Journalists Should Start Writing Fiction: Here’s Why

Posted in: Words

One evening in 2003, an email arrived. It was from a friend, inviting me to join an online group she had recently created named “Kwaci”, a place where people can share short stories they have written. I cringed, thinking that I had nothing to offer, but joined anyway out of politeness.

I spent the first two months marveling at the many wonderful and creative stories others have posted and secretly wished I could do the same.

Then inspirations struck, one sleepless night. I opened my computer and wrote three stories that night. The premise revolves around a black out. How that one event affects the life of a young lawyer waiting a career-changing phone call on his dying cell phone, how it would impact a young city boy longing to see the stars and how it would change the life of an old widow whose only company were the creatures inside her aquarium.

My first stories were barely 200 words long each. Mere sketches without details. Mere skeletons without any meat. But the experience was so liberating I ended up writing more and more stories. Each time, my writing grew. Each time, the stories became more than sketches and skeletons.

The experience also opened many doors. A magazine took interest and offered to publish one of my stories. Another magazine soon asked if I was interested in writing an article for them. After seeing my article in the second magazine, the first magazine asked if I was interested in becoming a contributor.

One thing led to another, I became a full time journalist and stopped writing fiction.

But a year ago, the idea of going back to writing fiction kept popping in my head and I’m not sure why. So I started making a sketch, a skeleton and before I knew it, I had a novel.

As a journalist, I find the experience of writing a novel not only liberating but also enlightening.

It seems counterintuitive, but journalists can learn a lot by writing fiction.

If there is one thing I learned from this experience is that you need strong and well developed character(s).
Journalists often focus more on the story, the “What”, and the subject, the “Who”, takes the back seat. You describe the person’s physical qualities and some of the person’s traits, habits and personalities but in an article they are no more than colors, included only to support the “What.”

It would be foolish to think that a journalist can apply the same style and approach of writing a 2,500 word news feature into an 88,000 word book. It would be foolish to think that one simply needs a beginning and an ending, expand a few plot points and throw in as many details as one can.

Most of us failed to realize that first and foremost people need to care about your character(s), your protagonist(s). Because essentially they are the ones who are driving the story forward. They need to be compelling enough that people want to know more and keep reading.

In the words of screenwriting guru John Truby, “plot comes from character”.

Of course a journalist and writers of creative non-fictions do not have the luxury of creating a plot from scratch and include events which never happened. But understanding the characters in our story, their flaws and strengths, their inner thoughts and intimate secrets, and how they change throughout their journeys give life to a story.

A story becomes much more than a series of plot points joint together by “and then… and then… and then” once you explore the “Who” and understand things which make them who they are which ultimately explain some of the decisions that they make.

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