Tag Archives: narrative nonfiction


I’ve been to the Magic Castle. Nope, have no clue how they do it. I don’t watch ‘behind the scenes’ shows. I don’t want to read blogs on the main characters. Or how the actors live. I grew up in Los Angeles. Went to school with children and grandchildren of ‘those Hollywood’ folk. There was no paparazzi. There was no stalking. They were just ordinary people with a job in the movies.

Hmmm…do I believe in Magic? Sort of. Yes, that wand would be cool. Yes, that spell book would come in handy. Who wouldn’t want all of that? Just a wave here, a snap of a fingers, a few words there and, bob’s your uncle, BAM! Done.

Some say magic is to some, what science is to others. Would I use magic? Probably no. It feels like it we don’t have it because it is too easy. But I do know magic.  I’ve been a reader since forever. I’ve been to places that no plane, train or ship could go. I’ve seen worlds that are too horrible to contemplate, or are too much fun to miss, or are just downright lovely to spend time in. Reading is magic! That is what I am looking to create.

I think of those ‘behind the scenes’ shows and wonder if anyone would be as excited to see a writer shaping a story? Creating a world?  You create a character. You give him/her life, foibles, obstacles. You provide family, homes, towns. You record their thoughts, ambitions, musings. So, yes, I do believe in magic, but not the kind with a wand or a spell book.

Because writing is hard. In nonfiction it is research, read, write, revise. Research, read, write, revise. Sigh.

I’m at that middle of a narrative nonfiction that is a slough. The writing is hard because the subject is hard. While it has been discussed in very academic circles, in MG/YA, not so much. I’ve got to get in some information. Yes, it’s important. Can it be boring? Can it difficult to translate for high school kid? Yes.

I’m sort of at that place where I know what comes after, I know how the narrative continues, but this one place! THIS. ONE. PLACE. Sigh!

Yes, it would be a miracle. And I’m letting it block me. And so, I think I will put in my draft ‘something happens here’ and move on.

Is that a good choice? I have no idea. My goal is to finish this narrative by the end of summer. So I have a couple of months. But time does fly. As if by Magic!



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!








Beliefs, Shifts & Bias

I have a belief system. I grew up with it. I was able to stay with the system, examine it, challenge it with those more learned than me, toss it around a bit and not find it wanting. I feel fortunate it has stood by me for all these years. As much as I am, this belief system is me. It is so ingrained in me that one daughter was recently shocked when I stated that while I am Irish, Roman Catholic and American, I am American first, no question! To me, that deep core belief that I am American first comes sincerely from the fact that I am Roman Catholic–I understand beliefs harkening back hundreds, even thousands of years. I get what it is to sustain that belief. I know what it is to stand by ideals that may not be popular,  may even be deadly.

Why does this matter? Because I am working with a historical narrative nonfiction where there are newspapers, videos, memoranda, minutes and personal remembrances. And I remember, pretty clearly, the emotion, if not the actual fact of his death. And I know he is all but forgotten by the academicians and the diplomats.

We have changed as a country, a world,  so very much not just in the last half of the twentieth century, but rapidly in the twenty-first.  paradigmone On the news this morning a correspondent mentioned that he felt the increasing anger and unrest over policing, gun control, racism, terrorism and even climate change have a lot to do with the rise social media. Somehow that feels convenient, and yet?

What I see is that our paradigms are our labels.  Or, are we unknowingly perhaps, putting labels on ourselves through the way we post our paradigms and the way the online community responds?  We post the highlights of our daily lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We check to see how many likes, loves, wows are on each posting. It is addicting and it feels so much like a community, like we know these people. But is it? Do we? For future writers of narrative nonfiction will all of this, like diaries and memos and minutes and newspapers of the past,  become the ‘first rough draft of history’?

When we write nonfiction, especially historical narrative nonfiction we are doing more than just relating dates and descriptions. We are telling a story, and in telling that story we are giving a reason why this is important. We are effectively saying we can learn from this story and be better.

How many of us seek validation of what we think by those around us?  biasIt is the comfort zone of bias, yes? How many of us are willing to shift our paradigm to see what others see, to check our bias at the door and be open? Will we feel adrift?  Will we feel wishy-washy because those who hold to their paradigms and bias seem strong?  Or are we the strong ones because we have been willing to walk out of our comfort zone and explore our viewpoints and possibly even change them?

The narrative nonfiction I am writing begins over a hundred years in the past. Some of it was shocking and new to me, as if it had just happened. I was amazed at my lack of historical knowledge or perspective. This was history I had totally ignored.  In effect I had no view of this time period or of this historical place. I had no bias. It was a blank slate.

I have read narrative nonfiction where a thesis is stated and then confirmed. A voice in my head, coupled with my own limited studies, some of them a half a century ago, tell me that this may be too simplistic, too easy and a cheat to the readers of the book, especially as those are young readers.

So when I realized the history is new, I also realized my views of the institutions surrounding that history are very distinct . I can easily find confirmation of my viewpoint online, I know the blogs, the practicecomments sections, the places to go. But should I? What will that do to my story? My want, nay, my need, is to tell a story that is essentially unknown today by so many in the world, but one that the world needs to hear. And I want that story to be as close to what happened as possible. Not necessarily a truth, but what actually happened.  Why? Because it is a story of peace not victory, of reason not hate, of compassion not cruelty.

In writing this manuscript I feel I am in a fight with the most visceral of my emotions, going against what I have come to ‘believe’ as true, at times it is exhausting. Regardless, I must deal with preconceived and find my  way as I am writing.