Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is non fiction tougher to write than fiction?


John Grisham has this to say.

"BESTSELLING author John Grisham has turned to non-fiction for the first time, and, surprised by the amount of time and energy it took, he believes it may well be the last.

The Innocent Man is the real-life story of of Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz, who were charged with the 1982 murder of a cocktail waitress.

Williamson, who was mentally unstable, was convicted and sent to death row in the United States, where he came within five days of being executed for a murder he did not commit. He and Fritz were eventually freed after DNA tests showed there was no link between the men and the crime.

John Grisham signing copies of his first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, in New York recently.

“This was too much hard work,” Grisham said. ”Non-fiction requires endless research, fact-checking, accuracy – things I’m not know for,” he told an audience at the annual literature festival in Cheltenham, England, recently. “This book probably took five times the effort that a novel takes. I don’t want to do it again.”

Grisham was drawn to the story when he read Williamson’s obituary in the New York Times in 2004. The miscarriage of justice against Williamson, who shouted angrily at witnesses during his trial after he had been denied psychiatric medicine for months, reinforced Grisham’s doubts about the US legal system.

“It didn’t change my opinion of the death penalty because I’ve been opposed to it for a long time,” he said. “It goes back to the issue of a fair trial. If you can’t give people a fair trial, then your system is broken.”

The book is also an attack on what Grisham saw as sloppy police work in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, and its impact on an innocent man. “He (Williamson) went insane on death row and came within five days of being executed, and when finally he was exonerated he drank himself to death.”

Grisham, one of the world’s most successful writers with global sales of more than 200 million books, recalled his humble beginnings as a lawyer and novelist. The print run on his first book, A Time to Kill, was a modest 5,000, and its lack of success nearly put him off writing for good.

“I bought 1,000 (copies), and I sold the copies from the trunk of my car,” he said. After the failure of A Time to Kill, Grisham decided to have one more try with The Firm, which he made “as blatantly commercial” as he could. The Firm turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise, flew off the shelves and established Grisham as a literary star. He has written 18 novels in total, many of which have been turned into feature films. – Reuters


Anyway, I have always found fiction more difficult to write than non-fiction. Maybe it's because I don't research that much! And I've learnt something else from John Grisham - just because your first book isn't a success, it doesn't mean your second book won't be. (And when you become a success, your first book will sell too.) And in order to sell a lot of books, you have to make your stories as 'blatantly commercial' as possible. I wonder what he meant by that.

27 comments:

Lydia Teh said...

Fiction is definitely tougher for me.

Blatantly commercial :
1. page turner
2. can be easily made into a movie
3. story over language

Xeus said...

I know how you feel, Lydia. Fiction is tough for me too although I'm a fiction writer when it comes to books.

I think if we remember what's commercial, we can any story. Even short ones. The same rules apply.

T. Halim said...

Xeus & Lydia. I do both. When the creative energies are low, I turn to non-fiction. Non-fiction gives you a direction, a set path in which to work. But it can be tough and needs discipline. Fiction has a whole set of other challenges - mostly creative. At the moment I'm working on a novel and an encyclopedia . . . sometimes I get confused as to which one I'm working on!

Lydia Teh said...

Hi Tunku Halim, LOL, you must be really confused. There's creative license in writing encyclopaedias? When your ency is out, you may get a new moniker : The Walking Encyclopaedia.

Argus Lou said...

Guess I'll just sit back and watch you gals flirt with the venerable Tunku Halim. ^_^

TH, you're funny.

Argus Lou said...

As for fiction and non-fiction writing, I have been on both sides of the fence as I used to work for periodicals (although I've never attempted writing a non-fiction book).

Writing non-fiction has its own set of Aaarrrggghhhs. Yeah, fact-checking can be hair-tearingly tedious; and most times you need to check a few sites and sources, coz who knows if a site is reliable or not, huh? Doing interviews can be fun, or boring if the interviewee is dull and long-winded.

Writing fiction is quite doable if you're doing a short story and you see the end in sight or suddenly you feel the Muse smiling warmly over your left shoulder. Writing a children's novel and trying to set its story arc is like having my canines pulled out (and I mean my chompers, not doggies).

Sometimes I wonder why I say I like to write though: I'd be trying to do everything else - surfing blogs and the Net, eating, drinking, cooking, baking, answering email, writing email to folk who haven't even written to me, reading - instead of sitting down to write.

(Reading, however, is a good excuse not to write - we need to read a whole lot to be good writers, say all the good published writers except maybe Lillian Too.)

Xeus said...

Gals, Tunku Halim is a very accomplished writer of many fiction and non fiction works! I have seen a Garfield encyclopedia, with Garfield cartoons to explain the meaning of the words everywhere. So one can employ creative license in an ency indeed!

