By Stu Leventhal
News, journalism, documentaries, expose, non-fiction, biography…Whatever you call them, the telling of true stories demands dedication, commitment, integrity, tenacity for detail, humility, respect and over all writing wisdom and creative savvy.
As a chronicler of human existence you are being entrusted with the most noble, professional career and job responsibility known to man. Recording the story of mankind is no joke to be taken frivolously especially in the age of the internet. If you write it today it could be passed around the internet, shared and reposted on thousands even millions of platforms by weeks end. That is power and power needs to be controlled by a tempered hand. When an author writes then publishes something that they deem to be the total truth; readers, researchers, historians are going to take you at your word. Your writing becomes gospel.
Rarely will what you write be contested! So, if you rush your work to print because you are having a rough patch in your life or because you are fatigued or just frustrated with the dead ends your research keeps running into; for many your version is going to be their only version. Thus, if later it turns out what you say didn’t really happen, it did now.
As a writer of nonfiction not only do you have a responsibility to tell your tales truthfully but you have the added chore of being entertaining too. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that these two tasks, truth and entertainment can conflict with one another. That is the challenge presented to the noblest profession known to man. Just telling the truth does no one any good if your stories don’t ever get read because quite frankly, the truth can be a bore! Especially, when compared to some of the wild fiction out there.
Nonfiction writers must also learn how to compete for readers’ limited time and equally limited attention spans.
So, how does a fiction writer specializing in the art of telling true, true, true stories hope to compete with Hollywood, comic books, music and all the other arts and industries who are filled with just as skilled professionals who are allowed to utilize their vivid, often outrageous imaginations? Let’s face it, now –a-days, fictionists are expected and even encouraged and hailed for being as crazily creative as possible and nothing is too wild!
The answer is obvious; you don’t compete with them! We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t compare apples to oranges.” Believe me when I tell you, fictionists are just as worried about competing with us nonfiction authors as we are with them. Fiction authors do nothing but pine over whether or not their stories are believable and if their dialogs, settings and plots are realistic. Nonfiction has a powerful appeal that the most suspenseful, scary, funny, dramatic or even spiritual fiction can never claim. Nonfiction is true!
The key to making any true story better; more entertaining, funnier, dramatic, emotional…is RESEARCH!
Non-fictionists don’t have to make up anything. There is a wealth of information out there already about their subject. All they have to do is go find it. If the story you are penning isn’t turning out to be compelling enough, go back to the well. Dig deeper! If you are taking notes while a person gives you a play by play of an important happening and the tale doesn’t seem to be jarring, ask more detailed questions, find more eye witnesses. Get personal, don’t skate around the issues, ask the hard questions, the embarrassing questions, invade peoples’ privacy…of course with their permission! The secret to making a true story interesting is to get someone to open up and show their real emotions. Gut emotion is where a true story has an imaginary story beat, hands down!