Shelley Widhalm

Nonfiction Writing Tips (to make writing fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Nonfiction on April 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing nonfiction, unlike fiction, requires sticking to the truth as close as possible.

It’s like wearing something skintight—you can stretch what happened and make up a bit of dialog, but you have to admit, too, that you are writing from memory, while also trying to keep to the truth.

Creative nonfiction, memoir and personal essay are all forms of nonfiction, in addition to all of the categories found in the bookstore from history to science that stick to the facts. Other forms of writing like self-help and inspiration combine experience with ideas and advice, while also giving the writer’s truth. Business and money management books give that advice, all with the goal in mind toward self-improvement.

To be a truthful writer, while also being creative and imaginative and still employing the storytelling elements of fiction, can be a challenge. Storytelling involves telling a story from beginning to the middle to the end with the climax and resolution tying the story together and the character and plot arcs moving the story along.

The characters change as they start out with a want and at the end gets what they need, which is the character arc. Their actions and behaviors through the unfolding of the story give the plot art.

Other storytelling elements include setting, dialog, the voice of the narrator and the detail and description. To bring in those elements while telling the whole story requires combining the art of writing fiction with telling the nonfiction’s truth.

With that in mind, here’s some advice for writing memoir:

  • Make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions.
  • Employ storytelling techniques of fitting your story into the story arc of beginning, middle and end and avoid telling everything from birth to death and showing how life typically is episodic without story structure.
  • Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail.
  • Show how you, as the point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.
  • Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail.
  • Make sure you follow a particular theme or main subject to tell the story in a cohesive manner. To do this, identify the patterns of your experience and select what is relevant from your life.
  • Lastly, show you’ve changed and grown from your experiences, how you were affected physically and emotionally by those experiences and how you found meaning and insight from them.

Here’s advice for writing a personal essay (a personal essay represents what a writer thinks or feels about a topic or describes thoughts, feelings and emotions related to a personal experience):

  • Write in the first-person point of view.
  • Structure it in various ways, such as a list, a question-and-answer form, a story or a scattering of musings.
  • Make sure to provide a main point, or a message or theme, such as providing meaning through a lesson learned or the outcome of personal growth and development.
  • Avoid lecturing, sermonizing or moralizing.
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