Argus, hee hee. Believe it or not, I was given Lillian Too's new water feng shui book free of charge.

You are probably having a writer's block right now. When this happens, just write a short story or two. Don't attempt something too long. Then you'll get excited all over again and it'll come back.

For a children's story, just do what I do and give up all semblance of planning! No, I'm kidding. I do know more or less my middle and ending, but allow your characters to explore and take you on paths you have never envisioned. Try it. It's a lot more fun.

T. Halim said...

Argus, I don't know who this "venerable" or "famous" Tunku Halim is, but flirting is always fun!

Lydia, my encyclopedia is fairly specialised - "Malaysian History - A Children's Encyclopedia". The creative part is the layout. I'm doing all the typesetting, Photoshopping etc. It's fun but time-consuming. I'm constantly changing my mind!

Xeus, thanks for the praise . . . hard to live up to it! Mixing up the fiction and non-fiction happens in my head, don't know which is which!

The great difficulty (and wonderful aspect) about fiction is that when writing it, you tap into what I call "the zone". It's a place where you forget yourself and it all flows. The ideas, the words, don't seem to be your own. It's a special place where you seem to be at one with the universe.

Later when you look back at your own writing you say "Hey, did I write that! Wow!"

You then try to replicate the same quality, the same depth, and you just can't do it. This is something like writers block. Uncertainty, doubt, sets in.

This is when I flee to the world of non-fiction. So much safer here. All pure discipline and hardwork!

Lydia Teh said...

Argus, who's flirting? Moi? (blink eye-lashes coyly - T.Halim, can you feel the fluttering over the seas?)

Xeus, do you tap into "The Zone" like T.Halim does? Sounds very extra-terrestrial to me. Perhaps that's why I've not been successful in writing fiction. I'm too grounded in reality.

But I do get that "Hey, did I write that? Wow!" moments in my non-fiction.

Argus, I'm so with you. Indeed, why do we say we love to write when we try to do everything else but write. Sigh.

Argus Lou said...

Xeus, now who in the world would give you such a valuable copy of Ms Too's book? Just because you coyly have a koi swimming pool in your porch?

Here in Europe, very little fengshui lah - you see sharp edges of weirdly angled buildings pointing at you threateningly (choi! choi! choi! as Yvonne Lee would say). No wonder I cannot write.

TH, my reality is fictional. And when I write fiction, it seems more real. Yeah, you're right about The Zone, but I reach it infrequently. Most times, I look back at my writing and say, "Cheh, did I write that?" ;-)

Lydia, maybe we should form a club for PWTTLTWBSD (people who think they like to write but seldom do). And do quit batting those Chinese eyelashes - they're causing bad weather here.

Xeus said...

Guys, I only reach the Zone very rarely. And I've noticed that my writing during the Zone doesn't differ much from my writing when I'm struggling, so I guess I still will put in my requisite number of words per day. (The Zone is like an orgasm.) Oh, oh, I've probably shocked some people here now, but once you're sampled what I write, you won't be shocked.

Argus, the binder of Ms Too's book gave me 1 defective copy :) I haven't read it yet.

Argus Lou said...

Ee-yer, Xeus, defective copy? Good fengshui or not?

New water fengshui book? Singapore should buy it like hotcakes seeing as where its water comes from before going through the taps again.

Guys, I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo, so you might not hear from me for the whole of November. But then again, you might -- coz I'd still need excuses not to write. Heh. Wish me luck and lots of industry and creativity, please!

Halim said...

Actually for me, the zone is like a reverse orgasm. Peace, serenity, quiet bliss!

I want to thank Xeus for coming up with Dark City 2. I haven't written a short story in 6 years and now I'm well into one!

Yes, I too should be a member of PWTTLTWBSD . . .

bibliobibuli said...

wah! interesting thread! i think fiction is very much harder ....

Argus Lou said...

Bib, sounds like you're grounded in reality - a real down-to-earth Earth Mum.

Mmmm... between Xeus and TH (sounds like a human sandwich - haiya!), I'm still trying to figure out what 'reverse orgasm' could be - something like the 'reverse thrust' of pilots? Ooo, don't go there, girl.

(See, Lydia, you're not the only one who can flirt.) ;-)

Lydia Teh said...

Argus, I surrender!

Xeus said...

Ha, back from my overseas trip. Tunku Halim, really looking forward to your story.

Hal said...

Xeus, first draft completed . . . not sure if the twist is any good. I'm not a "twisty" kind of guy. Need to put it away and come back to it.

