The transition to fiction
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
On this post I’ll talk about how I migrated from writing for an academic audience to writing fiction. I will offer you some guidance on how you can start using information and data gathered in research to write prose.
I began writing fiction when I was 35. I had just finished my fieldwork as an anthropology PhD student in Haifa University in Israel and I was supposed to dissect and analyze the condensed field diaries I had accumulated into an academic dissertation. However, I just could not. I felt that all this material was a warm organic matter that I was about to pin down like a butterfly for a collection of specimens. I wanted to keep the experience warm and alive. Therefore, I set out to write a novel – which would depict the complex relations and emotional worlds of the theater students I followed.
It was the very beginning of a voyage. Writing a novel instead of an academic essay was very different. The logic behind an academic work is linear and systematic. The rules are clear and you have to adhere to them in order for you to acknowledged. So letting go of that was quite overwhelming. It felt like walking off the trodden path into the wilderness.
Nevertheless, once I started to melt the rigid frames of mind I was trapped in, I found out that writing fiction was like working with something very fluid and complex and it demanded of me to create my own rules and stick to them. It allowed me to say complex things not just on the intellectual level but also emotional, spiritual and also down to earth – when your write to deal with human behavior on its micro levels – how someone scratches their brow and things like that.
The essential difference between academic and literary writing is that in the first case you express in a very explicit way what your major premises are while in fiction these only surface in the aftermath of reading your story – like an overtone, the main idea behind your story is only insinuated through your work and it is not definite. Different people will have different ideas what it is.
What I found out was that in order to create such a thing I had to let go of knowing. I allowed my intuition and imagination to kick in, and it is still challenging – every time I sit to write, even when I have a clear direction, I have to let go of knowing and let something greater than me take over, allow myself to improvise with the materials I have and do serious play.
Another difference is that while in non-fiction you might bring a bit of dialogue or a scene as it had happen – as an example of a real event promoting your thesis – in fiction every dialogue or scene has to promote the plot, the story line. For example – if in non fiction you show a gun – then it is an example of weapon while in fiction it is not just a gun but also a symbol of something much deeper and also an important part of the plot line. In fiction things have more dimensions then just their literal one. Sometimes you don’t realize this until you finished writing the story.
What I want to suggest to you on this tutorial is for you to take some piece of information. You can open any term on Wikipedia and try to transform it into a short story. Explore how different kinds of information may be used as part of a plot or a dialogue and what characters can you develop based on this information. Try to think what conflict could make it all become alive like a heart that pumps blood and life into the little world you have created. But most important allow yourself to improvise, play. Let the theme be suble. Avoid expressing it explicitly as it is done in academic writing.