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Memories of the 28th Century

Writing Fiction versus Writing Non-Fiction

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
Recently, I was talking to someone about some of the works of Samuel L. Clemens, AKA Mark Twain. I was encouraging the other person to read Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi, both of which are memoirs, rather than fiction. Then we touched on the matter of most of Twainís fiction not being all that good. But that made sense, because Twain was a reporter of considerable experience, so he wrote in a reportorial fashion.

Good reporters are honest people who are inclined to accurately describe the world. On the other hand, writers of fiction are fundamentally liars or dreamers, and they write what they think will have the most appropriate impact on the mind of the reader. Whether their writing describes the world is essentially irrelevant.

As a reporter, Twain was honest, but he carefully inflated or deflated characters' words so they might better represent his view of the world, but he doesn't seem to have been much of a dreamer. He had trouble describing an imaginary world. I'm not claiming that none of his fiction was any good, but much of his fiction is ignored, because it isn't very good, consider Tom Sawyer Detective as one example, but Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi are still quite popular, and they are often read by people who are trying to get an idea of what life was like a hundred and some odd years ago.

Then there's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which is excellent, but Twain seems to have written it to illustrate a point about life in his time, so it describes life around 1900, rather than in King Arthur's court.

The whole matter came up, because I was trying to encourage that other person to write a book, and I was finishing the last bits of a novel. That guy probably would write a piece of non-fiction, and it might be quite nice. But that got me thinking about the difference in the skills necessary for the different kinds of writing.

Now Iím trying to remember where this was going. I think that people write what they can, if they are inclined to write at all. These days poets work for advertising agencies, straight shooters are technical writers, and dreamers write fiction. Except in cases where someone got into the wrong line of work. I donít know much about advertising, except for what a few people who have worked in the business say about it, but, to judge from the results, some people who might be good technical writers or reporters are in advertising. Similarly, there are novelists who should try reporting, because they donít seem to understand characterization.

Different personalities lead to different ways of thinking, and different things that are important.

If all goes well, I will soon find out about my position in this matter.

Updated 02-15-2017 at 06:03 PM by PeterL



  1. ErrantKnight's Avatar

    What a compelling rumination of the different genres of writing. The poet Horace wrote that since fiction is speculative in nature it is more philosophical as oppose to history which is a record of events. Mark Twain is an interesting example of the writer and journalist tradition that began with Defoe, but Dickens seem to be the most acclaimed. Both resorted to fiction to raise awareness of the issue of their day through fiction that was not possible through journalism. All writing is a creative process with particular restraints depending on the genre. Certain genres are more suited to particular aims than others. A writer of fiction may come closer to a deeper truth in his work than a bias journalist clouded by his political preferences.