Friday, February 5, 2010

Literary Journalism vs Creative Fiction

I've been dabbling in literary journalism. I've had to - I'm taking a feature writing class in school, so I'm immersed in it. I was a little wary of this new genre at first, before my first day of class.

I have always, since day 1 of my life (well, practically), always said that I did NOT under any circumstances want to be a journalist. I've always said I wanted to tell stories, not report the news. And now, here I am, a Communications graduate student taking a Literary Journalism class.

But what's so great about this new genre (new for me, I mean) is that it does tell a story! And it uses most of the literary fiction devices I've grown to know and love so well - like characterization, sensory detail, dialogue, etc.

There are two main differences I've noticed so far. One, and most obviously, literary journalism has to contain fact. All fact. If I can't remember what the mayor's daughter (or whoever) was wearing, I can't just pretend that she had on shorts, Uggs, and a scarf.

Two - these stories are written in scenes. Ok, there are scenes in fiction, but this is different to me. I don't think that fiction stories necessarily revolve around scenes that contain action. They could, but they don't have to. For example: the modernists - they write the thoughts in character's heads. These are not scenes. Nor do they often contain much action. But scenes in literary journalism are the lifeblood of the story. Or at least that's what I gather so far. And there doesn't seem to be any need for transition between scenes.

I like Literary Journalism, so far, but I'm still learning and practicing. But each new thing I learn about this genre, I think about how it relates to my fiction writing. I want to try to write a piece of fiction in scenes. Without transitions.


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I think Peter Jacobi would approve! Thanks for sharing what you are learning.

Sometimes I feel as if I get almost that compulsive with the details of historical fiction. When writing about an actual event I want to know the colors of actual things, the specific day of the week when something happened, etc.

I should probably lighten up a bit.

Anne Greenawalt said...

I don't think it's a bad thing to be compulsive about the details in historical fiction. It's all those details that draw your readers into the time period of your stories and create an authenticity that readers respect.