From Technical Writer to Novelist: Unveiling the Storyteller Within
Updated: Jul 21
Discovering the similarities between technical writing and fiction
As a former science teacher and later a technical writer, I never thought I'd be writing historical novels one day. After all, technical writing and literary fiction seemed worlds apart. But then I discovered that they actually have a lot in common. In fact, a good technical writer is a story-teller too.
As a teacher, I enjoyed the creative challenge of simplifying complex concepts and engaging students through relatable examples and experiences so that even the driest concept had a story line: a question or problem that needed solving, obstacles and constraints to be overcome and a solution. In technical writing, almost any document has a purpose, an approach and a resolution. As Yuval Harari notes, our entire human existence is fundamentally shaped by stories; everything we say, write, or believe is ultimately a product of the stories and narratives we create and share. The more relatable and convincing the better.
The story-telling skills of teachers, journalists and technical writers bear a close similarity to those used by literary writers to craft captivating plots and well-paced narratives that keep readers engaged. Just as we technical writers bridge the knowledge gap between experts and users by finding innovative ways to convey information clearly, accurately, and in a relatable manner, similarly, writers of literary fiction create narratives that bridge the emotional gap between readers and the characters, evoking empathy, understanding, and a deeper connection to the human experience.
From documentation to immersive narratives: The unexpected journey of transition from technical writer to novelist
My transition from technical writer to historical novelist began unexpectedly. When the older generation in my family passed away, I inherited a treasure trove of family photos, letters, and artifacts dating back more than two hundred years. Holding these fragments of their lives, I felt an irresistible urge to learn more about them, reconstruct their existence, and breathe life into their forgotten narratives. It was an incredible honor and a challenge to give voice to those who came before me, and to weave their tales into the fabric of Europe's history as it stepped into the modern age.
Along this unexpected journey, I realized that my technical writing experience had equipped me with invaluable skills for historical literary non-fiction. As a technical writer, precision and accuracy are vital, and these traits seamlessly transferred to historical novels. I learned to delve into archives, study primary sources and consult experts, to bring authenticity to the stories.
Maintaining the essence of authenticity in literary craftmanship
Authenticity is a fundamental aspect literary writing - both fiction and non-fiction, and which comes naturally to technical writers. Authenticity isn’t just getting the facts right. In fiction, it's a delving into themes that touch on universal truths, moral dilemmas, and emotional landscapes, and that offer an authentic exploration of the human experience. In the realm of literary writing, this means creating an immersive dream world, populated by characters who feel real, evoke genuine emotions, flaws, and motivations that resonate with readers because they reflect the complexities and nuances of human nature. Additionally, an authentic fictional world possesses depth and consistency, with well-defined rules and a believable setting.
While technical writing may not prioritize emotional engagement, I found that once I knew my characters, I became emotionally invested in their stories. From there, it was not hard to use my newfound freedom of storytelling to infuse depth into my narratives, but it took some experimentation and a paradigm shift. While there are lots of resources on good writing, the craft of storytelling is not as prevalent. For anyone contemplating a shift from content writer to novelist, I wholeheartedly recommend MaryRose Wood's Path of the Storyteller podcasts for honing the skills needed to create authentic characters, emotions, motivations, points of view, and values – all vital elements for crafting engaging and immersive literary fiction.
Clarity and conciseness: How technical writers-turned-novelists communicate with modern audiences
In today's fast-paced world, writers face unprecedented challenges due to shrinking attention spans. For that reason, journalists and technical-writers-turned novelists have a distinct advantage to connect with today's readers, that is shaped by their background in clear and concise communication and a disdain for unnecessary embellishments.
We technical writers value simplicity, precision, and brevity, and apply these principles to our literary writing. Our focus is on telling compelling stories, creating well-defined characters, and engaging readers without distractions. With our experience in distilling complex information into understandable content, we avoid purple prose and instead aim to deliver narratives with clarity and effectiveness. These transferable qualities from technical writing are invaluable in captivating modern audiences. By staying true to our roots as technical writers, we focus on the core essence of the story.
So, if you find yourself at the crossroads of technical writing and a burning desire for storytelling, seize the challenge. The skills you've acquired as a technical writer will serve you well. Embrace the storyteller within and embark on a captivating journey where authenticity and imagination intertwine, transporting readers to new realms.