Lisa Dale Norton
Writing Narrative Nonfiction: In Step with the Times
by Lisa Dale Norton
". . . your stories drawn from life material must be about more than just the circle of personal experience. "
We are entering an era in our country when responsibility and contribution to the community are taking center stage. Gone are the days of self-absorption. This shift in reality will make its way deeply into the publishing industry, both in terms of the kinds of stories we write (content), and the way in which we tell those stories (style). As writers of Narrative Nonfiction we need to be ready to meet this challenge.
What that means in practical terms is that your stories drawn from life material must be about more than just the circle of personal experience. To reach an audience they must throw out a line and bind private memory and insight with worldly concerns.
Maybe you are writing about your journey to find yourself after a divorce, but during that same period you volunteered at a food pantry. You can weave details of that service into the fabric of your story, linking personal experience to the universal experience of human struggle. In this way you not only write a story that helps make sense of a chaotic period in your life, but you tell a layered story that opens readers’ eyes to new ideas.
"By writing about this experience you bring order to the past and assign meaning to those difficult days."|
Or perhaps you are writing about the years you helped an aging parent with Alzheimer’s. Your memories may be tangled in muddied emotions of confusion and helplessness watching a loved one slip away. By writing about this experience you bring order to the past and assign meaning to those difficult days. But maybe the story can be more, too. By directing a clear eye toward the realities of medical care or nursing home support and including that in the story, you can help others also walking this path.
"Our stories help us sort out our experience and make sense of our lives."|
The bottom line is: Think outside yourself.
We writers of Narrative Nonfiction come to the genre because we are interested in the personal. Our stories help us sort out our experience and make sense of our lives, but as the market shifts to reflect the Zeitgeist, we would be wise to follow that trend.
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE|
GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com