What are your rules for writing creative nonfiction?
As much as we like to see writing as a free-for-all food fight where anything goes, if we don't follow some kind of plan, our readers will voice their displeasure with yawns and back spaces.
What's the recipe for good writing?
Well, to start with: evaluate your prose: Does your writing include surprise? Humor? Terror? Calm? Variety?
I once had a high school student who insisted that good writing must always include the word cheese. He harshly critiqued any author who didn't state his "cheesy" opinion and insisted that the only variety his own writing needed was the kind of cheese on his mind that day: Gouda vs. gorgonzola vs. cream cheese.
His love of cheese became his thesis statement for every research paper, essay and report that he wrote for me.
As his English teacher, I tried to open his eyes to the possibilities of writing about anything else. Pizza? Parental rules! Maybe he could write about his job at the convenience store where he could drink all of the soda his body could hold--and how he tested his capacity to drink giant cups of soda to the--fullest--every shift he worked?
No matter how I tried to twist an assignment into a contraption cheese wouldn't fit into, he'd find a way to manipulate the grading rubric, even staying after school to defend his papers.
Mind you I grew up in Woodstock, NY where the idea of resisting the establishment was ingrained from a young age at the Woodstock Elementary School. I loved his spunk and even tried to stand up for him when his cheese ideology littered his science lab reports, but I also felt it was my due to help him see a bigger picture.
I made him learn how to spell "cheesemonger" just in case his obsession led to a career. He passed science by scribbling "cheese" with a white crayon on his final exam when the teacher wasn't looking as a way for him and the science teacher to both get their way.
It was my idea.
I never got through to him; I respected his ability to be single minded as well as his need to defy. He passed my English class and graduated high school.
I wonder where he is today and if he would appreciate my latest book. Is it possible that he had more of a lasting impression on me than I had on him?
But back to writing rules.
Follow these rules to keep readers interested.
#1. Cheese is not your only topic. Just kidding.
My book, Cheese for Breakfast: My Turkish Summer includes many of my writing rules. The following are examples of my rules as written in the book.
1. Got humor or at least a humorful tone? So many readers who read my book comment on how many times they laugh, or which parts made them laugh the hardest. (Backwards driving taxi.) (Water fight without a water gun.) (The Tomato joke.)
2. Include surprises. The unexpected flow of the book keeps readers engaged and helps make the book irresistible. (Scammer at the park.) (First Turkish Bath) (Nomad family visit) (Fish restaurant)
3. Write the embarrassing parts. Show up in a vulnerable way. (Blue cave jump.) (Missing passport.) (Bus ride without a seat.) (Heat exhaustion.)
4. Tell the truth. Nonfiction means not fake. My readers can feel the truths in my writing and comment that they felt like they are traveling right there with me. (Terrifying night of rioting) (Taxi driver scam) (Eating baby octopus.)
5. Share the delights in a relatable way. Writers have to be careful that their book isn't a giant selfie, but a friend leading the reader on an adventure. (Breakfast with the family) (Castle visit after hours.) (Visit to an archeological dig.) (Whirling Dervishes)
6. And as a bonus rule: Variety Matters. See? I wasn't kidding after all. If you insist on writing about the same thing from the same standpoint every day, it could be a problem for your writing career. We. Will. Stop. Caring.
How do we write our creative nonfiction stories in an interesting way?
Pepper your writing with humor, surprises, embarrassing parts, truth and delights and people will send you messages like one of my recent emails that read, "Are YOU the Holly Winter Huppert who wrote Cheese for Breakfast? I loved that book, and want to tell you my travel story."
That's always a good day.
Cheese for Breakfast: My Turkish Summer is available in regular print, LARGE print and ebooks:
E-mail Holly Winter Huppert at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a speaking engagement or ask any questions.
Thanks for reading today. I appreciate your time. Could you do me a favor? If you liked this blog post, could you share it on your social media accounts? Thanks so much. And in your post, you can tag me (@mshollywinter on Instagram, @mshollywinter on Facebook and @mshollywinter on Twitter.)
I appreciate you being here.
Till you read again...
Best regards, Holly
Holly Winter Huppert hollywinter.com Kington, NY
(C) 2021 by hollywinter.com and Holly Winter Huppert