Investigative journalism and research can help improve your fiction writing.

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?

Focus.

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.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mental Clutter and Writing

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

There are some days, no matter what the state my house or study is in, I’ll write like a madwoman possessed. Forgetting to eat and only taking necessary breaks to visit the bathroom. I end the day in a misty haze and sore hands. That’s in my manic state. More often than not I require the bed to be made, the dishes done, my desk clear and just a few scattered notes on my outline to accompany me on my writing day… only because of all the mental clutter. Distractions, random thoughts beckoning me away from what I am meant to be doing. (Don’t get me started on the evils of Youtube and Tumblr.)

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

I find making lists keeps my head clear and on point. But they are short and realistically achievable in a day.

In the days when I was fierce about my career in Film and Television, I’d thrive on days of unprecedented tasks. The overachiever in me loved a challenge. My brain and limbs would crackle with nervous energy and the day would literally pass in a blink because I was so consumed with my work. I love that feeling. The amount of work you can get done. But it is not realistic or sustainable, especially in a creative role. Plus, completing such a high volume of work also takes impeccable organisation and time management. These days I have a toned-down version – simply because I like to enjoy my life a bit more, explore the outdoors and feed the muse. If I really wanted to, I could lock myself away and write until bleeding from every orifice. But then I’d have to deal with the crash. The writing hangover. And I’d be no good to get the edits, marketing campaigns, query letters, and all the stuff (which takes up just as much time and is essential after writing ‘the end’) that comes next.

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

There is so much more to writing a book than writing a book.

So I like to keep my house, my workspace, and my thoughts organised. I have folders galore. Excel spreadsheets. Goals stuck on the wall in front of my face. It works for me. It leaves me feeling fresh and ready to take on the world in the mornings. Because writing is a long-term endeavour – for me anyway. I give myself small daily wins and keep my eye on the finish line.

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

 

If I don’t maintain the tidiness of my work desk at times I feel claustrophobic or headachy. Psychosomatic symptoms of trying to juggle too many things and keep on task.

When I lived in the city, I loved my white, sparsely furnished office, with a massive workbench to spread out on. Now in the county, I love the view from the mountain top to the coastline. It says anything is possible. Sky’s the limit. Yes it’s cliché, but having so much space just outside my window lets me expand my mental musings into the never-ending sky.

Mental Clutter and Writing Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

I’ve come up with some of my best ideas watching the clouds roll across the lush green landscape. It’s calming. It’s inspiring. Now I understand what people say when purporting that nature is fodder for creativity. I’ve also noticed, the lessening of technology aids in my writing productivity. No television, internet, phones and other devices. It’s me and the blank page. Pen and paper or the keyboard and my word processor. Simple. Something about that state calls to me. Urges me to fill it with words and ideas.

Granted the finish line will always keep moving. Because, lets face it, there is always going to be the next book I want to write. It will be that way until I die. And that’s okay.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.