Tag Archives: nonfiction

Roiled

Roiled. A state of mind-my mind. Hmm…I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote, well, gee, yesterday. About reality and wordsmithing, joy and raw history. I worry. I wasn’t always a worrier. I was mostly unconscious as a kid–and sometimes, no, lots of times, I miss that. But I’ve had kids, have a husband and a life, and possessions and so now I am a worrier. Sigh. Probably goes well with that Type A + personality that is high in Command.

And what I’ve been thinking about and worrying about is words more than anything else. I just reread Cheryl Klein’s MAGIC WORDS chapter POWER AND ATTENTION on writing across cultures…but I think this chapter also speaks to writing across time. She states six basic principles. And if I were to distill them, I’d say what she asks is that you write truthfully, in the moment, in the character and don’t let your own self get lost in the story.

Sometimes I think almost everything we write is across time; a different type of diversity than we usually consider. You may write it as contemporary, but by the time you sculpt that idea into a workable story, develop characters, write dialogue, craft settings and worlds, it is no longer contemporary, even if you are writing in the present tense. Even if you write about the future, it is already past, because the idea is now out there.

Between my middle grade mysteries I am writing non fiction. Not science. Not biography although it started out that way. Sort of like my one picture book story, I think I have one and only one nonfiction in me, I think. It started with my admiration and fascination with Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the US, remembering as an adult the impact his death in 1961 when I was a kid. And while I was fascinated, his story is not really one for kids in that you can almost believe although he was small and grew into adult hood, in truth,  he was never a kid. So I needed a story around his story and I chose where his life ended. It ended not by him,  not on purpose, not willfully, though from the publication of his journal, when he took the job as S-G, he had made his own peace with God and with the future. It ended because of politics. Of national interests. Of personal gain. Of disrespect for another human being.

The story is of the Congo. Of all the nation state stories in the history of the world, Congo stands out among the most sad. From the moment Leopold II of Belgium decided he needed and wanted to rule something bigger and more prestigious than Belgium, Congo became not a home of a people, not a land graced with much of the earth’s wealth, not a nation, or even several nations, it became one person’s property. And, although Leopold II is gone, it is in many ways, still one person’s property.

Here we sit, I sit, in these United States, in a country that has a covenant of over two hundred years giving me, all of us, the right to rule ourselves. Yes, it is through others. Yes, we do not all agree. But we have that right.

I will not be writing the current history. Doubtless not even the next generation will, although many will try. Probably someone who was born in this decade will be writing this story, will have access to the news, the tweets, the posts, the blogs, the pundits, the instagram, and all manner of communication and will be able to distill the story, be far enough away from the story not to get lost in the story.

I am writing the history of a story that started more than a century ago. And I worry. I worry not about getting lost in the story, I worry about telling the story in current terms, not telling it in the time it happened, not telling it in the language of the people who lived it, not telling it truthfully.  I worry and  that roils my thoughts and disturbs my writing.

 

Focus

focusFocus. Wow, a tough word. A tough thing to do.

I am a student of history, always have been, always will be, and I am fortunate to have a good memory, about most things, especially those things which are important to me or which I feel are very, very cool. There is a lot that is important to me, and there is much more that I think is very very cool.

Writing this season I am distracted. For one, the election and I am very much a political junkie, a reader of all things political whether or not I believe in that ideology or system or line of thought. I do not understand not engaging others. I do not understand saying someone is wrong. I don’t understand the language used–yes, I do use it–and yes it can be very powerful–but don’t go all ballistic on a political candidate when you are throwing around swear words to denounce his swear words.  And, at this point I should probably apologize to my older sister who I told was wrong ALL the time. 🙂 But that is different, that is family and you can say things to family, can’t you?

Also I am distracted by the work I chose to do. It is volunteer work, but it seems more like I should be making money somewhere, and I am not. But that’s okay. I am living well, have a wonderful husband who loves me, children who talk to me regularly and baby grands. img_0209                  That is the prize at the end of the journey, if you make it that long…baby grands and mine are so very different and they are exactly like their mothers. God could not have waited longer to grant me this gift. But grant it He did and I will not waste it. If you feel unconditional love for you own children, it is amazing that it can be so multiplied for baby grands.

But I am distracted. The topic was focus. I think I was originally ADHD, or maybe just hyper active, an old fashioned term, or maybe I just had a great imagination and a huge desire to know everything. I think I still do. That I think is why writing this story nonfiction is difficult. I want to share it all. I have read so much. Probably should be reading more, but that is not always possible–I can’t read Swedish, for example–Sigh.

