Thursday 13 February 2014

Notes From an Aspiring Non-Fiction Author (Part 1) - Creativity

Back in May of last year, I started writing my first book, a non-fiction which focuses on one aspect of the story of the War of 1812. Once completed and hopefully published, you will find a very enthusiastic and positive review of it on this blog. Now that I am, what I figure to be more than three quarters of the way through it, I am going to start writing about some of my thoughts and challenges about writing non-fiction.

Some would say that writing a fiction is easier than writing a non-fiction. That is nonsense. Both have an equal number of challenges, just different ones. In these posts, I plan to talk about some aspects of non-fiction writing which pose certain challenges to the aspiring author (me). Today I will focus on writing about history creatively.

Of course, in writing about history, the author is writing about real events, so as much as they (I) would like to, the author cannot embellish on the facts. As much as the writer may wish to add details to an event, if they haven't found any evidence to support their story, they shouldn't write it. For instance, I came across a quote I wished to use that was shouted out in Potawatomi, Oh Nichee wah!

One author interpreted it one way (Oh brother, desist), another a little different (Oh brother, don't do it!), yet another (Oh brother, quit!). Even though I don't speak Potawatomi, I felt both missed the correct interpretation (a little arrogant of me, don't you think!). I had a better one ... only in reality as much as it would have better suited the telling of the story, I had no proof that my interpretation was correct (I still think it is), so after more extensive research, went with one of the above.

History does not need to be dry, boring, and just a regurgitation of the facts. I have read too many of these types of books. With some creativity, it can be written to be entertaining, exciting and stay true to all the facts of the story. In fact, when writing about history, the author is telling the story. No need to embellish or exaggerate the facts, just be creative and tell the story in an entertaining way.  Pierre Berton was the absolute best at this.

Berton's gift was being able to write about any subject and being able to place the reader right into the middle of the action. I have read over a dozen books and for this project of mine use his books, The Invasion of Canada and Flames Across the Border, not only as research, but to inspire me. I do all my research, then read his version last before I start to write. New research found since he first published these books in the early nineteen eighties have changed some of the facts, but his writing is so fabulous and exciting, and is just what I wish to bring into my own writing, but in my own style.

Reading his works before I write my own is a double edged sword. I get so much excitement seeing how he has put together, so wonderfully, many of the facts and quotes from the documents that I myself have read. This to me is so inspiring, yet at the same time a little humbling. That's the other side of the sword. I will read his interpretation, set down the book and feel a little overwhelmed, wondering if I could ever really be that good.

The only way to find out is to research, write and hope that a publisher will find my book stylish and interesting enough to put it out to the market.

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