Sunday, November 24, 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 4

Do you ask enough questions? Another creative non-fiction writing technique is to ask lots of questions.

All writers ask questions - it’s a great way of finding out new information. Journalists ask questions to establish facts and to use the answers as direct quotes. However, this has limitations. Journalism is all about telling. Or reporting. Whereas creative non-fiction is concerned with showing and revealing information. 

When journalists quote their interviewees they’re also subject to the limitations of their interviewee's (limited - potentially) vocabulary. Interview someone who trekked hundreds of miles to reach the North Pole and ask them “What was it like there?” and you’d be forgiven for being a little frustrated when they answer you with, “It was really, really, really cold.” 

Creative non-fiction writers take the process one step further. Instead of reporting what it was like, the creative non-fiction writer asks as many questions necessary so that they can then write about the place as if they were experiencing it themselves. In other words, they ask all the questions they need to be able to write about it as if seen through their viewpoint. This then allows the writer to use their own language skills to convey the drama to their readers in an interesting manner. Ask enough questions and the writer can step into the shoes of the interviewee.

This is how many ghostwriters work - those who are employed to write someone else’s story. Some celebrities use ghostwriters to write their autobiographies for them, but they’re written in a way that makes the reader think the celebrity wrote them.

Writing from your subject’s viewpoint is more common than you may think. It’s not just celebrities who use ghostwriters; anyone can. Pick up any women’s magazine containing real-life stories and most of them will have been written by professional writers, not the people whose lives the stories are about. (The piece may be attributed to a writer, “as told to Fred Bloggs,” or the writer's name may appear near the spine of the publication in a font size that requires an extra strong magnifying glass!) If you read the stories, though, you’ll see that they’re written in the first person, using first person pronouns, like I and we. The writers have achieved this by asking their interviewee lots of questions. 

It’s an interesting exercise to experiment with. Ask someone lots of questions about a specific time, or moment, in their life and then write it up as if you were them. Do that, and you can describe what they saw/felt/heard/smelt/touched using your own language skills and vocabulary, rather than rely on those of your subject.


Good luck.

Followers