Emotions are a very real, raw thing, and can be difficult to capture in fiction if not presented correctly or well. Making them public in nonfiction may prove equally difficult, not only because of how they are described, but because they come from the soul, the heart . . . from experiences that are taxing, trying, empowering, lifting, or bittersweet. Imaginary or real (dramatized or recounted), they often prove poignant.
Editing nonfiction accounts of challenging times in people’s lives—memoirs, personal accounts—is tricky at times. Do you edit with the fiction hat on . . . and propose the following, without applying the “editing pen”? Do you offer the same advice you would to a fiction writer?
- Show, don’t tell.
- Avoid using the same words too frequently.
- Be mindful of dialogue and dialogue tags; don’t restate or offer the obvious.
- Steer clear of repeating an event, action, or conversation.
- Dodge overused/reiterated devices and approaches that lend themselves to flatness.
The nonfiction hat, particularly when dealing with emotional/heartbreaking topics, wants to be softer, less analytical. As such, you may be tempted to:
- keep the simplicity/intensity, even the repetitiveness, that’s being revealed (because, again, it comes from the soul, the heart)
- preserve—as is—something that is being shared and bared.
Then, the juggling hat appears. Maybe you determine that the best editing tactic is to allow the narrative to unfold exactly as the writer—soul-barer—intended. If someone has disclosed some highly subjective if not private moments, is it fair to alter what is visceral, intense, and so very personal? No, probably not . . . but it wouldn’t hurt to tighten here and there, staying true to the writer’s intention(s) and mode of expression.
It’s a tough call sometimes. And editing instinct has to play a part, too. Get a feel . . . for what feels right.
For someone planning to pen a personal tale, before beginning, give some thought to the following:
- write [reveal] vital, relevant events
- don’t communicate every detail
- share with all senses—allow readers to feel, smell, see, hear, touch (like fiction, pull them in; let them understand the situation from a “sensory” POV)
- ensure readers get to know you or the person you’re writing about (the quest, struggle/situation, outcome)
- be honest
- use dialogue here and there and make it compelling, not of the “he said, she said” variety.
Sharing a personal tale can prove purging, which is great (I have some of that to do), but it can also be enlightening, instructional, supportive/helpful, encouraging, for readers who have undergone similar situations . . . or those that want to learn about, and from, them.
Consider the goal for sharing [publishing] the intimate account—aim for it—and write [honestly and honorably] from the soul and heart.