Persona Non-Fiction

Truth is stranger than fiction. And it’s harder to write about. When you don’t have the unreal at your disposal, the box of parlor tricks is reduced to a goodie bag, if that. While you may have the framework of the real on your side, the legwork of writing effervescent prose is up to you.

You move from being the powerful architect to being the interior decorator. Unless you’ve taken Christopher Lowell’s Interior WOW! for Writers™ seminar, it’s not the smoothest transition. Even if it’s not a transition, you probably weren’t good at non-fiction writing anyway.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

All fiction, all the time—that’s what Writing All Wrong should be about. Seems like you couldn’t handle writing something that isn’t purely in the fictional realm. Not everyone writes just for fun, you know. You highlight only the recreational side of writing, and I think you fail to give non-fiction writing its due because you’re not serious, and you cannot seriously dispense advice for those of us who write for a purpose.

—Sofia DiBenedetto, Kenilworth, Ill.

Sofia, I’m sorry that you write poorly. It’s fairly evident, given your double-fail combo of seriously repeating “serious” and your clumsy handling of three clauses within one sentence. I’d like to say I understand how you feel, but I don’t.

I think you’re more the fictional exclusivist than I am the non-fiction non-inclusivist. Besides, non-fiction and fiction writing are just two sides of the same coin. Only one side of that coin is  real, and the other side isn’t. Stop me if I’m going too fast for you. I’m not sure how good you are at math, even if it’s non-fictional.

Even when there’s a story in place, you’re not spared the work (or the privilege, for the masochists) of telling that story. Just as you can fall flat in telling a fictional tale, you can enliven something that really happened in this non-fictional world. Cadence, description, poignancy, clarity, and tone are found in the toolkits of both fiction and non-fiction writers. It’s a shame when they’re not used, regardless of content.

Take the following excerpt:

“He knew the theater as well as he knew his own residence, having free reign over its corridors and backstages by virtue of ‘owning’ its stage on occasion. No one would have thought much of him boring an inconspicuous peephole in one of the doors upstairs. He couldn’t afford barging in uninvited and unexpected, since most playgoers settled in with their social circle long before the show. But for a man of his profession, slinking around in the back would just be part of his doing, non-intrusive and to a degree, expected. As for expectation, it was critical to his plot. He knew well how the play would unfold, when certain actors would be onstage, and which line would provide the ‘perfect moment.’”

And here I go again, Sofia. Perfect example of how to write good, purposeless, un-serious stories, right? Right. I don’t believe in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth either. Pure fiction.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and featured on page 4D of the Investor’s Business Daily (a completely non-fictional publication, I think). 

Fanfics: Kill Them All

Derivative storytelling — now there’s a concept that needs to be sent back into the Age of Never Existed. In our “originality crisis,” we find the weak-minded yearning for creation but ignoring the need to make something new.

Is there merit in a new take on a classic story? Mayhaps. But is there room in this world for amateur tales expanding the Twilight universe? Or banal background narratives that explain the unexplored trainer-monster relationships in Pokémon? Or adding another layer of awkward teen romance to the Harry Potter series with fan-created awkward teen romances?

I shouldn’t have to answer this question.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What’s your take on fanfiction? Do you think its [sic] a good idea for writing practice and coming into your own as a writer?

—Kymberlee Lane, Chandler, Ariz.

My take on fanfiction? I usually take it to the garbage, the shredder, or the fireplace. On rare occasions, I take it to the Black & Decker® FireShedder™ Deluxe. It’s a beauty. With just the push of a button, it vivisects sub-subpar writing, reduces the excrement to confetti-like crinkles, and sets the whole thing ablaze. If I had a nickel for every fanfic it handled, then I’d have a lot of nickels.

Outside of feeding a B&D®FS™D, there are only three ways to utilize fanfiction.

1) Don’t.

2) Write meta-fanfiction or fictional fanfiction.

A salvageable option, better suited for theory, in my opinion. If you’re not familiar with meta-narratives, you’ll be forgiven this once, spared from taking a chainsaw to your mouth.

With meta-fictional fanfiction, we add a layer of fictive narrative that makes an uncreative process twice as creative. Take the aforementioned awkward teen romances within the Harry Potter series. We already know they suck, and by extension, we already know that their half-breed, ill-formed fanfiction offspring will continue in the lineage of suck.

