Spicy Narrative

I like things spicy--spicy foods, spicy people, and especially spicy writing! Bland is boring.

Novelists, limited only by their imaginations, can add as much spice and color as they like, but what about the non-fiction writer? Can you tell a story with some kick to it, even though you're bound by the facts?

I say, yes! And here are some pointers to help you.

Just because it’s true doesn't mean it has to be boring. If you intend to write non-fiction narrative, be sure you are telling a story, not just reporting events. Don’t make the mistake of believing just because your story is true that it has to start at the beginning or follow chronology. Non-fiction that reads like fiction is fun and engaging. When you tell your story, make it a romp, not just reporting.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I always looked for the most compelling, engaging fact of the story and opened with that. I never began a story based on what happened first, but on what was most significant. Significance can mean a lot of things: importance, emotion, impact, anything that is likely to engage the reader and make them want to read more.

Open with a bang: Some writers grab us by opening at a compelling point in the middle and then flip all the way back to where the story begins. Maybe instead of beginning your narrative at the beginning, you open with a dramatic event, an intense moment, something that lets the reader know this story is going to be interesting.

Surprise: What information can you hold back and introduce at a strategic moment? How can you create “ah-ha!” moments? What information might you have known all along in the “real life” version, but you can withhold and reveal to the reader later to surprise or shock?

Significance: As I said before, write about the key elements, don’t feel like you have to share all the events just because they happened. Include only events and details that are essential to the readers’ understanding and moving the story to its conclusion. Think in terms of "plot points" or events in the story where change occurs, either in character or direction.

Create suspense: Are there events in the story that could have gone either way? Can you make readers wait, compel them to read further to see what actually happened? While a great strategy, it only works if you can make them care. Which brings me to my final tip for today.

Reveal character: More than events, it’s the characters that make stories interesting. Lucky for you, in non-fiction narrative, the characters are real people, so you don’t have to make them up. On the other hand, you do have to be observant and, most important, notice things about them that are interesting–quirky, external behaviors and features that reveal the person within as well as their deeper motivations.

Make it exciting, engaging, devastating, fun, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, whatever it needs to be, but never be boring.