What do fiction and nonfiction have in common that make both work?

Eric Nelson, an editor turned agent, has some good wisdom. In a word:

It’s all about choice.

For fiction, Nelson says when it comes to what makes for plot, it’s all about the choices the characters are put in a position to make. For example:

“If your CIA agent is in a speedboat, trying to outrun an explosion, it would be better if he would have to throw something emotionally important overboard to speed his escape.  The problem is often the reverse in romance novels. When the heroine realizes she should be with the man who has been chasing her (or vice versa), but there should also be a real life practical analog to it.  The hot guy shouldn’t just say, ‘I love you.’ He should say, ‘I love you, and I’m willing to give up my plot-driving career to prove it.'” 

For nonfiction, to make it effective it has to go beyond just facts of the topic, and get into the choices people have to make that are related to that topic. For example, when relaying information, in today’s age of Google, it isn’t enough these days to just define, say, diabetes. We can simply google it and find out in a matter of minutes what it is.

Today, nonfiction readers want answers to things that go beyond this. They want to get educated about choices they can make to prevent diabetes, such as discussion of different levels of exercise and how it relates to the probability of prevention. As Nelson writes, as readers these days we want to know how “the right information will lead to the right choice” (s).

As a writer, have you approached fiction and nonfiction writing this way? Does this help you develop your content? As a reader, do you agree?

As an editor, I would say Nelson is right on~


Original post, July 2013



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