Writing Nonfiction to Read Like Fiction

The blogger hosting me this week, Cynthia Robertson, is from Arizona, where I grew up. I'll be back in Arizona on January 2nd for a book signing. (Here I am pictured on Phoenix's South Mountain in 2009).

The blogger hosting me this week, Cynthia Robertson, is from Arizona, where I grew up. I’ll be back in Arizona on January 2nd for a book signing. (Here I am pictured on Phoenix’s South Mountain in 2009).

Memoirs are supposed to be languid reflections of a notable life lived, correct? So how would you describe Cheryl Strayed’s runaway bestseller Wild, coming soon as a movie to a theater near you starring Reece Witherspoon? Strayed shares in her memoir insights on a failed marriage, grief over a lost mother, and pain stemming from a stepfather who moved on after their mutual loss. She does so, however, framed narratively atop a weeks-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The structure of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road is quite similar, but instead framed narratively atop a weeks-long cross-country road trip. This is a subgenre of memoir that far predates Strayed, from Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard) to John Steinbeck (Travels With Charley). I don’t think it a coincidence that Matthiessen and Steinbeck are most known and remembered as novelists. Their memoirs read like novels, complete with plot, scene, dialogue and character arcs.

Those are the elements of Committed that I break down in a guest post for Cynthia Robertson’s blog. Cynthia is a fiction writer, as are many of her readers. I encourage you to visit her blog and offer your thoughts as a writer or reader on using fiction craft techniques to write nonfiction.

Oh, and if you’re going to be anywhere near Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday, January 2nd, 2015, I’d love for you to swing by a book-signing I’ll be doing at the Barnes & Noble Metro Center location from 3 to 5 pm local time!

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

4 Responses to “Writing Nonfiction to Read Like Fiction”

  1. Patrick, while reading your “Committed” I was also thinking how this could be made into a movie. It has as much “story” in it as many novels and films. And a protagonist who evokes in the mind of the reader more than the average amount of sympathy and expectation. Now, over to Cynthia’s blog…

    • Thanks for that endorsement, PJ. If Hollywood ever seeks to produce my movie (and I take some shots at major studios in it so that seems questionable) I’ll push to have you play one of the characters if you’d like. I think you’d be good for the role of the philosophical biker in the Ohio bar.

  2. “Their memoirs read like novels, complete with plot, scene, dialogue and character arcs.”

    Yes, yes, YES!!! I have never been a reader of biographies or autobiographies because they are, well, boring. But life is dynamic – an adventure! – and should be written as such. I wholeheartedly subscribe to writing nonfiction to read like fiction. This is the style in which I write my own blog, telling stories from my own life in fiction-like snippets. Well said.

    • Thanks for your endorsement, Aurora! I also aspire to write biographies that read like novels; there are authors who are able to capture scenes through solid research (that was my lecture topic in my MFA program). It’s harder with a historical biography because the author has less primary material to work with than I had with my memoir, but you can accurately create some scenes and create suspense (even if you know how the story ends) if the writing is solid.

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