Writing Creative Nonfiction

Get your facts straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your own story or someone else’s. If readers, publishers, and the media find out you’ve taken liberty with the truth of what happened, you and your work will be ridiculed and scrutinized. You’ll lose credibility.

Issue a disclaimer. Most nonfiction is written from memory, and we all know that human memory is deeply flawed. If you aren’t sure about the details but are determined to include them, be upfront and plan on issuing a disclaimer that clarifies the creative liberties you’ve taken.

Consider the repercussions. If you’re writing about other people (even if they are secondary figures), you might want to check with them before you publish your nonfiction.

Be objective. You don’t need to be overly objective if you’re telling your own, personal story. However, nobody wants to read a highly biased biography. Book reviews for biographies are packed with heavy criticism for authors who didn’t fact-check or provide references and for those who leave out important information or pick and choose which details to include to make the subject look good or bad.

Pay attention to language. You’re not writing a textbook, so make full use of language, literary devices, and storytelling techniques.

Know your audience. Creative nonfiction sells, but you must have an interested audience. A memoir about an ordinary person’s first year of college isn’t especially interesting. Who’s going to read it? However, a memoir about someone with a learning disability navigating the first year of college is quite compelling, and there’s an identifiable audience for it. When writing creative nonfiction, a clearly defined audience is essential.

Call for Submissions

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Submission Guidelines*

The Path

The Path to Publication Group publishes the literary publication – The Path. You are invited to submit short stories, essays, book reviews and poems for inclusion in the Winter issue.

The theme for Volume 7 No. 2 is ‘Behind Closed Doors’. For more information, please visit the websites: www.pathtopublication.net and www.thepathmagazine.com . Past contributors will receive a call for submissions by e-mail, automatically.

1)          Short stories and essays – over 2,500 words

2)              Poetry – 1 page (No theme required)

Please polish your manuscripts to the best of your ability and, of course, have someone else edit your work before sending to Path to Publication.  Do not format your work: no page numbers, no headers or footers, no footnotes, no paragraph indentations (skip a line for paragraph spacing).  Manuscripts must be submitted in Microsoft Word or RTF form.  Font: Times New Roman – size 12. All submissions must be submitted electronically, as e-mail attachments, to: mjnickum@thepathmagazine.com .

Deadline for Issue #14 is October 31, 2017

All rights are retained by the author, and there will be no compensation for accepted work at this time*.
*Because we are staffed by volunteers, we can only compensate our writers in exposure to our audience.  Our columnists enjoy great publicity for their own blogs, books, websites, and projects.  Many find great reward in doing something good for the world of literature and literacy. You may also purchase add space to further promote your work.

Five ways to cut the number of words in your manuscript…

  1. Be sure the backstory enters the story at the time it’s essential to understand the plot, characters, or emotion. Not a minute too soon or too late. Sometimes backstory information has been added by you, the author, so that you can understand it. Cut it out and put it in a folder so that you can resurrect it, if you need it. If the reader doesn’t need to know it, cut it out.
  2. Choose one word to replace phrases. Choose phrases to replace clauses.  Change prepositional phrases like teacher at Fairbanks School to  Fairbanks School teacher to adjective noun. (Darcy Pattison and Joe Hight both mention this in their articles listed below.)
  3. Cut the adverbs. Replace them with strong verbs. (There are at least 20 sources that tell authors to do this.)
  4. Don’t interrupt dialogue too many times with unnecessary actions. Cut the facial expressions and body gestures, like grimacing her face, raising her eyebrows, lighting his cigarette.  Let the bigger actions speak for the characters. Make sure these actions are not ordinary. They are actions only a character like yours would do.  Let them move the plot, highlight the character, and/or add emotional tension. Dialogue that is interrupted too many times with unnecessary actions like these might make a reader put your book down forever. Highlight the words in your text that interrupt the dialogue.
  5. Rewrite the dialogue so it can be understood without tags of he said, she said.

What Readers Want from Authors

 

As readers move from traditional hardbound books to digital books for the various e-readers available now and in the future, one thing hasn’t changed over the years, the reader’s expectations. They expect a level of quality when they spend their money to purchase a hard copy, or time downloading a digital book.

 

What readers expect:

 

  • Readability
  • Believability
  • Characters they can empathize with
  • Believable Dialogue
  • Descriptive
  • Good editing
  • Deep POV
  • Tight writing
  • Consistency
  • Good word choice
  • Proper use of nouns, verbs, and adjectives
  • Proper grammar
  • Proper punctuation
  • Proper spelling
  • Words that don’t send the reader to the dictionary
  • A book that doesn’t bore the reader

 

This is only a short list, but you get the idea. Readers are author’s best friend or their worst enemy, the author makes the difference by the words in their story, how well the edited the manuscript is, and the author proofreads it before it reaches the reader.

 

Some may think this is a lot to ask, but consider the fact, the author’s reputation is on the line with every piece of writing they prepare for consumption by readers. This could be a blog about the book, a viral book tour, an author’s web site, a press release about their book or any piece of copy.

“To Be” or not “To Be”

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. Identify−Students need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time”
  2. Substitute−Sometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. Convert−Students can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.”
  4. Change−To eliminate a”to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. Combine−Look at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

 

Using the BISAC Subject Codes

What does BISAC stand for?

BISAC is an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications.

What are BISAC subject codes?

The BISAC Subject Heading List (BSHL for short) is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors (or headings), each of which is represented by a nine-character alphanumeric code. The list has 50 major sections, such as Computers, Fiction, History, and True Crime. Within each major section, a number of detailed descriptors represent subtopics that the BISAC Subject Heading Committee has deemed most appropriate for the major topic.

Developed to standardize the electronic transfer of subject information, the codes can be used for transmitting information between trading partners, as search terms in the major bibliographic databases, as access points for database searching, and as shelving guides

What are the benefits of using BISAC Subject Headings?

The headings give you a standardized way to tell retailers and the general book trade about the primary and secondary store sections where a title will fit best–and, hopefully, sell best. In addition, they help retailers get your titles on the shelf more quickly, and they provide an electronically compatible method for describing the content of a book.

Who uses the BISAC Subject Headings?

Many of the major businesses in the North American book industry, including Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Bookscan, Booksense, Bowker, Indigo, Ingram, and most major publishers use the BSHL (BISAC Subject Heading List) in a variety of ways. Several of these users require publishers who submit data to them to include the BISAC Subject Headings.

How do I get the BISAC Subject Heading List?

You can order it at http://bisg.org/page/PurchaseBISAC

Creating Compelling Conflict

Be certain your main character has a worthy, noble goal — no one likes a shallow greedy protagonist.

Consider the tension of a ticking clock. Time limits for reaching a goal will create an urgency that readers find compelling.

A plot is one obstacle after another — never make it too easy for your protagonist.

Your main character needs to solve his own problems. Readers like active protagonists who do something, not passive kids who are done to.

Your main character must act consistent with the person you have created him to be. If a wimpy kid turns into a hero or a bully becomes compassionate, the reader must have sufficient reason to believe that can happen.

The protagonist’s goal must be important to him. Something must be at stake if he fails — something big. Look at your story and ask yourself, what happens if my protag fails? Are the consequences great enough to create strong motivation to overcome?

Jump into the story at a moment of excitement. Even the best conflict won’t help a story if your reader abandons you before he gets to the exciting part.

Resolution of the story must not leave reader with a lot of lose ends or questions. Readers expect to see the main character reach his goal, or abandon the goal in favor of a more desirable goal. Never give the reader the impression that you just got tired of the story and ended it — the ending should be emotionally satisfying and logically drawn from the characterization and story details.