Before you start writing your story or essay or poem, take a few minutes to answer the following three questions to keep you focused:
who am I?
why am I writing this?
who will read this?
Then, you can begin.
The subject of a story or essay is always a question: for example, What is it like to be homeless in the 21st century in the richest country in the world? What will we find in the
Gulf of California? How will I survive my family’s illness? Find the right question and you find a worthy
subject. Then the answer will matter. It will matter to you and therefore to your
readers because passion is contagious.
You define a subject twice: once before you write, again when you are writing it. Allow for changes.
So – how do you keep the reader interested? Metaphorical connections. In the best nonfiction several subjects are interwoven around the main arc and the lasting value comes out of the connections. Two or three or four subject together are more profound and complex than one. The reason? Metaphor. Each element of the story reflects the other, offers insight into the other. For example, in Terry Tempest Williams’ book Refuge the suspense over the fate of migrating birds mirrors the suspense about her future dealing with cancer.
The third question: who will be reading this? There is the practical answer, especially if you write for particular magazine. But the better question is: why should anybody be interested in reading this? There are three kinds of readers:
- the reader who will never be interested and will always disagree with you
- the reader who knows everything and agrees with you
- the reader who neither agrees nor disagrees and may have never given much thought to your subject
You write for the third reader.
Always take the subject beyond the obvious and trite, into new territory, and remember when you announce the subject you make a promise. Your task is to deliver on that promise.
POINTS OF VIEW
The next decision is point of view.
First person point of view: in this point of view you are the writer and the main character.
If there is another person observing as well you can use the first person plural.
One of the dangers of the “I” narrator is that it might take over when the story is about something or someone else.
Third person point of view: if you want to stand back for an overview and deal with more characters and more descriptions this is your point of view.
Third person has less immediacy, it’s more impersonal. In CNF the writer however has less latitude than in fiction because he’s limited by the facts available.
Multiple points of view: it’s difficult to handle this without confusing the reader. If you’re going to do this keep in mind whose story you’re telling and use the appropriate grammatical person for telling that story.
CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP - FALL SESSION
Starting SEPTEMBER 9 - 6 to 8 pm - every other Tuesday - 6 classes
Lincoln Park area - write for exact location - free street parking provided
Fee: $300.00 - If you register before August 26: $250.00