Savvy Freelance Writer

The Craft of Narrative Nonfiction


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Narrative Craft – The Way In

Narrative Nonfiction is a terrific way to combine true events with the facts that expand and explicate those events. As long as you accurately relate the facts, you are free to use them in a narrative. That sounds easy enough, but the truth is that you will often have a pile of — facts. How those facts are going to make a story anyone wants to read, let along a story faced on the truth, is not necessarily clear.

18715811_xxlYou could know precisely what you want to say and how you want to say it before you begin your research/reporting. In my experience, that generally ends in a stiff piece because you need to get the interviewees and facts to line up with what you want to say. It may be that you want to say something you can’t support.

You could just start interviewing everyone you can think of and see where it leads. That sort of fishing expedition often leaves you going back for a second round of interviews – actually two additional rounds, since you were overly generally in the first interview; every specific in the second; and now need some sense of this person, which you’ll gain through the third.

You could start by writing what you already know in an informal sort of list meant for your eyes only. You could then list the things you know you don’t know, along with why you think they might be important. You could also read whatever you can find as background material before selecting your interview candidates. You could then do a far-reaching and thorough interview that will hold up in 99% of circumstances.

The latter is the one I strive for, yet even with that, I wind up with a ton of research and branches I hadn’t anticipated – which is a good thing. Because of this, I pick a topic and then keep an open mind about the “way in.” Continue reading

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Finding the Way In 02

Scarecrow 03As I said, all my sulking was making me not like myself very much, so I got to work. I got out the articles that could have been mine – at least in my own mind! I examined the way in on the articles that worked and learned some new things while rediscovering some things I knew but hadn’t seen how to apply. It all goes something like this:   Continue reading


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Finding the Way In 01

Scarecrow 01Call it the angle. Call it the clothesline that will support your information. Call it whatever you want. It’s the organizing idea of a piece of writing. I call it finding the way in and to me, it’s the most difficult part of writing. To be honest, there are times when I just can’t find it. I can live with that. At least I can until I see an article on a topic I wanted to write about. Suddenly the way in is so obvious! Even if it’s not a way I would have chosen, I can see that it works. And the worst part of that moment is that at least five other ways flash into my mind in what can only be called a bleem. If you’re a writer, you’ve surely had this disheartening experience.

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