Narrative Nonfiction is a terrific way to combine true events with the facts that expand and explicate those events. As long as you accurately relate the facts, you are free to use them in a narrative. That sounds easy enough, but the truth is that you will often have a pile of — facts. How those facts are going to make a story anyone wants to read, let along a story faced on the truth, is not necessarily clear.
You could know precisely what you want to say and how you want to say it before you begin your research/reporting. In my experience, that generally ends in a stiff piece because you need to get the interviewees and facts to line up with what you want to say. It may be that you want to say something you can’t support.
You could just start interviewing everyone you can think of and see where it leads. That sort of fishing expedition often leaves you going back for a second round of interviews – actually two additional rounds, since you were overly generally in the first interview; every specific in the second; and now need some sense of this person, which you’ll gain through the third.
You could start by writing what you already know in an informal sort of list meant for your eyes only. You could then list the things you know you don’t know, along with why you think they might be important. You could also read whatever you can find as background material before selecting your interview candidates. You could then do a far-reaching and thorough interview that will hold up in 99% of circumstances.
The latter is the one I strive for, yet even with that, I wind up with a ton of research and branches I hadn’t anticipated – which is a good thing. Because of this, I pick a topic and then keep an open mind about the “way in.” Continue reading