Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How journalism builds fiction writers

Okay, first off, the prologue I mentioned in the last entry was meant to say epilogue. You know you're tired when...

Because I don't have many creative thoughts in my body right now, as I rush about trying to finish an analysis of several pivotal French government documents for my Western European Politics class (and I love this project, French geek that I am...), I thought I'd take a moment to talk journalism.

Some writers come to fiction with bachelor's degrees in literature or MFAs in creative writing. Some just dive in with no training. Many writers survive by using their writing abilities in a professional context, and that's why you have so many reporters working on novels in their free time.

Novelist, comic book writer and paranormal mastermind extraordinaire Jonathan Maberry survived for many years on his skills as a professional writer writing things far less exciting than his current projects, but it paid the bills.

And, as Jonathan often says at workshops and conferences, you learn many skills as a professional writer. A journalist on the beat day-to-day learns there is no such thing as writers block AND that there are no excuses for not coming back with a story. I always told my reporters-in-training that if two people stood in the room, there was a story somewhere, even if it wasn't the story already in the editorial budget.

Newspaper reporters learn flexibility. They learn to write whatever comes their way. They also learn structure, often writing to rigid word counts and in short amounts of time.

Newspaper reporters learn to work with others. They work with editors and copy desks, and don't forget the importance of sources. Newspaper reporters learn to ask questions and notice details. Well, at least good ones do. These questions and details can be just as important in a novel as on newsprint. And a good reporter recognizes a good source from a bad one. This ability to weed information can build credibility in fiction, too.

Newspaper reporters respect deadlines, accept input and don't have quite as much emotion attached to to their words. Newspaper reporters can't cry over lost sentences.

And newspaper reporters can craft a decent sentence. A good reporter will have solid grammar and recognize a sentence smothered by purple prose.

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