Eight Secrets of Creating and Selling Dynamic Non-Fiction – Part 6


1. Simultaneous

In Hiroshima, John Hersey describes, by turns, what each of six people were doing at 8:15 AM , the precise moment of the blast. Through this narrative approach he is able, not only to suggest the range of experiences of Hiroshima survivors, but to re-create the horror of the detonation in the reader’s mind—again and again and again. 

2. Sequential

For his book, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote uses overlapping but forward moving sequences of action. He counterpoints events in the last day in the lives of the four members of the Clutter family with those of the murders. 

3. Interior Monologue

A substantial part of Gay Talese’s article on Floyd Patterson, The Loser, utilizes internal monologues, the reporting of a person’s internal (often unspoken) thoughts and feelings. The writer needs to be very close to his or her subject for this intimate approach to be credible. 

Hiroshima by John Hersey 

    At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the

atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was setting down crosslegged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next–that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. .

    The Reverend Mr. Tanimoto got up at five o’clock that morning. He was alone in the… 

In Cold Blood

 By Truman Capote 

    Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises—on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives…

    Passing through the orchard, Mr. Cutter proceeded along beside the river, which was shallow here and strewn with islands—midstream beaches of soft sand, to which, on Sundays gone by, hot-weather Sabbaths when Bonnie had still “felt up to things,” picnic baskets had been carted, family afternoons whiled away waiting for a twitch at the end of the fishline. Mr. Clutter seldom encountered trespassers on his property; a mile and a half from the highway, and arrived at by obscure roads, it was not a place that strangers came upon by chance…

    Like Mr. Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a café called the Little Jewel never drank coffee. He preferred root beer. Three aspirin, cold root beer, and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes—that was his notion of a proper “chow –down.” Sipping and smoking, he studied a map spread on the counter before him—a Phillips 66 map of Mexico—but it was difficult to concentrate, for he was expecting a friend, and the friend was late. He looked out a window at the silent small-town street, a street he had never seen until yesterday. Still no sign of Dick. Be he was sure to show up; after all, the purpose of their meeting was Dick’s idea, his “score.”

    “Good grief, Kenyon! I hear you.”

    As usual, the devil was in Kenyon. His shouts kept coming up the stairs: “Nancy! Telephone…” 

The Loser

 By Gay Talese

     And I keep thinking, as I flew out of Vegas that night, of all those months of training before the fight, all the roadwork, all the sparring, all the months away from Sandra…thinking of the time in camp when I wanted to stay up until eleven-fifteen p.m. to watch a certain movie on The Late Show. But I didn’t because I had roadwork the next morning…

    …And I was thinking about how good I’d felt before the fight, as I lay on the table in the dressing room. I remember thinking, `You’re in excellent physical condition, you’re in good mental condition—but are you vicious?’ But you tell yourself, `Viciousness is not important now, don’’ think about it now: a championship fight’s at stake, and that’s important enough and, who knows” maybe you’ll get vicious once the bell rings.”

    …And so you lay there trying to get a little sleep…but you’re only in a twilight zone, half asleep, and you’re interrupted every once in a while by voices out in the hall, some guy’s yelling `Hey, Jack,’ or `Hey, Al,’ or `Hey, get those four-pounders into the ring.’ And when you hear that, you think, `They’re not ready for you yet.’ So you lay there…and wonder, `Where will I be tomorrow? Where will I be three hours from now?’ Oh, you think all kinds of thoughts, some thoughts completely unrelated to the fight…you wonder whether you ever paid your mother-in-law back for all those stamps she bought a year ago…and you remember that time at two a.m. when Sandra tripped on the steps while bringing a bottle up to the baby…and then you get mad and ask: `What am I thinking about these things for?’…and you try to sleep…but then the door opens and somebnody says to somebody else, `Hey, is somebody gonna go to Liston’s dressing room to watch ‘em bandage up?’

    …And so then you know it’s about time to get ready…You open your eyes. You get off the table. You glove up, you loosen up. Then Liston’s trainer walks in. He looks at you, he smiles. He feels the bandages and later he says, `Good luck, Floyd.’ And you think, `He didn’t have to say that; he must be a nice guy.’

