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). 


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