Non-fiction Writing

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Glimpse into the process of writing non-fiction.

Answers from Elena Ornig

Fiction And Non-fiction WritingAutobiographies, fictionalized autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, travel books, technical books, scientific books, diaries, text books, essays and some forms of journalism as investigations, reports, articles and reviews, are some of the many forms of non-fiction writing. Commonly, we refer to nonfiction writing as writing about real stories, implying recollection of the facts as historical data, for example. Overall, non-fiction is categorized as narrative or an account that must be true as opposed to fiction that only can be based on a true story or be the manifested creation of the writer’s imagination.

However, fiction and non-fiction have one thing in common – each tells a story based on processed information. And as we know, every story is personally assessed by an author(inward), stimulated by an author’s opinion (attitude) and reflects one single event or set of significant events (individual or public fascination with something that happened). In nonfiction – events must be factual or have taken place in real life, regardless of the actual time of event (some years ago, week ago, yesterday or today) but always in line with factual information and not imagination. In nonfiction – people involved in the event must be real. In nonfiction – places described in the event must be real. In nonfiction the objects implicated in the event must also be real.

The need for accuracy is why research and interviewing techniques in non-fiction writing plays such a significant role in order to confirm attainable information and to verify the facts. When I published a biography of Renata Castellé (Renata Jackson) “The Queen of The Castle”, I deliberately added the subtitle: “told by Renata Castellé, written by E.P.O” in order to emphasize factual recollection of her life story. When I was writing her life inspirational story, I was reflecting on 26 interviews between the two of us that took place during six months in 2010. I assiduously followed her story as closely as possible to her own personal recollection of events, places, people and objects; and deliberately avoided clashing with my attitude, opinion and conclusions by separating them (unconventionally) into an author’s introduction to most of the chapters. Even first-hand recollections were never enough to provide true information, and research was unavoidable.

To see readers testimonials of “The Queen of The Castle” – click here.

Traditionally, Libraries (Public, Specialized or Academic are the best place to conduct your research, either on-line or off line (a matter of personal preference).  One thing is for sure, when conducting research of specific and unique information, the Research Librarians are your best friends. Their personal knowledge of reference material is enormous. Add to that list the Internet, and look for the websites that provide statistics and specific reports such as, government websites, websites of particular agencies or experts’ websites, but first, always verify their credibility.

In order to conduct an interview (first-hand information) you must learn or know the main aspects of the interviewing process. First, is the arrangement of place and time with the particular person you would like to answer your questions, and the agreed time-length of the interview. Second is preparation: a set of specific questions; background information on interviewee and topic plus a choice of the tools you will use (audio, video, e-mail, telephone, or in some cases only a note pad). Third is your chosen method of handling the actual process of the interview to meet your purpose:  friendly, confrontational or inquisitive in order to obtain the desired information. Finally you need to transcribe collected information into writing in order to clarify the meaning and subject expertly through editing.

Every Author Has Point Of ViewNon-fiction genre follows traditional conventions that reflect a layout, form and structure of a story or a book. It does have an effect on style and actual content and it is written to reach a specific audience or mass audience in order to inform. But, remember, in the beginning I told you that any story, fictional or non-fictional, is personally assessed by an author (inward) and stimulated by an author’s opinion (attitude), and therefore some sort of persuasion by an author in the non-fiction category is unavoidable. The main tool that writers use in the non-fiction category, or any category for that matter, is a language and an ability to use that tool to express factual information as clearly and as effectively as one can. But with some element of unavoidable persuasion, non-fiction writers use emotive language in order to condition readers to believe and to trust their stories, as presented, from their point of view.

Personally, I can see that the struggle of identification against traditional standards is widely spread and discussed all over the Internet. Forms like creative non-fiction or fiction books written more like non-fiction have become more common than exceptional. The reason for that is simple – every author has his/her own opinion and attitude with an agenda to prove a point and to persuade readers to agree.  Is mixing fiction and non-fiction together wrong or right? I think it’s not even the right question. What we should ask ourselves, as writers is, “What are we trying to achieve as the end result”?

Are we trying to inform, educate, entertain, create debate or engage readers into discussion, and if so then it’s up to us to choose the best possible narrative (form and story- telling structure) and style that will make our written content as appealing to the readers as one can only dream of. From a Publisher’s point of view, I would prefer to have a different classification system for selecting a category for a publication. Rather than several categories per publication, I would prefer just one – fiction or non-fiction and instead of two or three sub-categories I would prefer a topic that reflects the main content of the book. How easy could it then be to apply for an ISBN number and to search for a desirable book for the readers? However, this is my personal opinion from a writer’s, reader’s and publisher’s point of view.

Coming back to non-fiction writing, mastering a language in order to express yourself, conducting interviews in order to attain first-hand information, and perfecting research methodology, is not enough to think you can successfully write in the non-fiction category.  You need the status of credibility as an established writer or as a recognised expert on a specific subject. If you don’t yet have it, don’t get discouraged, just start to work (write) in order to get that credibility. Open a personal weblog or create a website; figure out your social pages or join writer associations, groups or clubs. Learn and apply your knowledge in writing. Try writing competitions; attend writing workshops, and writers or publishers events to learn more.  The more you learn the better you will write, and the better you write the faster your credibility will grow. With growing credibility you will feel more confident as a writer. The more confident you become the more authoritarian you will sound in your written material. Sooner or later you will find your own voice.

Frankly, there is no magic formula other than self-discipline, persistence and determination to write better and better each time. Writing in non-fiction or fiction category is a skill that can be learned and polished to a state of perfection.  One more thing that any writer must follow as a rule – read.

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
William Faulkner

My warmest regards,
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Written by Elena Ornig

Managing Director of Publishing Company "Julia Sophistique Pty Ltd". Committee member of Australian Computer Association GC Chapter. Member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Member of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland. Member of the IT Forum Gold Coast. Sponsor of the Helensvale Writers' Group, Gold Coast. Committee member of the Gold Coast Writers Association Honored VIP Member of STANFORD WHO'S WHO in America. Publisher, writer and blogger.