Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Fictional non-fiction
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Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 6 May 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 23 April 2001
Exercise: Fiction vs non-fiction
We sometimes think of fiction and non-fiction as exclusive domains
no overlap, but this is not really the case. Both deal with the same
human realities, each feeds off the other. For example, I've seen
fiction writing exercises that suggest finding a short newspaper
article, trying to imagine the reality behind that report, and writing
corresponding fictional story. (This exercise will do the opposite.)
Fiction and non-fiction also share many common techniques; the
are usually more a question of emphasis or degree.
Finally, even a writer doing only fiction writing will need at times
include fictional news items within the story, and too often these come
off as unrealistic (think of the movie cliché where the
on the TV just in time to get just the news item that concerns him,
that item providing only the information of interest to the character.)
For this exercise, please remember the following journalistic
- a good article will answer the 5 "W"s: who, what, where, when,
- a good article answers those questions in the first paragraph for
readers in a hurry, then in greater detail in the
rest of the
article for those wanting more.
OK, here's the exercise:
Pick a classic work of fiction, something the other members are
to know at least in general terms. In 300 words or less, write up the
story as a newspaper article, meeting the principles above. (For
example, how would one report the events of Romeo and Juliet or The
Merchant of Venice as an article?)
Your article may cover any point in the story - for example, I could
write an exercise based on Hamlet giving the initial situation (King
dies, brother takes over) or the end point.
(I think this is one we can have fun with - be creative!)
Comments added April 28, 2002:
A couple of additional comments. Last year we had a lot of fun with
exercise, writing humoristic reports of classic fairy tales. For this
year, I would suggest (but it's not mandatory) a more serious approach,
trying instead to get to the roots of the issues in one of those
stories. In addition, last year, some of the submissions tried to cover
entire novel or play in one news article. That's not how news really
- news reports on isolated events, so make sure not to get too
ambitious. Whatever work you pick (unless it's a simple work covering a
simple event), don't try to address the whole story, but rather one of
incidents that make up that story. (Of course, a good journalist will
provide context for even the most trivial of events...) I know I'm
contradictory here, but this is consistent with journalism, the
inform quickly without getting lost in background. Let's see how well
can handle this challenge!
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 13 May 2001
Well, I must admit I'm impressed with the results of this week's
exercise - both the quantity and quality of the contributions. And most
of all, it's been fun.
I did find out that the exercise as I had original phrased it was
broad, too ambitious - we were left facing the difficulty of telling
story of a complex novel or play in a short article. Many of us got
around this by choosing a simpler story: fairy tale or nursery rhyme
(and the submissions presented us at times with a very different take
familiar stories.) Others chose to deal with a single incident in a
classic work; and yet others tried (sometimes with considerable
to tell us the essential of some complex work.
The submissions also covered a range of reporting styles, from the
formal to the folksy.
When I use this article again in future, I will narrow down the
a single incident in a classic story, to make it easier.
(By the way, the difficulties dealing with complex stories, and the
to research to get the story right - how many of us *do* remember the
details of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? - are something real journalists
face every day.)
This topic also turned, indirectly, into an exercise on
with familiar story being told from a different point of view, often
with a very different effect. (This is also something I'd like to
explore again in a future exercise.)
Anyway, my thanks and congratulations to all the participants, and I
hope we all remember the lesson that writing *can* be fun!
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.