Featured Image: Fact and Fiction, Separate but Intertwined
By Peter B. Giblett
According to the Independent Book Publishers Association, the biggest growth areas in books are:
- Personal development & self-help
- Biography, autobiography, or memoirs
- Graphic novels
The fact that four out five of these categories are non-fiction suggests there is real growth in this type of writing. Modern audiences are drawn to non-fiction writing. Historically, non-fiction writing was considered boring, but there isn’t any reason it must be. Open any nonfiction work, and the reader should be excited to explore the knowledge the writer is sharing. There are some great stories available, they simply require writing.
You may know the following, considered one of the great opening sentences in fiction:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
Here quoted in full, all 119 words of the famous opening. This evokes many feelings, much conflict, potential angst, perhaps confusion, as Dickens maps out what the reader may experience through the upcoming book. It’s certainly creative and reflective at the same time. When was the last time you could recall such an opening sentence from a non-fiction work? Non-fiction works should display similar creativeness.
Faithful to the Facts
There is only one criterion that must be met, the work remains faithful to the facts. Non-fiction writing must adhere to a contract between the writer and reader that means the story always describes real events and remains factual. Non-fiction writers need to take a pledge to tell the truth, at least a personal one. While remaining purely in the realm of fact, writers can be creative and tell the story in a way that drives people to read their words. Your writing should be respectful and recognise the opinions of others, and that their view may differ from yours.
There is a difference between perspective and lying, inventing, or making accusations. People see things differently; for example, differences will exist between political opponents, they may suggest alternative approaches to problems faced. They have different perspectives on the challenges that face society. To suggest an opponent’s approach will not work can be accusative, and depending upon the words used it may even be lying. Any untried idea is simply that. No matter how much you may dislike it, or oppose it, the concept remains untried, that is all.
Getting away from the Boring
Business proposals have a reputation for being boring. They often are. The reason is that report writers fear to step outside the rigid boundaries defined by business; their template if often last month’s report. This does not have to always be the case. For example, a proposal for changing business practices will have many people fearing their future with the firm. The problem is that the impact of the change is either improperly explained or fails to recognise challenges people face.
With situations like these, the writer’s job is to envision the future and demonstrate all possibilities and to show how things can be better because of the proposed changes. This is a task of writing creatively.
The future is not a set of facts, it simply remains open to various possibilities. Writing creatively will allow the people affected to see a vision of how things can be. The writer must provide the vision. Show how the proposed changes can be positive. This writing will still use facts, or statistics, to map out probable paths. It demonstrates possibilities. A vision for the future is not a fact, but neither is it fiction. Writing about it, in this way, is about demonstrating possibilities. This requires creative thought to happen.
The same is true when writing creatively about things that have happened in the past. All the details are not known, and the writer must fill in the gaps to tell the story.
With factual writing, there are rules. We have already talked about one, the nonfiction contract. Others include:
- Be imaginative.
- Ensure facts are properly researched.
- Identify the issues.
- When you quote others, remain in context.
- Envision like a movie camera, show readers what there is to see.
- Don’t be dull or predictable.
- Be consistent in your tenses.
- Know your audience and write per their needs.
- Sentences are grammatically correct and readable.
- Know why you are using specific details, be sure they are relevant.
- When in doubt cut it out.
- Show, don’t tell.
One aim of your writing is to be persuasive without straying from what happened. Facts are important, yet you as a writer have much choice about how you present them. This is where creativity occurs. Remember, you can be creative yet remain faithful to the events described. This is especially true if the subject matter tends to be dull and boring.
Make it Interesting
Statistics, for example, is considered one of those “dull and boring” subjects. The truth is you can make the subject exciting by making it relevant the audience. Picking a statistic that amuses the audience will cause them to take notice. Did you know a UK supermarket chain found that men were more likely to purchase nappies/diapers when they were placed close to the beer aisle? The reverse was also true; they were less likely to purchase them when located near feminine hygiene products (the traditional location). But this was only part of a more complex story.
A statistical story told without a percentage sign in sight, made to be understood.
Peter B. Giblett is a freelance editor and writer with a background in business and technology management. He is also a non-practising lawyer. English born, now living in Canada. He’s an Alumni of City University (London) and University of West London. Entrant and winner of National Novel Writing Month 2015, a novel he is currently editing. He runs his own blog at called GobbledeGoox, which provides thoughts on writing, blogging, words, and word-craft.
Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
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