All the Write Stuff: Telling Your Truths

Writing nonfiction is not easier than writing fiction. Nonfiction writers are bound to stay within the boundaries of truth but also want to keep their audience engaged. Memoirists must hold true to their experiences but also want to give their readers not just the facts but the feelings and flavors of their life.

One way to walk the ground between engaging and truthful is to embrace your subjectivity. Pretending to be an objective outside source can damage both readers’ interest and your credibility. For example, if you plan to write a longer text, explaining your interest in the subject within the book’s introduction or author’s note can help frame the story for readers. In short, even if you’re not writing a memoir, you can still clarify that you’re speaking from your place in the world.

Another way to engage readers and tell the truth is to balance your story with historical, medical, pop culture, or other facts that resonate with your focus. (The key word here is balance!)

For example, your readers essay won’t care about your lengthy summary of Stranger Things season one, which you binge-watched in the middle of your break-up. If you see echoes of Stranger Things in your experience of your break-up, though, you can play around with weaving scenes from the series and bits of inside jokes into your story, making the connection clearer and smoother for your audience. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is a great example of a short memoir that has succeeded in balancing objective fact with life experience.

Balancing the focus with an echo can also be an effective strategy for nonfiction writers aiming to draw attention to a moment in history, a figure in the medical field, or even strategies for healthy lifestyles. Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, for instance, situates a nineteenth-century serial killer in the same story as the main architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

For more information on writing nonfiction, check out:

Writing Notable Narrative Nonfiction by Sue Vander Hook Why We Write About Ourselves by Meredith Maran Good Prose The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

For strong examples of nonfiction, check out:

El Deafo by Cece Bell The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls Bluets by Maggie Nelson Devil in the White City by Erik Larson