Author Jay Dubya analyzes the basic differences between newspaper journalism and novel writing and then identifies the essential characteristics of each. The author believes that those who write non-fiction books are "writers" and those that write fictional novels and short stories are "authors". This article has also been posted at sffworld.com and at ebookpalace.com
“Journalism Versus Creativity”
On January 1, 2002 I had finally finished authoring my fiction book, which is titled The Great Teen Fruit War, A 1960’ Novel. The work was quite a Promethean task to complete, having 162,000 words organized on 468 pages presented in 46 Chapters. When I read my final draft I think I felt a little like Victor Frankenstein must have when he first fully viewed the monster that he had created.
The Great Teen Fruit War is set in 1960 Hammonton, New Jersey and involves conflict between the Blues, the sons of wealthy blueberry farmers and the Reds, the sons of peach farmers (please remember, a novel is fiction). The Blues are the antagonists and the gang members wear button-down blue denim jackets and the Reds are the naughty protagonists and wear zip-up red James Dean jackets like those worn by the famous actor in the 1955 classic film, Rebel without a Cause. The Great Teen Fruit War is the sequel to Black Leather and Blue Denim, A ‘50s Novel. A third book Frat’ Brats, A ‘60s Novel completes the coming-of-age trilogy.
In The Great Teen Fruit War, Bellevue Avenue in the center of Hammonton is the dividing line between blueberry country to the east and peach territory to the west. To spice up the story, the Reds have one “antagonist” in their gang named Ronald “Goose” Restuccio, the son of a Mafia kingpin. Complicating matters even further is a third gang, The Ramrodders, a group of greasers that occasionally violently interact with the Reds and the Blues.
Now here’s the essential difference between fiction and non-fiction. The Fruit War’s setting is real but the story and the characters are not. Most of the “characters” are composite, a combination of two or more people I have known from my teenage past. I have taken personality elements from these past acquaintances and synthesized each of them into a new person just like Victor Frankenstein had done with his formidable monster.
In all due respect to Gabe Donio and Gina Rullo of the Hammonton Gazette and to Ben Meritt and Susan Leiser of the Hammonton News, front-page journalism or standard news reporting is relatively easy. Journalism is basically accurate descriptive narrative writing that involves responding to the rudimentary questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? And then the typical newspaper article provides a few direct quotes and a first paragraph hook that seamlessly captures the reader’s attention.
Now Gabe Donio, Gina Rullo Ben Meritt and Susan Leiser take the Hammonton Gazette and the Hammonton News to higher levels of thinking when they write the Editorial Pages, because now we have opinion based on fact, which involves (mentally relating) the thought processes of interpretation, analysis, problem solving and controversy. Those elements are “higher level thinking skills” existing above front-page reporting and description of events. On the “Editorial Pages” some local citizens might become incensed because they didn’t exactly savor the way certain facts have been interpreted, analyzed or problem solved so they contribute their own letters-to-the-editor to explain their positions on certain disputed issues of town interest.
However, on the “Editorial Pages” Gabe and Gina and Ben and Susan are still honoring their oath to good journalism by basing their judgments, deductions and conclusions on fact, even if in the meantime they adroitly employ persuasive writing techniques.
Both short story and novel writing use facts as their basis also, but then the author deviates from factual writing (journalism, biography, etc.) when the writer creates imaginary characters, plots, situations, subplots, themes and conflicts. Novel writing requires the highest forms of thinking skills, a continuous combination of creativity and synthesis.
It is always easier to borrow than to invent. Most authors know this essential truth very well. It is hard to be absolutely creative where everything in your book is original and invented. And so, most authors depend heavily upon “reactionary creativity,” combining personalities we have known into a new protagonist or new antagonist or taking ordinary objects and attributing to them extraordinary functions.
For example, in The Great Teen Fruit War the Reds had a mammoth problem. They had stolen seven hundred fifty thousand dollars from a Blues’ father and had to dispose of the cash in a hurry. Waaala! They break into Bruni’s Pizzeria, put the cash inside one of the ovens, set the temperature to five hundred degrees and then hastily evacuated the premises. The author had once read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and knew that books (paper) burn at 451 degrees, and naturally, the paper money would disintegrate overnight at a 500 degree temperature. “Reactionary creativity” had been effectively and logically scientifically employed.
In another scenario, the diabolical Blues capture two Reds and vertically attach the dual victims’ crucifixion-style to the Fairview Avenue railroad crossing gates. When a train zips by, the gates are lowered with the two peach-gang kids still attached. Whether or not this is possible in terms of physics or mathematics is unknown by the author (or most of his readers). However, it is another example of taking familiar ordinary objects (railroad crossing gates) and ascribing a different function to them, or what I call “reactionary creativity.”
In another Fruit War chapter called “The Scavenger Hunt,” two teams of Reds and Blues must visit fifteen places in 1960 Hammonton and vicinity. Greenmount and Oak Grove Cemeteries, the giant Renault Champagne bottle on Route 30 in Elm, the Sons of Italy on 3rd Street and Angelo’s Store in Rosedale (among other local places) must be visited in a competition to obtain certain information from inscriptions and signs. The data retrieved must then be deciphered to solve a riddle encrypted inside the correct information that had been gleaned during the scavenger hunt contest.
In conclusion to this brief writing seminar, I believe that writers pursue non-fiction and that authors write fiction, but in the final analysis that is worth repeating, good fiction must read like it’s non-fiction and good non-fiction must read like it’s fiction. And oh yes, life often does seem quite ambivalent!
Jay Dubya (author of 41 books)