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How Journalism Improves Your Fiction

How Journalism Improves Your Fiction, guest post by Cynthia Adina Kirkwood


Working as a reporter helps your writing in three ways: accuracy, practice, and camaraderie. 

Have you ever read a news story that gets something wrong? Let’s say that the story was about an event in your hometown, and the writer called the main arena by another name. 

What happens to you? Do you keep reading and forget the error? 

How Journalism Improves Your Fiction, guest post by Cynthia Adina Kirkwood
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If the piece interests you, you will persist in reading it. Nevertheless, you lose trust in the writer. If he or she made that mistake, what other mistakes are there? So, even if the writer hasn’t lost you – and your concentration – you now use the critical faculties of your brain to excess. When someone reads your novel, you want them to be engrossed in the characters and the story, not questioning the correct name of a place. 

As a reporter, you are trained to get it right and to assume nothing. When interviewing someone, I was taught to get their name, age, and place of residence, and to check the spelling of the name. Don’t walk away from a person named “Smith” and assume that it is spelled that way. “Smith” has a number of variations, including Smyth, Smithe, and Smythe. When writing fiction, you also have to get it right. Throughout your narrative, the spelling of a name remains consistent as does the name of the arena, and the color of your character’s eyes, unless you are Gustave Flaubert who famously changed Madame Bovary’s eyes from “brown, but appearing black” to “black in the shadows but dark blue out of doors.” Fortunately, the 19th-century novel about a married woman who escapes her middle-class banality with dreams, love affairs, and false pretensions is a timeless one too good to be let down by Flaubert’s descriptions, which may have been intentional. 

Practice, practice, practice. Working as a reporter means that you write a lot. At one point, I cranked out at least five stories a day at an understaffed newspaper. Writing one piece after the other improves your writing. Compare your unedited pieces with the edited versions, and you learn what to do the next time. Everyone needs an editor. It is a blessing when you have a good one, someone who knows the craft and respects the writer. 

Reporting is an intense endeavor. You are always working: looking for ideas, pitching stories, and reporting and writing them. Therefore, your relationships with editors and other reporters are key to your success and well-being. These are people whose opinions you value because of their work. Their generous feedback supports your writing. The glorious aspect of newsrooms in my past was its makeup of old hands, journeymen/women, and cub reporters. You couldn’t buy a better writers’ education. 

How Journalism Improves Your Fiction, guest post by Cynthia Adina Kirkwood
A British composer turns outlaw in Los Angeles in Cynthia Adina Kirkwood’s novel, Turn On, Tune OutAngelica Morgan flouts a computer law that cripples creativity in the near future of California. 

Kirkwood was born and raised in New York City, where her parents emigrated from Belize in Central America. Kirkwood received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion from Williams College. She studied at the American University in Cairo for her Junior Year Abroad. She received a Master of Arts degree from the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. in International Economics, African Studies, and Comparative Politics. At the University of California at Berkeley, she earned a Certificate of Journalism Education from the Summer Program for Minority Journalists. 

She left Berkeley to work at her first newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. She reported at newspapers in the east, west and south of the United States. When she began researching her first novel, she quit her job at the Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle because reporting was too demanding to allow her to write fiction at the same time. After a few years of supporting herself with a variety of part-time and freelancing jobs, she returned to newspapers as a copy editor. At the San Francisco Chronicle, she edited mayhem and wrote headlines. A morning paper, her shifts began in the afternoon and ended late at night. Her mornings belonged to her fiction writing, which was perfect for her. 

In 1994, Kirkwood left the States for Sicily and has been living in Europe since then. Six years ago, she and her son left a sedentary life in Cornwall, England, for a farming one in the heart of Portugal. She has 4 acres of terraced land with olive trees and grapevines. 

Find out more about her on her website

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