Monday, July 6, 2015

Your life is nonfiction

Some kids think nonfiction is boring.

I don’t blame them. Some adults think so, too, and some nonfiction is boring. Then again, so is some fiction. So why do kids more commonly dismiss nonfiction?

At least part of the reason is that children’s nonfiction was often written without regard for prose. But starting a book with the date and place of a notable figure’s birth is, in most cases, a thing of the past (historically and literarily). Now some readers don’t give writers (nonfiction or fiction) till the end of the first page to engage us. We don’t even give them to the end of the first paragraph. We expect to be grabbed by the first sentence.

We are strict. Or we should be.

Modern readers want writers of any kind of book or article to wow us not only with complex characters and a propulsive plot but also with lyrical language. As I have written here before, it’s not enough to have a good story; you need a good story, well told. (Source: my college film theory professor Tom Doherty.) Nonfiction, like life, is more interesting when it’s nonlinear and unpredictable. Yes, that makes it messier, but messy makes for better drama. Messy is not boring.

Fact-after-fact nonfiction: out.

Narrative nonfiction: in.

So when kids tell me that nonfiction is boring, I ask them what they do first thing Monday morning, in school but before class starts. They all say the same thing: we talk to our friends. I ask about what. They all say the same thing: what we did over the weekend. Then I always say the same thing.

That’s nonfiction.

What you do is a true story. Your life is nonfiction. And if you’re talking about it, you must like nonfiction more than you think you do.

The unpredictable (yet welcome) thing about that is that they see that they agree.

No comments: