The Hidden Connection between Fiction and Academic Writing
By Addison Lucchi, Guest Contributor
I’ve been unable to spend much time writing fiction over the past few years. However, I do still spend a significant amount of time writing – just not as much fiction as academic writing.
This post is about how OYAN—The One Year Adventure Novel—has influenced my academic writing.
Now, if you are tempted to quit reading at the mere mention of the word “academic,” please don’t just yet! I understand your aversion to “academic writing”—but I endeavor to show you why that aversion is primarily because you have read bad academic writing. Academic writing is not meant to be boring—and good academic writing isn’t.
OYAN and Academic Writing
While academic writing is different from fiction writing in some important ways (although perhaps the boundaries are fruitfully blurring), there is much that can be learned from the way productive fiction writers go about their business and live out their writerly selves.
– Grant and Knowles, “What can academic writers learn from creative writers?”
I believe the above quote is true. My own experience backs it up. I intentionally apply what I’ve learned in OYAN to my research papers and academic essays. Many people will say that academic writing is completely different from fiction writing, but there are definite similarities between the two modes of writing, and it’s precisely in these areas of overlap that the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum can be helpful.
No, the purpose of academic writing is not the purpose for writing a novel, but academic writing is quite a broad genre, encompassing persuasive essays, literary reviews, literary criticism, and much more. Regardless of the specific type of work you are writing, its primary purpose is to share information—to communicate on some level—even though your reasons for sharing that information will vary depending on the type of work.
In the end, we all want people to read our writing. Accessibility to targeted readers is one of the most important aspects of writing of any kind. When your work is easy to understand and enjoyable… people will actually read it. It is only then that you can benefit other people by sharing your ideas, or persuade them through the strength of your arguments. If people can’t get through your writing or resort to skimming it, then you have not succeeded in your primary purpose to communicate with your readers—and you’ve thereby missed out on a valuable opportunity.
Writing a Captivating Academic Research Paper
Believe it or not, this is not a paradoxical heading. Academic writing can and should be enjoyable to read. Conflict, unexpected humor, creating emotion, and raising the stakes are all concepts that are relevant to academic writing. Above all, having a clear, interesting voice dramatically improves the readability of your paper. Academic papers do not have to be dry or abstruse.
The Five Elements of… Essays?
Now let’s get down to the specifics—how has OYAN specifically impacted my academic writing? Well first of all, through the Five Elements of Story—which can be translated to the Five Elements of Essays.
In academic writing, “something to care about” doesn’t take the form of a protagonist or hero—instead, it’s a bit more abstract. But you do need to tell your target audience why they should care about what you are going to say—why it is relevant, and why it is interesting. This is generally your thesis statement, which is a valuable hook that shows your readers from the beginning why they should care about your paper.
You also need to give your readers “something to want”—which is distinct from “something to care about.” You are not merely showing your readers why your paper is relevant to them, you are revealing that it will actually give them something valuable —whether this is by presenting new research, providing new insights, or persuasion. Your readers should want something after reading only the first page of your paper—just as they should after reading page one of a novel.
“Something to dread” is related to this, just on the exact opposite side. Consider “something to want” from a different perspective… what will your readers dreadfully miss out on if they do not read it? Having a “something to dread” is incredibly helpful in ensuring readers will stick with your paper.
Even “something to suffer” is applicable to academic writing—and hopefully not because your reader has to suffer through it. The “something to suffer” of academic writing is including counter-arguments and opposing viewpoints to your own. Just like suffering makes a hero’s victory feel more earned, dealing with opposing viewpoints and counter-arguments will make your conclusion feel more earned.
And finally, “something to learn” should be obvious—your reader must finish your paper having learned something new and substantial. If a reader gets to the end of your paper and realizes that nothing has changed—no new insights, or ideas, or opinions—then there is a definite problem.
The Four Defining Moments (of Your Research Paper)
Just like your OYAN novel, your academic papers should have four defining moments.
The inciting incident should contain conflict, such as a fight (the presentation of differing opinions), a new arrival (the announcement of new ideas or research), or trouble (an issue that you are going to present a solution to).
By this point, you should have established your something to care about/want/dread and convinced your readers to embrace their destiny—which is to read every word of your paper.
“Something to suffer” comes in with the black moment. This is when you scare your reader into momentarily thinking that you might be wrong after all, but then you deflect the conflicts and counter the counter-arguments, further proving the strength and validity of your points. Placing this black moment directly before your conclusion will help your victorious concluding statement to be all the more glorious.
Finally, the showdown. This is your conclusion, where you fight the final battle to win over your readers or teach them something. Your final points must be satisfying and substantial, otherwise readers will wonder why they read all the way through in the first place. Your conclusion should not be merely a summary—it should also contain new information, and that information should be surprising and earned (no deus ex machina allowed).