    …And then you go out, and it’s the long walk, always a long walk, and you think, `What am I gonna be when I come back this way?’ Then you climb into the ring. You notice Billy Eckstine at ringside leaning over to talk to somebody, and you see the reporters—some you like, some you don’t like—and then it’s The Star Spangled Banner, and the cameras are rolling, and the bell rings…

…How could the same thing happen twice? How? That’s all I kept thinking after the knockout…Was I fooling these people all these years”…Was I ever the champion?…And then they lead you out of the ring…and up the aisle you go, past those people, and all you want is to get to your dressing room, fast…but the trouble was in Las Vegas they made a wrong turn along the aisle, and when we got to the end there was no dressing room there…and we had to walk all the way back down the aisle, past the same people, and they must have been thinking, `Patterson’s not only knocked out, but he can’t even find his dressing room…’

    …In the dressing room I had a headache. Liston, didn’t hurt me physically—a few days later I only felt a twitching nerve in my teeth—it was nothing like some fights I’ve had: like that Dick Wagner fight in ’53 when he beat my body so bad I was urinating blood for days. After the Liston fight, I just went into the bathroom, shut the door behind me, and looked at myself in the mirror. I just looked at myself, and asked, `What happened?’ and then they started pounding on the door, and saying, `Com’ on, Floyd, com’on out; the press is here, Cus is here, com’on out, Floyd…

    …And so I went out, and they asked questions, but what can you say? What you’re thinking about is all those months of training, all the conditioning, all the depriving; and you think, `I didn’t have to run that extra mile, didn’t have to spar that day, I could have stayed up that night in camp and watched The Late Show…I could have fought this fight tonight in no condition…


Eight Secrets of Creating and Selling Dynamic Non-Fiction – Part 5


description  (how much?–the telling detail, not adjectives or adverbs, get the audience to judge, use of motion, atmosphere—setting mirroring character, conflict or theme (remember “opposites,” especially between characters and within the central character) 

introducing characters through action (suggest singularity and temperament, gesture–body language) 

dialogueemotional subtext (each character in a scene has an agenda) summary dialogue, indirect dialogue, direct dialogue, hidden dialogue. 

realization–reaction, inner response, ie, emotional beat, not the paragraph is the unit, and its tempo is the changing intensity of your story. 

changing place (and time), begin scene with establishing dialogue or description. 

Dynamic non-fiction is visually Memorable. 

Notes Left Behind: The Language of Suicide 

By Alec Wilkinson (The New Yorker, Feb 15th, 1999) 

    A woman from a town at the other end of the Cape called the police station one afternoon and asked if we would deliver a message to her husband, who was visiting the house they were building for their retirement, the house had no phone. I was in the station when Charles Berrio, another patrolmen, who was known as Chickie, found him. The man had attached a length of yellow nylon cord to a water pipe in the ceiling of the basement and tied the other end around his neck. Since Chickie had one of the town’s two police cars and the Chief had the other, I asked Lori Kmiec, a dispatcher, who was leaving for the day, if she would take me there, but she said she wouldn’t go near a house with a dead body in it. Someone else took me, I forget who. I walked through the front door. In a chair by a picture window looking over the marsh was an old man sitting with his hands folded in his lap. He paid no attention to me. The man hanging from the rope in the basement had his back to a sliding glass door that framed an inlet of the marsh. His knees were bent, and his feet were touching the cement floor. He had taken his shoes off. The ceiling was so low that there had been no tension to the rope; he had brought about his end simply by letting his body go slack. He could have stood up anytime he lost his nerve. In the shadowy basement, Chickie, his eyes not yet adjusted from the daylight, had walked into the man. Months later, when the subject of the man’s suicide came up, Chickie said that the figure of the hanging man still appeared in his dreams.

    The county man arrived and took photographs, and then Chickie applied the blade of a pocketknife to the yellow cord. None of us looked into one another’s eyes as we lowered him. It felt as if we were performing an ancient gesture. The man from the funeral home showed up and poked at the dead man’s swollen neck and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get that down for an open casket.”

    I asked Chickie about the man upstairs. “Guy’s brother,” he said. “Deaf. Never heard a thing.”

    I stood for a while looking at the piece of rope and the water pipe and the view out the window. I felt the way I remembered feeling as a child when rising early, I could hear the voices of my parents through the walls of their bedroom—my father’s low and rumbling and my mother’s high, the combination like a piece of music—but I couldn’t make out what they were actually saying, and I had the feeling that the substance of their conversation was important and that if I could  understand it I would be in possession of something profound.