Editing: The Fiction/Nonfiction Difference

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As everyone who even remotely checks my blogs knows, I’m editing A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, my techno-fantasy novel and return to fiction.  I’m learning a lot from the editing process and my editor (who I am glad to refer to anyone).

One of the things I’ve realized is how radically different editing fiction and nonfiction are.

This probably surprises few people, but it had never really crossed my mind.  This was because I’ve done both and I’ve written so much over the decades, I hadn’t thought about the shift.  It was all ‘writing’ to me, and I assumed I wouldn’t be that rusty.

Well, I was definitely a bit rusty.  But I also began to see the unique challenges of fiction writing after spending time away from it.

Fact checking is harder.  In fiction you’re basically making facts up.  You’ve got to check and be checked on things you pulled out of the air.

There’s more ways to do it.  Instructional and nonfiction works have certain structures and patterns you usually end up following – from the workflow of a process to breaking things down.  Fiction gives you room with metaphor, wordplay, flashbacks, etc. that give you so many ways to do fiction editing and planning is much harder.

You’re in the heads of unreal people . . . you have to get into the minds of fictional people as you write about them.  So you not only have to empathize with your audience, you have to empathize with people that don’t exist.

. . . and have to empathize with your audience in complex ways.  If I write a good instructional or nonfiction piece, I have very set goals and can pretty easily figure my audience out to deliver it.  For fiction I have to think of a variety of experiences the audience may have, their attitudes, backgrounds, and more – and wrap all that in connecting them to a fictional world.

There’s much more back and forth in fiction.  Because of the unique elements of fiction, I find that editing is a lot more of a back and forth thing.  You find a bit of inconsistent language here and have to go back all over your story.  You realize you need to tweak a “feel” here and there.  With nonfiction I usually can go through one or two edits and be done, with fiction there’s more.

You have more of an illusion to keep up.  Nonfiction is about reality and communicating.  Fiction needs you to keep up the illusion, which requires you to be careful with language, repeated words, being properly evocative, etc.

So that was informative.  I’m glad I took time to write it down.  Now let’s see what else I learn . . .

-Steven Savage