Fiction Techniques in Non-fiction Writing

I think of myself as a fiction writer. I work to create believable characters who act out their stories in unique settings. I use dialogue to distinguish one from another and to move the story along. Tension results from clashing personalities and situations. Metaphors and similes add dimension.

Yes, fiction is my cup of tea! But when I look at the things I have written, I see that nine of my books, as well as more than five hundred articles are non-fiction. How does this compute? The answer is simple. When I ventured into the world of non-fiction, I carried fiction techniques with me.

My first non-fiction sales were weekly newspaper columns titled Coffee Break. These were humorous, family-oriented articles that described everyday situations that both parents and children could relate to. I used characters, setting, and plot and included dialogue wherever possible. But they were definitely non-fiction. In fact, they were so true that my children insisted that I use a pen name so their friends wouldn’t recognize them.

Later, I wrote “help yourself” books for middle-grade readers. These contained advice on popularity, overcoming fears, learning good manners, becoming reliable, and improving personal appearance. Non-fiction? You bet. But the books were full of stories about kids who made mistakes and learned from them. Kids who went to school together (setting), talked to each other (dialogue), and worked out their problems (plot).

When I began to write on assignment for health and science magazines, I added another dimension common to both fiction and non-fiction: research! When the editors asked for an article on saving a broken tooth, I found out all I could about the latest dental procedures, then created Janie, who saved a tooth to be “replanted.” The entire experience was a short-short story, with sidebars that gave added non-fiction information.

When my editor asked me to write about color blindness, I once again researched the subject, then let two friends, Mike and Kim, paint a sign for a fifth grade science project. Kim admitted that he couldn’t tell the difference between red and green. They both looked yellow to him. This kind of factual information was used to create a scene with comical color confusion. To add interest, I expanded the article to include the abilities animals have to see color and included this in a sidebar.

I still consider myself a fiction writer, but I love to write about non-fiction subjects, always including character, plot, and setting in the scenes I create to illustrate non-fiction facts. After all, everyone loves a good story.

Contributed by Marilyn Donahue


3 responses to “Fiction Techniques in Non-fiction Writing

  1. Gloria McQueen Stockstill

    Marilyn, your writing is beautiful whether it is fiction or non-fiction!


  2. I agree. Thanks for the pointers.


  3. This is very helpful information, Marilyn, and can be put to good use. Thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience. Marge

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