Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Language Matters: How We Talk about Nonfiction

Recently, I read an article that contained this sentence:

“While writ­ing non­fic­tion, I use every sin­gle fic­tion tech­nique a nov­el­ist uses.”

The author then provides a series of examples of how she includes characters, scenes, conflict, rich language, voice, etc. in her writing.

Sounds good, right?

Not to me.

While I applaud authors who draw back the curtain to reveal their creative process, I’m so, so, SO sick and tired of reading articles in which authors describe how they borrow and make good use of fiction craft moves in their nonfiction writing.

Newsflash, folks. If you are writing nonfiction, any craft technique you incorporate is a nonfiction craft technique. Period.

Well developed characters.
Carefully crafted scenes.
A compelling narrative arc that elicits an emotional response.
Strong voice.
Rich language.
These are NOT fiction techniques. They are writing techniques, and they can be employed in either fiction or nonfiction. Or poetry, for that matter.

Not all nonfiction includes all of these elements, and that’s okay. The truth is nonfiction is much more versatile than fiction. There are so many different kinds of nonfiction, from a recipe scrawled on a napkin to a legal contract to a finely-crafted book that wins the National Book Award.

As writers, we know that words are important. Language matters. When we talk about the craft of nonfiction writing, let’s be more careful. Let’s make sure we give nonfiction the respect it deserves.


  1. Wise words! Writing is writing and a good fiction or nonfiction story is built on good storytelling. The words all matter. I'm printing this one off to post in my office as a reminder.

  2. As someone who has just written their first nonfiction manuscript, I'm sure I've been guilty of least in thought! This is eye-opening and logical. I almost hit my forehead and said..."DUH!"

    Good writing is good writing!

  3. Thanks, Virginia. It looks like Melissa Sweet is being honored by the Eric Carle Museum in September. I just love her books!