Writing Natural Non-Fiction
edited: Monday, October 29, 2007
By Laurie J Brenner
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Posted: Monday, October 29, 2007
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Writing natural sounding non-fiction is easier than you think!
I recently wrote an article <i>Writing Naturally</i> wherein someone commented that they liked the article's points for fiction, but how could these same techniques be applied to non fiction.
Creative non fiction is a compilation of facts about a particular subject or event and may include interviews and more than one side or viewpoint of the subject or event. The writing down of facts can be particularly boring. You surely cannot input your personal opinion into this type of piece if youíre not writing an op-ed piece. So how to you keep you readers involved and moving through the story?
A non fiction piece is written in much the same manner as a fiction piece, only the facts are not made up. So how do you bring in the creativity?
Good non fiction writing incorporates vivid imagery and description.
One of the most boring news pieces in a weekly newspaper setting involves reporting Planning Department business or events; yet growth, new development and the building of a large new shopping center in town, was definitely of interest to the locals. One reporter that worked at the Mariposa Gazette and Miner used this as a lead into a story about new development:
"The Sugar Tree Shopping Center crossed a paper bridge today and moved closer to its initial groundbreaking. The Planning Commission, in a 5-0 vote..."
Without having to repeat the boring stuff said in one of these meetings, the reporter let everyone know up front that movement was occurring on this project as well as informing them that some of the processes were being accomplished.
As a reporter, you are the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth and the hands and feet of the people who are reading your stories. You are the one to provide them with an awareness of your subject through these senses. You tell them what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. This will bring more creativity into your non fiction article without taking away from the factual basis or the truth of it.
Non fiction simply means that the events as written are real. The piece is totally fact-based. But it doesnít mean you canít be creative in your description of these facts. You just canít be creative with the facts, nor slant the story to a particular viewpoint. You want to provide your readers as much as possible with a 360-degree view of what youíre writing about.
Use your viewpoint characters creatively.
If your non fiction piece involves interviews Ė let your interviewees or characters describe the scenes for you. Get them to tell you in their own words, what they saw, what they felt, what they touched with their five senses and bring it into your piece.
People, when they talk naturally, can be quite eloquent sometimes. Use it. Use it all.
In the mountain ranges along the Merced River on the way to Yosemite, one year we had one hell of a fire. This fire called for the use of the big bombers, helicopters, walking fire crews and teams from the Youth Authority. Firefighters make good use of words in their descriptions, which add the depth and the intensity that you would need in this kind of story.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck sizzle, said firefighter Joe Blow, and I knew something bad was about to happen. Sure enough, not 100 feet from where my crew was cutting a fire line, all the trees along the top ridge exploded.
And you donít necessarily want to clean up your quotes from these type of interviewees. Their particular syntax adds color and flavor to your piece and puts the reader right into the story.
Use your own viewpoint for description
One mistake that writers make is that they think that their own creative description of the scene is not allowed in non fiction writing. Not true . Remember earlier where we discussed that you were the eyes, ears, and etc., of your reader? This is a fact. Your experience at the scene is valid to print.
The burnt timbers cast skeleton shadows in the early morning sun. Earlene and Bill Jones woke up to nothing more than smoke and ash. Firefighters from four precincts were called out on this 3-alarm blaze just past midnight, but by then, according to eye witnesses, the house was already lost. . .
This is just an example of using the visual sense in describing the event of a house burning. Use metaphors, allegories and whatever else strikes your fancy when writing non fiction.
Remember - just because youíre not creating the facts doesnít mean you canít be creative.