Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Challenge of Non-fiction

Two of my trusted Beta readers pointed to one of the characters in my WIP and wondered if this character was “needed.” When writing a fictional story— every character must have a function that advances the premise, or at the very least provides comic relief. If neither is the case, toss the bums out, much as it hurts. The story will be meaner and leaner and far stronger.
Fiction writers have two options with unnecessary characters—eliminate, or re-write to make them essential. I have chosen, this time, to do the latter. I had a good reason for this side character, but I failed to convey it properly. I’m going to fix this. Besides, I make a better booster than an assassin.

But those who write non-fiction don’t have this luxury. They are, in effect, historians. Mentioning people who don’t wind up being pivotal, or even interesting in themselves, is still something that they must do in places where the very presence of these people must be accounted for posterity.

Here lies the challenge— make the gray types seem interesting. Find a way to connect the dots somehow, even when the connections are flimsy. Make it stick the way a fictional story would, even as you write about real people and events.

I used to think non-fiction stories were easier to write. After all, the story is already there. A writer just has to do some research. This always felt like school homework, something I did with ease though never liked. Then the writer must have the organizational and verbal skills to produce coherency. Non-fiction that reads like a textbook is not wanted these days. It must be written so young readers will not put it down, same as fiction.

As I augment and change my fictional person, I marvel what I would have done if she and the story had had a reality outside my mind.
And I take off my virtual hat to all great non-fiction.


  1. Hah, I find NF so much easier to write precisely because the story is already there and all I need to do is decide what bit to shine a light upon. Fiction is crazy hard -- it has to make sense. LOL.

  2. Well put! The "unnecessary" character just takes the focus off the central character and storyline. But a well developed supporting character....ahhhhhh....that's golden.

  3. I would love to write non-fiction but it's very difficult for me because my mind wants to take flight!

  4. Good points, Mirka. And, Vijaya, I loved your line--"Fiction is crazy hard--it has to make sense."

  5. I've written non-fiction pieces for educational websites and it was tough making them read like fiction. It's a must though.

    As for characters who you need to give a better story or cut, I've had this happen as well. Sometimes I find that one character is actually being split into two and when I realize it, I combine them. It's great that you're going to give this character a story though.

  6. I love reading "creative" nonfiction. Wonderful thoughts here about making those "gray" characters meaningful.

  7. Yes. Non-fiction well done is hard to beat, but it is hard to do it justice. We have On a Beam of Light and we love it.