So here is my resolution for this week. A couple three hours a week on the volunteer- SCBWI stuff, more than a couple of hours on Thomas, sleep, of course, reading, of course, and a FOCUS on what it is that my story nonfiction must convey.

My theme is There is nothing so dear to the human spirit as freedom. In this world today, I think this is the most important thing to discuss-not FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear. The United Nations Freedoms  are not as succinct–after all they were written by committee. To me, the issues with both these listings is there is no distinction between that which is a Jeffersonian ‘inalienable right’ to a for, by and of the people government, and Dorothy Day social justice issues like education, health care and compensation. Aside from the ‘free will’ attribute, to me, we must enable and ensure the truth of the inalienable rights before we can tackle social justice. digress

Side bit: When I was working in Labor Relations, negotiating contracts, the one thing that you wanted to stay away from was a list. Four reasons you could be fired, six reasons you received a warning, twelve reasons you had to post to another job at at certain time.

More on lists: That may be the biggest problem with the bill of rights, or the amendments, because we look to them to be the final word. No, I take that back.  Some of us do. Some don’t, like when the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that there is a constitutional right homogamy [same-sex marriage]  when there isn’t even a constitutional right to heterogamy [marriage of opposite sexes].  I guess we as society, or at least some of society admit that the list isn’t complete and we need to adjust.

The history I read in my journey to a story nonfiction is overlaid by life today, our values, our judgements, our understanding of the evils human have wrought and our perceptions of how we need to counter those.

I don’t think there should be any words after freedom. No ‘ofs’ or ‘froms’ I think freedom is pretty simple, to live in a society, to be cognizant of the needs of that society, to be able to make personal choices within that society as well as to remove part of yourself from that society. And, freedom is not being subjected to judgement over your choices and have your personal freedom impugned because of your choices. All the while admitting that there are limits based on morals–not unlike the ten commandments, which to me is the essence of limited government 🙂

Now that is focus!

 

 

From Story to Theme to Arc

Is narrative different from story? A narrative is a spoken or written account of connected events. A story is an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. A narrative sounds more like a list of events. A story is events told in a way as to entertain. All fiction is a combination of connected events told for entertainment, a combination of the narrative and the story.

In nonfiction is there a difference between just plain old nonfiction and narrative nonfiction? Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor, History and World Cultures at Highlights for Children, says, “The difference between straight nonfiction and creative nonfiction has to do with structure. Straight nonfiction relies solely on the parts–the facts for the most part–and not on the whole. Creative nonfiction is all about the whole–how the parts make it up. Creative nonfiction, like fiction, is all about story or theme. Creative nonfiction tends to have strong characters, strong sense of place, rich details, obvious themes, conflicts, arcs–everything.”

I’m not a fan of creative nonfiction because of the word creative,  it sounds like you could be making the story up or part of it. And you can’t, nonfiction must be true, all of it. If it is not, it is not nonfiction. I personally prefer the term narrative nonfiction. But then…whoa, am I contradicting my first paragraph? Okay I like story nonfiction.

I’m not sure there was story nonfiction when I was a kid. What we had was famous person is born, does stuff and dies that is out today. Today it is about writing to illuminate that person’s life, making that more valued while still sticking totally to the facts.

One of the most popular for kids is the Who Was series from Penguin Random House. They also have a Where Was series and a Where Is series. These books cover the historical figures, landmarks, popular cultural figures, artists, writers,  celebrities of all kinds…you name it, if it is a famous something, there is probably a book in this series. And the kids eat them up!  Not surprising, kids like to know stuff. The books are about 7K words and include tidbit sidebars that add to not only the kid’s knowledge base, but also to some of the facts surrounding the story. So these series are really stories: accounts told for entertainment and a byproduct is that they inform, they educate, but in many ways they are straight nonfiction, the value,  to me, is in the voice and the tone of the writing.

For me, story nonfiction is nothing without a theme. Because it was theme that gave me my story arc.  Themes are pretty much the same in nonfiction as in fiction–love and hate, war and peace. If the story is about a figure in the civil war, whether fiction or nonfiction, it can be about racism and tolerance. If it is in medieval Europe it can be about equality of man.

Once I decided the them, the story arc meant that I could write less about the person as a straight biography, and more about the person as he portrayed the theme, how his own native values and innate characteristics informed his life. And for me this was a five year journey!