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Exercise: Fiction vs non-fiction (2)

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: December 15, 2002
Reposted on: January 4, 2004
Reposted on: January 15, 2006

This is a repeat of an exercise that Rheal created some time ago (see the earlier version of this exercise.)

We sometimes think of fiction and non-fiction as exclusive domains with 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 a corresponding fictional story. (This exercise will do the opposite.)

Fiction and non-fiction also share many common techniques; the differences are usually more a question of emphasis or degree.

Finally, even a writer doing only fiction writing will need at times to include fictional news items within the story, and too often these come off as unrealistic (think of the movie cliché where the protagonist turns on the TV just in time to get just the news item that concerns him, with that item providing only the information of interest to the character.)

For this exercise, please remember the following journalistic principles:

  • a good article will answer the 5 "W"s: who, what, where, when, why
  • 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 likely 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.

For anything other than the simplest story, do not try to tell the whole story, but focus on one incident, trying to see it as a journalist would at that moment in time. A good journalist would provide some information on what went before, and might speculate on what would come after, but would not have access to the whole story, and would not need to tell the whole history in great details.

Identify the chosen story, and the selected scene or incident, at the end of your submission - though if you properly answered the 5 "W"s, the reader should have figured it out by then if familiar with the original story.

(I think this is one we can have fun with - be creative!)

Florence Cardinal

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: January 19, 2004

We've had a quiet week for this exercise, probably not surprising since it came right after the holidays. Still, the submissions were interesting, as always.

As happens every time, a number of people chose to redo classic fairy tales as news items - often with humourous effect. I did wonder why so many of those - I guess the fact that those stories are simple and well-known is a big incentive (and of course, it's fun to play with those!)

A couple of things bothered me in a number of submissions.

One was how the reporter would have known some of the details being reported - or why those would have been considered newsworthy. Certainly, a number of the submissions would get no more than a passing glance were we to find them in an actual newspaper - they either failed to be of general interest, or they did not start out with the most important information (as a good news item should), leaving the reader trying to know what was being written about.

The second problem is a standard one for this exercise: trying to tell all of a complex story in a single news story. Remember that the exercise statement said to select a single incident or scene in a given story. After all, that's how we learn most news stories in real life, one incident at a time.

Underlying all these points, we get back to the issue of point of view - in a news story, we have to consider not only the POV of the characters in the story, but also those of the reporter and the target audience. So, while this was not the original intent, this exercise does help us put ourselves in different heads and consider how each of them would view the story, and what would interest them about it.

Before we rerun this exercise, I'll have to see if I can rewrite it to help us improve focus and credibility.


Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.