How Nonfiction and Fiction Writing Intersect

A family member gave me a book titled, “How to Write Historical Fiction.” I haven’t written historical fiction and I don’t suppose I will, but that doesn’t mean the book is useless. Historical fiction is the genre that is the most explicit with mixing nonfiction and fiction. Nonfiction and fiction each use each other.

When I tell someone my focus is creative writing, they act like the field of nonfiction is closed to me, as though all I can write is made up stories. I find the two genres to be inseparable. My creative writing is inspired by my nonfiction life.

Even in nonfiction, there is creativity in how it is formatted, what is told, and how much is told. This is why you can have dozens of books on the same person and each book will be different even though that person’s actions and events in his/her life are the same. A nonfiction book is still told through a frame. The frame or the point of view is something that we can never escape from in storytelling, even if the story is true, because the storyteller has to make decisions of how the story is told. The most nonfiction a story can be is real life, but we still run into differences from points of view. Witnesses of a crime scene give different statements because they saw the same event from different observation points and have different interests.

Even in the wildest fiction, there are elements of real life, whether it be inanimate matter, language, or living beings. How the real life elements are changed or what is added is what makes these stories refreshing. Yet the same can be true for nonfiction with how we are surprised and fascinated by the bizarre things that are true of reality.

But for nonfiction you have to do research and fiction can be anything you come up with. Well, good creative writing also requires research in order to make the elements that are nonfiction or to make something unreal believable and place us concretely within the new world.

Timelessness of Letters

The number of letters mailed has been declining each year as we move to electronic means of communication (U.S. Statistics). I find handwritten letters to be much more personal. But when we do have time to write a letter, get an envelope, and buy postage? And by the time the recipient has received the letter, things have changed. If we write letters that are not about the daily ongoings, but that are about giving advice or explaining something, then we can have letters that are timeless.

It is certainly convenient and fast to send an email, but an email can be diverted to junk mail and ignored or deleted with a click. We live in a physical world and the physical letter will leave a tangible impression on us in a way that an email does not.

C. S. Lewis wrote responses by hand to letters he received from fans. In one of them, he offers practical points about writing. This is a timeless letter in that, although it was addressed to a specific reader at a specific time, its advice holds true even today. The value of the letter is as a means of exchange, the recognition of another person’s thoughts and participating in a dialogue.

How many emails do you receive in a day? And how many of those do you respond to? Often emails today are more about giving information than an interest in communication between two individuals.

It takes time to write a letter. Time that we often say we don’t have. Writing a letter can be a way to slow down and make time for the things that we value.

The letter featured in the image is another handwritten letter by C. S. Lewis to Janet.

3 Benefits of Being an English Major

1. So you’re going to be a teacher…
While English majors can teach, they can also go into journalism, law, medical, or business school, publishing, marketing, and more. Wherever there is English being written or spoken, the English major has you covered. Someone writes those instruction manuals on the new iPhone 6 you bought that you never read. Someone writes the scripts for the 30 second advertisement on YouTube that you have to watch in order to see the video. Someone writes the blurb about how yummy Honey Nut Cheerios are on the cereal box you buy from Ralphs. These are mundane things you take for granted, and they show that everywhere you look there is English.

2. So you read books…
When people think that all English majors do is read books, they make it seem like a confining occupation. In reality, it is the most liberating. I can talk about anything because we write books on everything. There are classic works, Beowulf, Paradise Lost, The History of Rasselas, Oliver Twist, and The Grapes of Wrath, but there is also the horror of H.P. Lovecraft, science of Philip K. Dick, and comedy of Douglas Adams. Having a solid literary foundation means you understand references, can link ideas, know psychology as character development and interaction, and see the same moral dilemmas recur century after century in new incarnations. The messages we see on technology, the environment, and philosophy in fiction can be applied to our real world lives.

3. So you like writing papers…
Actually, I do, and writing essays means I am critically thinking about texts and putting together concepts. I think people dislike writing because it is hard, but you can’t escape from writing whether it be emails, resumes, or scholarship essays. Just because I like writing essays, doesn’t mean I think it’s easy, but I know the only way to get better is to practice. Writing is a way to organize your thoughts and ideas. Through writing, you can reach out to other people and start a discussion or spur someone to think or act in a different way. It is through reading and writing that we delve into all aspects of the things that matter the most to us with the world and human life.

Writing Forums to Blogs

I’m part of an online writing forum called The Echo. I joined in 2008 and have been on and off since then. Yesterday, I revisited it and saw how inactive it has become. It made me sad because I have so many fond memories of chatting, reading, and engaging with my peers’ feedback. We’d play word games, have holiday parties (my favorite was a Halloween party where we went virtual trick or treating with image candies to everyone’s “houses,” a thread with a drawing of their house), share in the troubles of school, the difficulties of writing, the good times of writing when ideas were flowing, and talk about favorite authors and books. Even though I’ve never met these people, they’re friends, and we made a community.

The Echo isn’t the only forum that has declined in activity. All of the small forums that I looked at were either closed or dead. So I suppose The Echo has faired much better than most. The only active forums I found were from big organizations such as Writer’s Digest. We’ve lost these online spaces for small communities. (At least for writing forums.)

Life happens. We get busy with school and work. We don’t have time. And I’m just as guilty of this. Now I’m rediscovering the online world of writing and reading. I started this blog to set a deadline for myself to write something every week. But I’m seeing how isolated we bloggers are in comparison to writing forums. It’s nice to have your own site to put up all of your works. You have control over the design and content. You can personalize and individualize it. It’s an online portfolio.

I’ve found blogs to be more about other people reading your blog rather than engaging with others. With so many blogs and so much content, how do you know where to begin? This is where I miss the community that a writing forum provides. With a writing forum, you don’t have to search for people, for stories to read, or for chat rooms to talk. Everything is already there for you in one place. And with a small writing forum, you’re not overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people and content.

Another feature I love about the writing forum, is the engagement with other people. When a member shares a story, we read it, write our thoughts, the author engages with our comments, asks questions. It’s a dialogue and from this interaction we build friendships. Though some forums now have this feature of the “like” button, we disabled it on The Echo because we didn’t want to move from commenting on threads to simply “liking” them. For blogs, instead of commenting, we “like” something. It’s quick and easy. Clicking this button is a way to signal that we’ve read it without spending the time to write something. The “like” button is passive participation. It’s a way to say we’re active without being committed.

In moving from writing forums to personal blogs, we’ve isolated ourselves and detached from tight-nit communities. We’re concentrated on meeting our deadline to write that new blog post. It’s all about our own work. Of course, it’s wonderful to receive attention, but what I’m missing the most from the writing forum is the community interaction. Although we can engage with others through our blogs, I’ve found it harder than on a writing forum. I hope that the small online community of writing forums will flourish again like it once did.