"Creative nonfiction writers and memoirists often take advantage of fiction techniques," writes Dorothy Wall in More Ways to Use Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction. "They create scenes and characters, use dialogue and description. As much as possible, they try to show rather than tell."
Among the many other strategies behind good storytelling, Wall encourages nonfiction writers to create anticipation (set up the action to come), create propulsion (make your scenes have consequences), and compress time/let emotion and events animate your story (fictional time leaps over inessential events).
"I was a parole officer in Miami for eleven years," says Bacopa Literary Review 2015 Second Place Creative Nonfiction winner, Michael Kite. In slightly more than 1500 words, his prize-winning "Memories of a Honeymoon and a Milk Carton" demonstrates each of Wall's points about strengthening storytelling. These excerpts provide hints to the anticipation and consequences that animate Kite's story:
As we shook hands, it was clear my new parolee Harry Goldman was not typical. . . He sat down, crossed his legs, put his black fedora on his knee. . . "I'm happy to meet you, Mr. Kite. I hope we will build a satisfactory working relationship."
His file wasn't typical either. His parole certificate contained a condition forbidding consumption of alcohol. . . "When drinking, this inmate is a danger to himself and to others. Any association with alcoholic beverages is reason for immediate arrest. . ."
. . . it was often said with good reason, murderers make the best parolees, and Harry was certainly a murderer. In 1963, in a drunken and jealous rage, he had hacked his second wife to death with a meat cleaver. . . He pled to second-degree murder, received twenty-five years. Paroled after serving twelve. . .
"Have you reported to your job?"
"No, not yet. I wanted to see you first. But it will be there. Loretta will make sure of that."
"Loretta Grayson, owns the company, arranged the job for me."
"How do you know her?"
"We were pen pals while I was incarcerated. . . She has been a wonderful influence on my life."
. . . Over the next few months, he adjusted well. He had a small apartment, kept it neat, clean, alcohol free. . . About a year after his release he called, said he had something important to tell me. . .
"I got married to Loretta last week. So I have a new address. . ."
[Harry] was wearing Bermuda shorts and a well-worn T-shirt. He stripped off his gardening glove, "Welcome." Extending his bare hand, "Come on in. Loretta's taking a nap and I was tending the roses." He motioned me to the couch. On the coffee table were copies of Florida Gardening, Southern Living, and The George Review.
"You grow roses?"
"Loretta does. I just pull the weeds and prune."
"How's married life?"
"It's great." He took off the other glove, stared at the floor for a moment, then looking up, "She means a lot to me. I've never been in love before. . ."
Over the next few months I came by twice. I sniffed the ice tea pitcher and the orange juice, checked the canisters, even the new coffee one, the dresser drawers, under the mattress, the pockets of his clothes in the closet, found nothing. . .Yes, of course, you're eager to know what happened. Think of synonyms for anticipation -- apprehension, foresight, impatience -- all the ways in which good writers make sure their readers eagerly await the next sentence, paragraph, page.
Then one Sunday morning I read in the paper. . . .