Just about everyone realizes that writing fiction involves storytelling. After all, if you’re not telling a story, what are you doing?
But not everyone realizes how essential storytelling is for nonfiction, too. And I’m not just talking about memoirs or salacious true stories. Most nonfiction involves some storytelling. Reporting the news, whether it’s a single article or a book, usually involves telling stories, sometimes a series of stories, to make what happened make sense. Self-help books are full of stories. Sometimes these stories are based on the experiences of the author, sometimes they are based on someone else’s experiences.
Most of the nonfiction I write involves my experiences as a parent of children with special needs. I write what I know, add to what I know through research, and craft up useful information for other parents.
One of the major components of the process is a balance between what actually happened (the facts) and our purpose in telling the story (our objective). We need to be true to what actually happened, but unless you have documented the experience before now, you must rely on memory, which is faulty for many reasons, especially considering the fact that our memories are corrupted by our perceptions, which aren’t always accurate. But we also need to tailor the story to fit our purpose. Sometimes we have as many words as we need to tell our story, but often, especially with article assignments, we have a word limit we must adhere to.
You need to pick and choose the pertinent information. You might even embellish certain details that are only vague in your mind, things that set the scene for example, which add to the story but might not be 100% accurate. But you have to balance the needs of the story, the need for embellishment, against the truth. Too many times writers are being caught spin lies instead of stories to fulfill their purposes. It’s unethical, irresponsible, and it betrays the trust of the reader.