Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Just finished reading Telling True Stories: A nonfiction writers' guide. It's a compilation of essays from tried and true authors, screenwriters, and magazine journalists. One good example of the stellar advice the book offers comes from contributor Gay Talese. "The fiction writer, playwright, and novelist," he writes, "deal with private life. ... The nonfiction writer has traditionally dealt with people in public life, names that are known to us. The private lives that I wanted to delve into as a young writer at The New York Times would not often be considered worthy of news coverage." Talese's quest, he says, is to learn something about people who tend to be ignored, and bring those people alive for the reader. Telling Tue Stories emphasizes that the book is the idea, but turning it into a compelling story is the key. Sticking to the story line -- the original premise -- is also key. DeNeen L. Brown, a feature writer for the Washington Post, says in the book that beginning to read a story should feel like one is embarking on a journey, starting toward a destination. It's the writer's job to "decide what larger meaning the story represents and lead the reader to that." Sounds easy enough. It's not, which is why I'm passing along these tidbits and suggesting those wanting to become better nonfiction narrative writers read Telling True Stories. It's definitely worth the read.