Literary Desserts for Non-Fiction Writing

Writers are always being told to show, not tell. A Writer’s Path author Ryan Lanz recently did a brilliant job of putting that phrase into perspective with his post “Showing vs. Telling.”

Although the post is geared toward fiction writers, non-fiction writers should take heed, too. Just because we write non-fiction doesn’t mean the writing has to be as antiseptic as a doctor’s examining room. In fact, it is a good thing for non-fiction writers to use this technique to connect with their readers. Besides, why should fiction writers have all the fun?

“Why should I do this?” you may ask.

Showing an idea through description and example connects our topic with the reader on a basic, emotional level. We often write to persuade a reader to take some sort of action. This connection can be powerful and boost our chances of readers doing what we want or changing their perspectives on a subject.

“Okay, but how do I ‘show’ in my non-fiction writing?”

Here’s an example:

Huddled with George under a tree in the isolated corner of Aunt Mary’s yard, Connie shivered with cold, excitement, and fear.

The match cracked and sizzled, illuminating George’s face as he brought it up to the end of a cigarette butt stolen from his mother’s ashtray. George took an expert puff and passed it over to Connie. Grinning, she took a puff then gagged. She felt so mature, just like her parents.

That one clandestine puff embroiled Connie in a lifelong struggle with nicotine addiction.

This scene can be used to introduce a piece discussing the difficulties smokers face when they try to quit or an article on how children are influenced by their elders when making the decision whether or not to start smoking.

It’s more fun for the writer as well as the reader to incorporate literary techniques in non-fiction writing. However, we still have to make sure we use these techniques appropriately. This type of example would not go over well in a scientific report on smoking trends in teenagers. The purpose of that type of writing would be to objectively present information, not to try to persuade or influence. It’s a different purpose for a different audience.

Nonfiction writing doesn’t have to be a dry biscuit. Throw some literary strawberries on it, and have some fun!


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