Journalism vs. Fiction: What’s the Difference?

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

What’s the difference between journalism and fiction, and why should you care? Well, if you’re a writer in this day and age, you’re likely to do more than one kind of writing. Long-form journalism often pays. Fiction rarely does. Or, at least, it can take time for people to find you and buy your books. That’s why fiction writers today pen articles for online magazines. Some magazines expect you to write for free. Others pay for your guest post. The pay is good, but there’s another reason you might want to think about going back and forth between fiction and journalism. An insightful essay can boost a writer’s visibility. It can drive readers to your blog, and wouldn’t it be amazing if your essay went viral? In this post I’m going to discuss the differences between the two kinds of writing.

Daily News, Aliens, journalism, fiction

Image from Open Clip Art via

Journalism vs. Fiction

Let’s start with a quick compare-and-contrast of the two forms.

Journalism Fiction and Creative Nonfiction
Focus on a single story Multiple, interwoven stories
Begins with a “lede” summarizing the most important aspects of the story The ends of paragraphs or scenes are where you’ll find summary information.
Objective-reportorial, with a voice that strives to remove the reporter’s “take on things” from that story Subjective-attempt to render the subjective quality of an experience
Quotes to corroborate facts or present two sides of an issue Dialogue used to place the reader in the scene, not for presenting alternate viewpoints or arguments
Voice-journalistic, “how to,” factual Voice-quirky, individualistic
Outside the head-can only write about what the reporter observes Inside the thoughts; unique to fiction and some forms of subjective journalism such as the so-called “gonzo journalism” of Hunter Thompson
Facts must be verifiable with more than one source Writers free to invent, even