Difference between Fiction and Academic Work
Now, it’s also important to recognize the areas where academic writing and fiction writing differ. Some say that in academic writing, you must “distance yourself from the reader.” And that academic writing should “provide information, not entertainment.”*
To an extent, this is true. Formal language is preferred in academic writing over informal and colloquial language. It is also important to be accurate and, usually, you are expected to take an objective stance. But while academic writing is primarily meant to provide information, that does not mean that it can’t—or shouldn’t —be entertaining as well. In fact, if you want people to read the information you are trying to share with them, it is critical that your arguments be compelling and that your writing be entertaining. To phrase this another way: yes, the primary purpose of academic writing is to provide information, but utilizing the power of entertainment is an excellent method to get readers to read, understand, and remember that information.
Many students or academics will say that they can’t write creative academic work because it will hurt their grades or reputation, or because it won’t be published. If you write a narrative story with loose academic undertones and try to submit that as literary research, then yes, you will probably get a bad grade. But none of the strategies I discussed in this post should at all hinder you from excelling in these areas—especially because when these strategies are properly employed in your academic writing, they should be indistinguishable. These strategies will enhance the content and readability of your papers by fitting into the academic structure. If your professors and other readers notice anything, it will be that they are oddly captivated by your academic papers, have regressed to re-reading them for fun, and now can’t wait until you submit your next one.
Creativity in Academia
The split between academic and creative thinking, writing and identity is a relic of Western Enlightenment thought, which unfortunately persists in the twenty-first century university. Rationality, intellect, and logic—the ‘academic’ —are reified, whilst imagination, emotion, and physical and natural rhythms—the ‘creative’—are denigrated… …the production of academic writing is not solely an intellectual activity. …The problems experienced by academics in their writing are rarely intellectual ones. Rather, the difficulty is with creativity.
– Maria Antoniou and Jessica Moriarty, “What can academic writers learn from creative writers? Developing guidance and support for lectures in Higher Education”
These authors go on to discuss how the majority of published academic writers, even though they know how to present their ideas in a logical, orderly fashion, know how to research, and are familiar with proper academic structure, don’t really know how to write well. Nearly every one of the points they go on to make about learning to write relates to something that is taught through OYAN.
To conclude: don’t view academic writing and fiction writing as two entirely different activities. Academic writing should be creative—even though it is different from novel writing, or poetry writing, or screenplay writing. Academic writing has its own unique purposes, and its own methods of expressing ideas and communicating information, but there are many creative aspects that can be translated over from fiction writing, because academic writing is also creative—and it is an art of its own.
* See https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/980/03/ and http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/sites/default/files/attachments/page/Academic%20Writing%20Guide%20Part%201%20-%20Academic%20Writing.pdf
If you have taken The One Year Adventure Novel, have you found hidden connections with other writing genres or activities?
Addison Lucchi (B.A. in English Literature) has been an OYANer since the very beginning. He will soon graduate with his master’s degree in Library & Information Science—and while he does love fiction writing, he is also an academic teaching librarian who is passionate about learning, community, and the arts.
Addison enjoys numerous forms of music, literature, and theatre – and he also enjoys adventuring to and exploring new places. His favorite author is C.S. Lewis, his favorite book is Till We Have Faces, and his favorite animal is the magnificent penguin.
He also has a blog of his own: https://adventuringinfairyland.wordpress.com
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites and blogs do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.
Thank you for this very inspiring post. Academic writing can indeed gain a lot by implementing elements found in fiction writing. However, not all academics can write fiction, and it is not an easy feat to pull off, which leaves them in a bind because they still need to communicate their findings.
I believe you’ve left out a specific part of the academic world: those whose research falls way outside the established paradigm in their field. Those authors may abandon their research or continue to work on it outside of the traditional academic institutions. I believe that kind of research can sometimes be qualified as quasi-fictional, as in the case of my research.
I write about the intersection of science and Christian theology in ways that are currently not scientifically verifiable. This means that most impact factor based journals are not willing to publish my work. Still, I find that researching this field provides ample opportunities to exercise originality of thought and creativity, which is why I enjoy it so much. Although my essays are written in an academic style, I view them as part fiction, for accepting them requires a great deal of imagination and open-mindedness.
Those essays are published on BarbourianMeditations.com, and you are welcome to browse through them. Any input as to content or style would be much appreciated.
Loved this article Addison <3, very well-written!
Writing good literary fiction requires some time and practice. No one becomes a good and skillful fiction author overnight. If you want to improve your skills and produce more quality fiction stories, then you must read, observe, learn, and write all the time.
Check this out How to Improve Your Fiction Writing Skills? Hope this will help. Thank you.