Bib . . . fiction is probably harder, also less publishable. So why bother? Ah, passion . . . but no need to get into orgasms (just reverse pilot thrusts eh Argus!!)

Apparantly, in Australia shelf space for fiction is usually only 20% for fiction and 80% non fiction. Not great news for fiction writers. But not is all loss . . . there is narrative non-fiction: writing non fiction but building in some fiction. "A Children's History of Malaysia" (plug, plug!) is an example. So it is possible to do a bit of both.

Lydia Teh said...

I think narrative non-fiction would be easier than fiction. My Eh Poh Nim articles in Star's Mind our English (plug, plug!) is that. Mmm.. will check out Children's history of Malaysia to see if it's something my 9-year old would like. My teenagers hate history (as do I). One of my pet hates in school.

Hal said...

Aiyah! So many plugs I think the bathrooms getting flooded!

History is a whole set of stories that actually happened. Minus the dates, it can be quite interesting. Lydia, here can I find your articles?

Lydia Teh said...

Hal (so many monikers, T. Halim, Halim, Hal - schizo? hehehe maybe you can write a story about such a charac), my stories are on The Star's online archives for a month. In fact, Eh Poh Nim is up today (Fri, 10 Nov).

Anonymous said...

...oh gawd.

I...grew up thinking of you people as examples.

Then I make the mistake of clicking on '21 Comments' and boom. My literary exemplars. FLIRTING with each other.

I'll never be the same again.

*rushes off to pharmacy to buy psychiatric medicine*

Hal said...

Lydia, actually I don't know who these Tunku Halim, Hal, T.Halim etc. are. I thought these were guys flirting with you! :)

Once I've got my own blog, then I'll stick to one name . . . wish I had a mysterious one like "Xeus". Hal though works for the moment me thinks.

Will check out your Eh Poh Nim. By the way is "Honk if you're a Malaysian" a take off of "Honk, if you're Jesus". Does this mean Malaysians think they're Jesus? Will it be out soon?

angry medic - better write some non-fiction poetry, it'll keep you sane for a bit longer!

Argus Lou said...

Sorry, I can't resist this thread. ;-)

Hal, if you want a 'myth-erious' name like Xeus, how about Satyre?

Do you want to know how Xeus got the moniker Xeus originally three-zillion years ago? It was given to her by a newspaper editor for a column on, er, Malaysian sex advice, believe it or not! Ah, the halcyon days of newspaper publishing in our dear Motherland.

Non-fiction poetry?! Those are terrible, Angry Medic. Don't listen to this Hal. The advice might make you take a scalpel to your wrists, and then how? One fewer promising Malaysian writer... Try chamomile tea, instead; it's very natural, soothing and anti-inflammation.

Xeus said...

Hee hee, Argus, I think it must have been over 10 years ago. Xeus was actually coined by me, and June thought it was a wonderful moniker. It's an anagram for SEX with a U thrown in.

Argus Lou said...

Ah, I stand corrected. Thanks, Xeus, for the clarification. Throw U into sex, huh? Yep, sounds about right.

Barbara Blog's said...

If you enjoyed reading The Innocent Man as I did, may I suggest reading the companion book to it. Here is something I wrote about it: Who And Where Is Dennis Fritz, You say after reading John Grisham's Wonderful Book "The Innocent man", Grisham's First non-fiction book. The Other Innocent Man hardly mentioned in "The Innocent Man" has his own compelling and fascinating story to tell in "Journey Toward Justice". John Grisham endorsed Dennis Fritz's Book on the Front Cover. Dennis Fritz wrote his Book Published by Seven Locks Press, to bring awareness about False Convictions, and The Death Penalty. "Journey Toward Justice" is a testimony to the Triumph of the Human Spirit and is a Stunning and Shocking Memoir. Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of murder after a swift trail. The only thing that saved him from the Death Penalty was a lone vote from a juror. "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham is all about Ronnie Williamson, Dennis Fritz's was his co-defendant. Ronnie Williamson was sentenced to the Death Penalty. Both were exonerated after spending 12 years in prison. Both Freed by a simple DNA test, The real killer was one of the Prosecution's Key Witness. John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" tells half the story. Dennis Fritz's Story needs to be heard. Read about how he wrote hundreds of letters and appellate briefs in his own defense and immersed himself in an intense study of law. He was a school teacher and a ordinary man from Ada Oklahoma, whose wife was brutally murdered in 1975. On May 8, 1987 while raising his young daughter alone, he was put under arrest and on his way to jail on charges of rape and murder. Since then, it has been a long hard road filled with twist and turns. Dennis Fritz is now on his "Journey Toward Justice". He never blamed the Lord and soley relied on his faith in God to make it through. He waited for God's time and never gave up.