Posted in Mini-Lessons, Writing Advice

Fiction and Academics: Different yet Similar

People often think about fiction writing as an entirely different animal than how they consider academic writing, but while they have many differences, they also have quite a few similarities.  Today’s post will explore how fiction writing and academic essays pull on the same skills but in different ways.

Content

The biggest difference between most fiction writing and academic writing is the content.  Fiction writing is based more on a story whereas academic writing is focused on an argument, position, or stance.

However, both styles of writing have to consider audience and purpose throughout in order to make the content appropriate, understandable, and convincing.

Organization/Structure

Most novels follow at least one main story arc.  The characters begin with a problem and seek solutions considering different options along the way.  They may reject some options and argue harder for others.  In the end, the arc comes to a close and the character has either solved the problem or adapted.

Writing an academic essay is not really all that different.  Most academic essays begin with an introduction that contains a thesis (problem), develop body paragraphs to make the argument for solving the problem, refute solutions that will not work, and come to a conclusion.  Depending on whether the argument is Rogerian, Toulmin, or traditional, the conclusion will end the argument differently.

Research

While many fiction writers avoid procrastination by saying that they are doing “research,” that research is just as important in fiction as in academia.  And, academics often use “research” as a method of procrastination too.

(Was that a secret?  Oops.)

A good academic essay will be well researched, be backed up by peer-reviewed sources, and have correct documentation.  Those hours spent in the library will definitely pay off.

However, a novel should be well researched also.  If the novel is set in the real world, it is particularly important to get the facts straight.  Also, if you are writing something set in a certain period of history, you may want to do a little research for that as well.

But, if the novel is set in a fictional world, research is still required, but it is of a different sort.  As the author, you have to know all about your world, and that usually requires writing down a few details to keep your facts straight.

Technical Stuff

Finally, the technical stuff is important in both kinds of writing.  Stylistic fragments may be acceptable in fiction writing, but they are not in academic writing. Thus, a good writer must know the rules.

You know the old saying that you must know the rules in order to break them, right?  Well, that rule certainly applies.

Grammar, mechanics, and punctuation are highly important in academic writing, of course.  But, glaring errors in grammar, mechanics, or punctuation in fiction could mean the difference between whether or not an agent sends you a request for more or gives you that book deal.

For this reason, it is a good idea to give your book or essay some time to rest before doing your final edits.  If you give yourself a little time away from it, when you come back to it, you’ll be more likely to notice the parts that have errors, do not flow well, or just don’t make sense.  It is also a good idea to have another set of eyes on your work.  This is why writers have beta-readers and editors and why many English classes have peer editing workshops as par for the course.

In closing, no matter what you write, write it well.  And write daily.  That’s the best way to improve any kind of writing you do.

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