How Technical Writing Makes Me a Better Fiction Writer

Write nonfiction to write better fiction. You read it right!

People think of me as crazy when I tell them, “Write nonfiction to write better fiction.” As a technical communicator, I never get to — and wish to — write “stories.” To write fiction, I resort to my off-work schedule. But, here’s why I believe being a technical communicator makes me a better fiction writer:

  • Expressing vs Impressing: This is where I observe the biggest impact. For me, expressions boomerang, and for good; instructions don’t. Now, I write to express. I don’t intend to please anyone with my writing; I don’t intend to only instruct. I intend to communicate, share, educate and instruct, reveal, empower.
  • Inking and Linking: The documents that I prepare contain a lot of links — well, not necessarily only hyperlinks. I help my readers work up an appetite for consuming information by graduating them from simple to complex, generic to specific information. Then there are hyperlinks, too. But, as you guessed, the hyperlinks contain only optional information. When I ink a work of fiction, I look to link events. Stories and actions link to characters; a plot leads to another to create a flow; the experiences from one sequence lead into another.
  • Answering WIIFM: I formally learned marketing communications during my college days. But, none of that knowledge was useful until I understood the importance of understanding what my users need. This means that understanding the core needs of users is critical — about answering the what’s in it for me question. After all, what’s the point in selling a comb to a bald person? With no offense to anyone, of course.
  • Organizing: I swear that I owe this one to my technical communicator profile. I have become better at organizing both single and multiple things. I can juggle multiple projects and can still have sufficient resources, information, and time at hand. Even if I work on only one project, I can keep my daily schedule sufficiently open to accommodate the last-minute changes. That’s on broad level of things.
    On the information level, the way I write has greatly improved. I prefer the inverted pyramid approach, where I consider the most important thing first and then move on to the relatively optional information tidbits without disrupting the overall flow of information. This is good especially when I am communicating what is done or needs to be done. Clear and concise. When I am writing fiction, I just invert the flow for better dramatic sequences.
    On a more granular level, my choice of words has improved. I can come up with better descriptions. This applies in reverse, too. Basically, I have better clarity in my thoughts and hence the choice of words has improved. Yes, I do fumble a bit when I speak, but that’s because I intend to compose better versions while I speak.

There still are other, unlisted points, such as attention to detail, use of words that drive actions and emotions, but then now that you know the context and content, you can guess how I connect the dots. But, will writing fiction help me become a better technical communicator? We’ll see that some other day.