Taking a page from journalistic writing to help write and edit your novel.
What’s the best thing about journalism that we tend to overlook?
Typically, print investigative journalism is usually condensed, because there is a word count that the writer needs to comply with. A hook. An angle, a balanced discussion, or point of view the author wishes to bring to light. All the relevant information, facts, and references are provided. Regardless of tone and writing style, these aspects are usually always present. So, what is the takeaway for fiction writing?
If you break down your writing into scenes – a section of your writing that has its own unique combination of setting, character, dialogue, and sphere of activity – (like a conversation, or a fight, or the first time a character arrives at a destination) you can focus on certain elements to help keep your writing focused, paced well, and if need be, your word count on track.
Granted an article is short prose and has different intentions than a novel, but if you look at each scene in your story and ensure it hits benchmarks of purveying the right emotion and intent, covers the plot points (or facts, or reveals) and has an element that engages the reader… all the hard work is done. Then it’s a matter of ensuring the pacing works for the scene and the prose flows easily. Journalism or Non-fiction can tend to be flat or short in its writing style (apologies for the broad and generally incorrect assumption.) Not a lot of time is spent on world building or on character development. It’s all about supported facts and the intent of the piece.
I think this is especially handy when you are looking at your work and can’t figure out what is wrong with the scene.
What is supposed to happen? What do you intend the reader to get from this scene? Or what (facts) am I meant to show the reader? Is the plot point clear?
See how asking those questions clear away a lot of muddy ground to get right to the heart of the scene. Or if in fact the scene is needed at all.
All of the above points deal with the mechanics of your writing… how it is put together. The other aspect of investigative journalism is research. It should be common sense at this point, but there are still writers out there that begin writing a novel about something that they don’t know much about. Taking the time to build the world, craft characters, look into every little facet that makes your characters compelling and interesting, of the world you are setting your novel in (wondrous, or bleak, or scary…) it’s adding those little touches, brief flecks of complexity that give your writing confidence and nuance. I’ve known authors to spend months researching topics before beginning to write. Some create elaborate topological maps, extensive character profiles. Researching mental illness or medical conditions, collection of colloquial dialogue, or even the fashion and social etiquette of a certain time period. Other writers read scientific journals on forward evolution or potential global impacts of things like pollution, over-population, solar radiation, etc… to get a solid ground behind them before crafting even a single sentence. It boasts sound knowledge of their world, plausibility of the plot, and realistic, complex characters which are a joy to read. The narrative feels solid and realistic no matter the subject.
Things like this can be applied in a developmental edit, but, you can use these tools in the planning phase of writing your novel depending where you sit in the spectrum of Plotter vs. Pantser.
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