Journalism and Novel Writing

Journalism and novel writing are as different as tea is to coffee, but novel writers can learn a thing or two from journalism.

Years ago, when I was a young journalism student at Concordia University in Montreal, the first aphorism the professors dinned into our heads was ‘dog bites a man’ is not news but ‘man bites dog’ is.

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The second basic formula we learned was the 5Ws and 1H

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

The third rule we learned was the inverted pyramid. It illustrates how information should be structured with the most crucial piece of information at the top, tapering down to the less important.

Using these three pieces of journalism can help turn you into a better novel writer. This doesn’t mean you need to write your novel in the manner of a newspaper article. Rather, it means you should definitely ask whether your story covers the 5ws and 1H and whether it is as interesting as ‘man bites dog’. After all, who cares if a dog bites a man – that happens all the time. But man biting a dog? Now – that’s a story.  That’s how journalism and novel writing come together. 

The difference between journalism and novel writing is in the way a story is approached. Four years ago, I never would have believed I could have written anything creative. My training was all about taking a story, garnering all the facts and then re-writing the piece inverted pyramid style so that everything was presented in an objective manner.

It took some practice to make the switch from writing facts in a bald manner to teasing out a story in colorful prose. What I have learned from my journalism training is to make sure that I know:

  • Who my main characters are 
  • What my story is about
  • When does all this take place
  • Why is my main character doing what he or she is doing i.e. what is his/her motive
  • How it all happens

Journalism training also helps you to zero in on the main ideas and start your story in media res – also known as  – in the middle of things. 

Do you know the 5Ws and 1H of your story?


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  




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