by Suzie Eller
When we think of dialogue or setting a scene, we often delegate that to fiction. However, storytelling is just as powerful in nonfiction.
Consider this story.
“Can you name the one person you are angry with?”
The teenaged girl twirled a strand of auburn hair between her fingers. “Just one?”
“Okay, more than one. Share the names of people you struggle to forgive.”
She named ten quickly, bending a finger for each one. She would have named more, but I stopped her. “Are these people you are angry with or people you can’t forgive.”
“Both, but that’s okay. I don’t have anything to do with them.”
“Do you miss them?”
The pain in her eyes said otherwise.
This is an example of narrative nonfiction from a book I wrote years ago titled, “The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future.” The topic was forgiving when it’s hard. I could have shared the story this way:
Forgiveness is hard for most of us. I once asked a teenaged girl to list the names of people she struggled to forgive. She named ten quickly. It didn’t take me long to realize that while she seemed tough on the outside, she was hurting inside.
Creative nonfiction, also called narrative nonfiction, unfolds real-life story with dialogue and storytelling. Rather than tell what took place or what to expect, you invite the reader to sit with you in that moment.
Today, we explore three elements of well-written narrative nonfiction (or how to tell a good story).
Even if you are present in a scene, ask others what they heard. What they observed. This fleshes out the story. They may share something that is powerful.
Make sure your details are correct. This isn’t fiction.
In the conversation above there were lots of umms, hair twirling, and awkward pauses. If I reconstructed all of those, the reader would put the book down.
I presented the reality of the conversation minus the umms, foot swishing, and pauses to focus on the key conversation.
The key is that you can remove unnecessary elements (unless they shift the story or context), but you cannot add any in.
Review your work to ensure that you remain truthful.
Review your work to ensure that your POV (point of view) isn’t slanted in a certain direction or that you are using the story out of context.
Review to make sure that a narrative nonfiction story is concise. To ensure that it has a purpose. That it doesn’t rabbit trail.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT
- Choose one paragraph from a current work-in-progress and recreate it as narrative nonfiction.
- Share the title of a book where narrative nonfiction is used well.
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