Last week I looked at how being a little creative with events in your article can help you convey the facts, or the truth, of your piece in an interesting way. Another creative non-fiction technique is to write in ‘scenes’.
All non-fiction requires a structure of sorts, and considering your subject matter as a series of individual scenes can work well. By focusing on one particular idea in each scene you make your writing more succinct and precise. With a clear idea to get across to your reader, you’re less likely to go wandering off at a tangent.
However, thinking in scenes also allows writers to use those scenes more creatively. Here’s an example from a published article of mine:
“Solvitur Ambulando,” he shouted, as he dashed past me on the path to Watergate Farm, at Loweswater.
“Morning,” I replied, wondering what the heck the at-least-80-year-old hiker was going on about as he made his way back towards Maggie’s Bridge. Had he heard me muttering as I ambled towards the trees at Holme Wood? Probably. I know I have a habit of talking to myself when I’m out walking, but talking to yourself can be some of the best conversations a person can have. Sometimes I just get carried away and forget to whisper. And if a route suddenly gets busy, I have been known to hold a mobile phone to my ear, because people seem to find this more acceptable. That was until someone pointed out there was no mobile phone signal in the area I was walking.
I know I was having one of my more in-depth discussions with myself, because I was trying to resolve a problem. I’d been working for a particular client for some time and was getting frustrated at the amount of effort I was putting in for the meagre reward. Being self-employed, it’s easy to say yes to any work that comes your way, because any work is better than no work, especially in this current economic climate. But that work/life balance equation rears it’s ugly head every so often, especially that phrase of ‘working to live, not living to work’.
Today was one of those days in the Lakes when you had to get outside. I frequently escape to the Lake District, but being self-employed, I often find myself doing some work whilst supposedly ‘on holiday’ – with so many self-catering properties and hotels having free Wi-Fi, these days, it’s difficult to break free. And despite my earlier comment, I did once check my emails half way up the Old Man of Coniston. But today was one of those classic clear blue-sky days, with not enough moisture to make a wisp of cloud, and no wind to turn a leaf, let alone a wind turbine.
Normally, for me, it would have been a day to go high. I’m not one to set out to climb a mountain if it’s guaranteed to be in cloud. If I’ve put effort in to ascend a summit I want to be rewarded with a view, or at least a sneaky peak of a view, and so days like this always have ‘Go high!’ stamped firmly across them. But as I contemplated where to go, my dilemma influenced my decision. If I went high, I’d be doing it because that what I always did. It’s like saying ‘yes’ when someone offers me work. It’s what I felt I ought to be doing. So, going against the grain, I decided to stay low. I wouldn’t climb: I would circumnavigate instead. Which is why I found myself approaching the shores of Loweswater.
The first scene (paragraphs 1 and 2) introduces readers to the old man I met on my walk and how I came to be talking to him. The second scene (paragraphs 3 to 5) goes back in time and explains how I came to be at this place and talking to this old man.
Had I written this in strict chronological order then scene 2 would come before scene 1. But paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 wouldn’t make a good opening. So, by writing this as a series of scenes, I’ve been able to use the the fiction technique of ‘flashback’ where you start at a point of interesting action and then flashback to a period in the past to give the reader the information they need to understand the article in full.
Some great examples of this scene structure in articles can be found in the real-life stories in the women’s magazines. They often have this fictional feel to them because of this scene structure.
So next time you want to make your non-fiction more engaging, look at the scenes in your piece. Have you got them in the right order? Shuffling them around may give you a more interesting piece.
You can read my creative Loweswater article in full here: http://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/solvitur-ambulando/ (which was published in Lakeland Walker magazine).