Monday, June 04, 2007

Learning from Nonfiction

Even though the best way to learn how to write novels is to read other novels, I can always benefit from reading nonfiction. For example, magazine articles can be studied for how the author does or doesn't write a provocative opening line. That can be applied to my short stories.

A bit ago I read the book Lost in the Amazon by Stephen Kirkpatrick. It's a nonfiction narrative about a fateful trip the author took to the Amazon on a photography expedition. I saw the technique in how the book opened with a tense prologue where the author was lost in the jungle--desperate, frightened, and angry at God. But then the author cut away and started Chapter one weeks before that scene actually happened, building up to the desperate moment for a good part of the book. It's a technique that could be applied to novels. I've seen Mary Higgins Clark do this, where she uses the prologue as a teaser. We know the character is going to be in that terrible position soon, and we're looking for it.

I also read biographies of people in the professions of my characters to better learn how they tick. For example, one of my characters is a cop. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about police work, so I bought the book Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, as well as several others. Biographies can give great insights into the psyche of people I might not otherwise have learned. Another example would be when I bought the book On Their Own by Martha Shirk, about kids who age out of the foster care system. One of my characters is a teenager in foster care, and I understood her better by reading that nonfiction book. I'd encourage any fiction writer to read biographies or diaries of people in similar predicaments as your characters.


Two Sisters said...

Good advice. Great post.

WordVixen said...

Tag! You're it!