Skip to main content

They were journalists and became novelists!











I can safely say journalists make good novelists. Journalists, reporters and editors, have the knack for good writing, or at least how to weave a good story together.

Most rely on years of experience in covering different news angles, from crime, culture, to politics, economics and society, though not necessarily in that order. Journalists have beats, and a crime reporter, may not move to covering political reporting, or economics and so on.

But the gist of the matter is all reporters are writers. Writing becomes the trait and the craft. It can be the stage to good, captivating story-telling, molding different pieces of fiction together.

Many great novelists have been journalists. Historically, journalism has been a way to supplementing their income to writing other pieces of fictions, different to what they cover in their day-to-day profession.

Charles Dickens was a journalist, so was Mark Twain, and the same goes for Ernest Hemingway. They become great novelists during their life-time, and produced books that long surpassed them after they were dead. They never became rich, unlike certain situations today.

Later on, the novels they wrote became great pieces of literature, read by a discerning public the world-over and taught in schools, colleges and universities, and pointing to the great depth of their writing.

I am not into labeling, but these writers were clearly realists in that they looked at every day events and captured the essence of good writing based on what they saw around them. Oliver Twist might be seen as such novel but the same might go for Huckleberry Finn.

Unlike the others, Hemingway was a war correspondent, and maybe this aspect of his career affected the way he wrote some of his novels like From Whom the Bell Tolls. It may have been one of the sources of his depression in the 1950s, something which lead him to take his life.

The connection between journalists and novelists continue today. One of the greatest novels I read was Celebrity by Thomas Thompson, a long-time editor of the now defunct Life Magazine.

The book was a semi-biography that meandered between Hollywood and journalism, intertwining the subject of stardom and the reality of being a reporter in a unique, realistic manner that was underpinned by a long-hidden murder.

Another great writer that captures the essence of storytelling is Ken Follett, a Welshman, Englishman who turned novelist after 16 years of working as a journalist. He as well drew on his extensive career as a journalist when he wrote back in the early 1980s Lie Down with the Lions, a captivating story about the CIA and KGB struggle over Afghanistan.

Follett went on to produce other great works of fiction but they were mainly historical, going back to the 19th century and later going further back to the medieval period with Pillars of the Earth and a World without Ends.

Its real, exciting and captivating. Follett literally makes the reader eat out of his hand as he weaves stories and anecdotes together. These later novels are also full of sex, bordering on the pornographic but on the other hand they are based on effective research with the author digging into the period he is studying as well as talking to experts.

This is why the final product, the novel makes such a fascinating read because it is based on much thought, character analysis, detailed description, and of course the plot, different plots, and the way the stories move forward.

In the final analysis there is a symbiotic relationship between journalism and fiction based on hours and years of reporting, writing and editing. It’s a process that involves much heartache but with writing flair. By I sign off, I should remind that before Thomas Harris wrote his chilling novels of blood and gore he was a crime reporter and thus some of the fiction he wrote, most famous is Silence of the Lambs, may have been based on threads of the criminally insane.

Scroll to Continue


Ben Hawk on April 14, 2019:

