The benefits of being a journalist-trained author

Way before I became an author, I was a journalist. I have my bachelors in Journalism (minored in Economics). Granted it has now been many years since I held a job in journalism, but I have written for my high school newspaper, my college newspaper (as well as being news editor), a daily newspaper and a weekly one – all while living in New  Mexico.

There are many similarities with being a journalist and an author. Obviously, both professions center around words – in my case the written word. Being wordy is never a good thing with either job. To be a journalist, you need to be concise because you are limited with space. As an author, you should be making every word count. It should move the story forward and not just fill up some sort of word count goal.

In journalism, you learn to always answer who, what, where, when, why and how (known as the five Ws and an H). It is the same with being an author.

Who is your story about? (characters)

What happens to him or her? (plot)

Where and when does the action take place? (setting)

Why do these things happen and how does the protagonist react? (plot)

As a side note, my husband’s favorite question is why. He likes to know the motivation behind each character’s actions. And he doesn’t take “Because I need that to happen” as a reason.

While there are similarities, there are some key differences. The main one is that fiction authors deal with stuff they make up with their imagination. This is highly frowned upon for a journalist. Ideally, news stories should be based on facts and represent all sides of an issue.

The writing style is also different. Journalists are supposed to write in an inverted pyramid style. This means the most important facts appear first (in the lead sentence) and less important or supporting facts come later. The reason for this style is that when editors cut a story, they don’t have to revise anything. They can simply cut off the end of the news story without fear of removing important details.

Novel writing, on the other hand, has important facts interwoven throughout the story. There would be no reason to read the whole story if everything was given away in the first paragraph or even the first chapter.

In the end, I think having a journalism background has helped me. Journalism teaches you to question everything. It teaches you to research and write with brevity – you learn to get the most out of just a few words. With my love for fantasy and my imagination, these skills hopefully enhance my storytelling.

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