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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Writing Narrative for Yourself

Juggle these two thoughts when you're writing creative nonfiction:
1) You're writing only for yourself.
2) You're writing for an audience that has to understand what you're writing.

For Yourself . . .
You must concentrate on telling the story truly, as you see it, as you understand it. What is at the heart of your story? What evidence do you have that supports that? (This evidence should be laid out in scenes.) When you write "for yourself," you're writing in a bubble, facing off against the story you want to tell and wrestling it down to the page.

You can't worry about how so-and-so is going to take it, whether something will hurt someone's feelings.

Push aside any feelings you have of unworthiness to be a writer. Kick out those ghosts of taunting relatives, scornful ex-spouses, doubting friends, and rejections already received. If you can't get all that negativity out of the room, at least shove them under the rug and sit on them while you're writing.

. . . and an Audience
When the story is drafted, sit back and consider who will read it.
If you're writing on assignment for a niche magazine, it can be a matter of, What might be left out? If you're writing for a hiking magazine, odds are you don't need to spell out what gorp is (literally "good old raisins and peanuts"; generally, a combination of nuts and dried fruit easily eaten on the trail). Is it clear why the story is of interest to these readers?

For a story headed for the slush piles of literary magazines, think about what needs to be added so readers will understand it. Especially when you've been immersed in a story, it's easy to forget what terms--or processes or relationships--a general readership won't understand.

Ponder details that might offend innocent characters. If there's a fat girl that's in a scene, do you have to call her fat? For starters, Is it important that her weight be described? What are the connotations connected to the words that could be used to describe her? Heavyset, stout, plus-sized, plump, chunky, Rubenesque, zaftig, big-boned, sturdy . . . each has a slightly different meaning. The thesaurus is your friend (but remember, no big words used simply because they're big words).

For the memoirists among us, if you're afraid your story will deeply hurt someone you want to stay close to, wait to publish until that person is dead. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Not everything has to be published this minute.


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