"Charles Dickens was a journalist, so was Mark Twain, and the same goes for Ernest Hemingway. They become great novelists during their life-time, and produced books that long surpassed them after they were dead. They never became rich, unlike certain situations today." Hemingway never became rich? Wrong answer, whoa you really need to do your homework before you write your next article. Hemingway turned down $100,000 US dollars in 1926 from the Hearst newspaper syndicate, to write for them exclusively, because he was so confident that THE SUN ALSO RISES (published in UK as FIESTA) would enable him to retire from journalism. Hemingway was right and then he went on to write the novel that made him rich enough to buy two houses, in cash, straight up, no mortgages--A FAREWELL TO ARMS. Meanwhile, Hemingway gave all the royalties from THE SUN ALSO RISES to his first wife, Hadley. He worked full-time as a novelist and short story writer for the rest of his life, and became the richest author of his generation, owned the villa in Cuba and a flat in Paris, traveled where he wanted when he wanted and made a ton of money as a novelist. Here's a clue as to how much money the Hemingway Estate still rakes in: In 1928, Hemingway was the best-selling, most popular American writer in China. Over 50 million copies a year of Hemingway's books sold, in their Chinese editions, between 1928 and 2018. It's 2019 and Hemingway's books still outsell every other American writer, living or dead, in China today. By the way, when asked why he left journalism, Hemingway famously replied, "As a reporter, I could never talk about why. As a novelist, I knew I could talk about why." Once you make it as a novelist, you also can write about what you please when you please, a luxury that a journalist does not have. Newspaper/TV editors keep a tight leash on their reporters, however, novelists own their own time. Being able to control your own time and being able to create your own stories are two freedoms that journalists don't have. And, as Hemingway proved, you can make a helluva' lot more money as a novelist, never have to grade papers to make a living and never have to answer to an editor. It's also easier to sell the film rights to a novel. Journalism is a good entry for any young writer but if you've got the juice to make it as a novelist, there's no better profession as a writer. Paolo Coelho proves that in our time, as Hemingway most certainly did in his own.

Joni M Fisher on June 04, 2016:

Thompson above is actually Les Standiford. Photo caption incorrect.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 20, 2013:

Being a reporter, at least in earlier days, exposed a person to the varieties of life, the rish and poor, educated and uneducated. A reporter usually learned about the organizations that made society run--possibly on a scle as small as a farm town or as large as Chicago. In other words, they had an exposure to life that most folks do not have. I am not sure it is so true now with the big news organizations.

Marwan Asmar (author) from Amman, Jordan on December 24, 2011:

Cheers Kimberly you should read Follet. The flow of the narrative is simply brilliant. Simply pick up a book and start.

Kimberly Lake from California on December 23, 2011:

This was an interesting Hub. I has some Follet books I have been meaning to start, those books are now next on my list. Thanks! Your Hub was well written and flowed well. Voted up.

Marwan Asmar (author) from Amman, Jordan on November 23, 2011:

Cheers zoey. As one digs up further he finds that there is really a distinct relationship. You start off as a journalist and move on to become a published author. I think what I wrote up is only the tip of the iceburg. Thanks

Zoey from South England on November 23, 2011:

I found this very interesting. I recently researched the poet and author Thomas Hardy, for an article i am doing. The article was originaly to be based on crime and punishment in the 1800's. However i discovered that Thomas Hardy started of as a journalist and witnessed Elizabeth Brown being hung. Hardy then went on to write his popular novel, Tess of the D'urbervilles which many believe was based on Elizabeth Brown. I am now of course reading the book. Voted up thanks for sharing :)

Lorenzo27 from Pistoia, Italy on November 23, 2011:

Very interesting hub!

Marwan Asmar (author) from Amman, Jordan on November 12, 2011:

Cheers Vinya. They are very good aren't they. You should really try Follet as well, you may thank me!

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on November 12, 2011:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hemingway and V S Naipaul, my favorite writers, were journalists. Thanks for this illuminating article.

klanguedoc on October 22, 2011:

This is a very interesting article. Thanks for sharing

Marwan Asmar (author) from Amman, Jordan on October 15, 2011:

Cheers, all of you. Robie, I am glad you like Follet, he is one of our favorites, me and my wife. I am sure if I dig more, I'll find there are lots more people who are journalists.

Thanks William for your insight. The money-driven economy will probably be the death of us in the end!

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on October 15, 2011:

Nicely done, marwan asmar. Journalists always have been writers, but few have gained recognition for their work until they produced works of fiction or put their skills to work in book form. Writing for newspapers offers young writers the discipline and training necessary to write the next best seller. It's unfortunate, however, that newspapers and objective reporting appears to one of the victims of today's money-driven economy. Thumbs up!

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on October 15, 2011:

What a fascinating read-- I had not idea that Ken Follett was a journalist. I've been a fan of his for years. Of course I knew about Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and Ernest Hemmingway and wasn't Edgar Allan Poe a journalist for awhile as well?

In any case I really enjoyed this one-- thanks

Related Articles