, dinosaurs. If you can’t find her in one of her own imaginary worlds, try combing the pages of a great middle-grade fantasy novel.
At Story Embers, igniting (and sometimes imploding) ideas is her favorite pastime, so she often uses her creativity to make graphics for articles and writing quotes, as well as implement new strategies for SE’s social media channels. Explosions aside, she loves getting to know each and every writer here at SE by running the popular #embersgram hashtag on Instagram and responding to your questions and emails.
Besides being a co-owner of Story Embers, Mariposa is an ACFW First Impressions contest finalist, a children’s book illustrator, and the host of the IGTV series #middlegrademagicwithmari. You can check out her book recommendations (and shenanigans) on her Instagram page or her character sketches on her art account.