Your Life As Story: Narrative Non Fiction Like A Novel

September 30, 2008
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: 

Narrative Non Fiction Like A Novel

by Lisa Dale Norton

October 2008

"I know some of the writing tricks that make achieving that goal easier. . ."
—NORTON

I write this month from Colorado Springs where I have traveled to the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Tradeshow to promote my book, Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, for St. Martin's Press.

During the course of the weekend I signed books; talked about memoir, memory, and the process of writing memoir that I share in Shimmering Images; and then cruised the Tradeshow floor visiting with booksellers, authors, publishers, distributors, and sales representatives from New York publishing houses. For two days we talked about many things, not the least of which was the art of selling narrative nonfiction, and specifically memoir, in today's market.

As a teacher of memoir I know the number of people around this country who are interested in getting their stories into print. I know how arduous that work can be. I know some of the writing tricks that make achieving that goal easier, and I am familiar with the number of people who either do not know these tricks or do not think the tricks apply to them.

". . .our intrepid narrator, needs to take us, in that journey, to a place we've never been before."
NORTON

What I had confirmed for me at that Tradeshow was exactly what I have known for some time, and I pass it on again because I am even more painfully aware of how essential it is to the successful completion of your dream. Personal stories–memoir, autobiography, essays, travel writing, all of which are forms of narrative nonfiction–will struggle to make it into print if they do not tell a story that does the same thing a good novel does:

1) They must present a narrator about whom we (the readers) care enough so that we are willing to go on a journey (the journey of the book) with that person; and

2) That person, our intrepid narrator, needs to take us, in that journey, to a place we've never been before.     

". . . we must find a way to make our life stories interesting to people outside the small circle of family. . ."
NORTON

It doesn't matter that we are not writing fiction. We narrative nonfiction writers must learn from our cousins the fiction writers and give readers the core experience of a piece of fiction: a story that engages the reader and shows him a new way of looking at the world.

What this means for memoirists is that we must find a way to make our life stories interesting to people outside the small circle of family, and one of the most basic ways of doing this is through the voice of the narrator.

We need to make the narrator a person the reader cares about deeply.

I have written about the narrator's voice before in this column, but after this booksellers tradeshow at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, I feel compelled to revisit this all-important topic and explore again the lessons that any memoirist can learn from the novelist.

Watch next month for the beginning of a series of articles tackling this topic of voice in Narrative Nonfiction from a variety of angles.     

About
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

 

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This post was written by Lisa Dale Norton