Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone: When a Nonfiction Author Writes Fiction

From Jeff: This is a guest article from Frank Viola. Frank is the author of the new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth. If you buy it before May 7, you’ll get 25 free gifts by 15 different authors, including me. Find out more here.

I’ve written 14 books to date. But my most recent book was a brand-new venture for me. Honestly, it felt a little risky.

Comfort Zone
Photo Credit: Amir Kuckovic via Compfight cc

This new book isn’t fiction. Not exactly. Neither is it non-fiction. In fact, it’s a hybrid of the two, combining fictional elements with non-fiction teaching.

And to be honest: this kind of writing was a first for me.

Where fiction meets nonfiction

Unlike fiction, my new book stays very close to the historical and sociological setting of the day in which it takes place. In addition, it includes a nonfiction part where practical principles for living are drawn from the story.

In many respects, this was a difficult book to write. But during the writing process, I found four ingredients that helped me finish the project. And I’d like to pass them on to you.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction (or you’re a “switch hitter” and write both), I think you’ll find these ingredients and their lessons to be beneficial in your own writing journey.

Get help from a seasoned writer

This is essential. Because fiction is not my forte, I consulted with two seasoned fiction writers for help. One a male, the other female.

  • Melissa Norris is an excellent fiction writer with a vivid imagination. She gave me some great tips and on how to capture the scenery throughout the narrative.
  • Eric Wilson, the New York Times Bestselling author of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and October Baby has been writing fiction since he was in diapers. Eric helped me learn how to think like a fiction author. He gave me many superb suggestions that I never would have come up with on my own.

Without the help of experts, I wouldn’t have grown as I did through this project and been confident enough to publish the book.

Ask a scholar

What I don’t like about typical Christian fiction (the genre in which I was writing) is there’s so much added to it that it often butchers history and confuses the original text with too much imagination.

In writing biblical narrative, I tried to stay true to the text and remain faithful to history. But I couldn’t do that on my own (I’m not a scholar).

For that reason, I asked two scholars and historians to read the book and give me their critical feedback. They were Craig Keener and Joel B. Green, and their feedback was tremendously helpful. They took my book from a good story to an accurate account of history.

Apply what you’ve learned and share

What makes good fiction is showing, not telling. You show the reader what’s going on instead of telling them. Hemingway was a master at this.

For example, instead of saying, “Joe was tall,” you would say something like, “Joe had to duck to get through the door.” Simple, right? Not exactly.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find this type of writing incredibly difficult. I suspect that it comes natural to great fiction writers, but maybe they struggle with it, too.

Despite the difficulty, though, I did a lot of this in my book — only because I had a little help from my friends — early readers who were kind enough to read the book and tell me where the storytelling was working (and where it wasn’t).

Seek the right endorsements

If you’re moving into a new genre, you need to establish yourself as a credible voice in it. One great way to do this is to ask authors who are already authorities in that genre. They can help you establish trust and earn permission to speak to a new audience.

Mary DeMuth, Eric Wilson, and Melissa Norris are just some of the fiction writers who wrote wonderful recommendations for my book. And I was incredibly grateful for their help.

Endorsements are a great way to get in front of new readers and establish yourself as a new voice in a new genre. In total, 47 people endorsed my new book (you can see what they said here), which was great. Others’ belief in me and this project spurred me, giving me faith that this was a story the world needed to hear.

I’m sure more ingredients can be added, but these are the top four that I discovered during this project.

Note: If you buy Frank’s new book before May 7, you’ll be eligible for 25 free gifts from 15 different authors (including me). All you have to do is grab a copy of God’s Favorite Place (Amazon affiliate link) this week and email your receipt to, saying where you bought it.

Have you ever jumped genres? What other tips would you add to the list? Share in the comments.

Frank Viola is the author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth. You can visit Frank on his blog or connect with him on Twitter.

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

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