But what if you fanfic leech off of a fictitious fiction, like The Sordid Portent of Cornbread Field, Galaxtar Ballactica, or Moonlight: The Werewolf-Zombie Diaries? That fictitious fiction doesn’t exist and doesn’t have to suck. When you write about the bovine romances in Cornbread Field or the secret Pylon invasions in Galaxtar Ballactica, then you’ve removed the hereditary curse that plagues your typical fanfic.

Then again, if it’s not well-written, nothing can save you there.

3) Write literal fanfiction:

“Hunter oscillated gently in the summer heat, his lazy blades doing little to beat back the stifling air. He observed the lovers from his bird’s-eye-view of the spacious bed, teasing them with whatever breeze he could muster. A jealous gesture, to be sure, as he longed for a lover of his own.

He wanted to whirr in annoyance, as that garnered attention every now and then. A yank of his cord, a switch in his speed, sometimes a delicate caress. Perhaps he could hum continually, demanding immediate attention. Maybe his owner, after venting his frustration at the aberration, would understand Hunter’s cry for company, balancing on a step stool to embrace him tenderly, wrapping his arms around his forlorn blades and dated light fixtures.”

(You get the idea. And it’s not even that good an idea.)

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and chronicled in Brannon Chadman’s new fanfic “Writing All Wrong’s Adventure in Hogwarts.”  

Technical Fiction for Dummies

I’m not sure if there’s a such thing as “Driving Improvement School.” If there were, I’d be recommending it to every driver I know, since I’m the only one who knows how to drive on the roads here, there, and everywhere. But with driving improvement, there’s a presupposition in place: you have to know how to drive.

Same thing with writing improvement school—oh, wait, people opt for this when they don’t know how to write at all. If you’re looking to improve writing, you’d better know how to write first, whichever way you go about it.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I recently retired from a career in technical writing, but I’d like to try writing fiction for a change, just for the sake of doing it. How would you recommend making the transition from the technical background to fiction writing (or something similar)? I feel as if my writing experience would be helpful, and I’d like to make it work for me.

—Arthur Reeves, Roswell, Ga.

Throughout my infanthood and childhood, I often wondered how I would come to the craft of creative writing from a technical writing background. Ok, that never happened. I’ll admit though, there’s a fair bit of cognitive downshifting and upshifting needed for such a change. But just as flooring the gas pedal and shifting from first gear straight to seventh gear would wreck your transmission (I think), I wouldn’t recommend too drastic a change right away.

Here’s your solution: Write some technical documents and manuals through the lens of magical realism. Use a familiar form to bridge to the unfamiliar.

How about The Human Cookbook: Creative Recipes for a Cannibalist Kitchen? Set in an era of postmodern post-tolerance, you’d have an influential guide to making comfort food classics like “Oven-Roasted Tibilalus Anterior” (served with a piquant au jus) and “Chianti Braised Latissiumus Dorsi.”

Or you could go for something with broader appeal: 100 Great Theoretical Science Fair Projects for Kids (and their Parents!). In the bizarro future, I will have bizzaro wanted my kids to try out live-action cross-species genetic mutation (transmogrifying a pet hamster into a pet flying Nile monitor), and homemade hydrogen bombs (involving a microwave, a trashcan, non-dairy powdered creamer, Wonder® Enriched Uranium, and [REDACTED]).

Then again, if you’ve spent your career writing documentation, you could draw up a manual for the RainbowTronics™ Unicorn Sentinel 5000 20xV6. There will come a time when the unicorn will no longer be the hunter, but the hunted. When we deploy Sentinels to mow down these unicorns, we’ll need a practical guide on hand for Sentinel operators. It’d range from basic use (changing the viewscreen from the visible spectrum to the unicornvisible spectrum for hidden forest tracking) to advanced operations (alternating the frequency of the anti-ROYGBIV phasers, preventing the target unicorn[s] from adapting to the phaser fire). Since the impact of a unicorn’s horn registers over 9,000 pounds of force per square inch (at ramming speed), a primer on defensive protocol would be paramount. You could round it out with sections on maintenance and modular additions, especially for those bicorn encounters. Dangerous creatures, those bicorns.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and reassembled using the steps on pages 56-57 in Hodge Kvorak’s “Miss Assembly’s Guide to Blog Assembly.”