In our new resource series of writing tips, Tiffany Mayer helps you polish your skills and strengthen your confidence and impact as a writer. This week she explains how to get creative and engage readers with some non-fiction in your blog posts.
Think of your favourite non-fiction book or something else you’ve read that resonated with you. Now think about why you loved it so much. Did you feel like you were there with the characters, following the story as it unfolded? Could you feel the heat of the summer day that the writer’s words described? Or the weight of the greasy spoon breakfast in your stomach after the main character ate it? That’s the magic of narrative writing, also known as creative non-fiction. Unlike a report, which will point you somewhere, narrative writing puts you somewhere and evokes emotion with beautifully crafted words. It tells a story as it’s happening.
Food blogging is the perfect outlet for narrative writing. Every recipe has a story and using literary devices to tell it is another way to engage readers, and entice them to get into the kitchen at the end of your post. Here are a few ways to incorporate more narrative writing into your blogging.
It takes incredible muscle to write long-form narrative. Start by incorporating a descriptive paragraph into a post: an introduction to grab readers’ attention so they stay with you; or save some imagery for the closing paragraph to leave them with something more. Even a vivid sentence or two in a post can have impact.
Sense And Sensitivity
Use all your senses in storytelling because they conjure incredible description. What do you smell, taste, see, hear, and feel or touch at a particular moment? Write it down, then use it to set the scene, describe characters and recreate the story of making your favourite aunt’s cinnamon buns like it just happened. It’s about showing readers what’s happening rather than telling them. You’re the narrator, so write the story from your perspective, but remember to include only the most important details.
Keep It Real
It’s creative non-fiction so be clever with imagery and description but remember that your story still needs to be fact-based. There also needs to be a point. Get to it quickly. A warning: if you find yourself asking "Who cares?" while you write, that’s your cue that your story might be missing the mark.
Beware of Purple Prose
Narrative writing takes a lot of practice. It can be tempting to use the most flowery adjectives and adverbs — and lots of them — to describe things for readers. Be careful that you don’t overwrite, though. Purple prose, or over-the-top descriptions and metaphors, can ruin a story’s flow and lose readers.
Cement Your Word Choice With Concrete Language
Concrete language makes it easy for a reader to visualize and relate to a story. Instead of saying "It was was a typical winter day," which is abstract and can mean something different for every reader, say "The air was crisp and pillowy snowbanks lined the sidewalk, channelling me to the warm light at the end of the block.” Don’t forget to watch your verb tense, too. It’s easy to flit from past to present. Pick one and stick with it.
Read a Lot
I know you’ve heard this before. But it’s true: the more you read, the greater your vocabulary and ideas to draw from when you sit down to write. Start with this story here. It’s not about food, although the description of the kitchen is something else, but it’s a gripping narrative. M.F.K. Fisher and Molly Wizenberg are two food writers to read regularly. Both are known for their narrative writing. FBC Member Tara O’Brady at Seven Spoons is also a queen of evocative language.
Be sure to check out the rest of Tiffany's Writing Workshop Series!
- Care To Chat? How to Ask For an Interview
- Have I Got A Story For You: How To Pitch An Editor
- Going On A Word Diet: Tips For Tightening Your Writing
Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at eatingniagara.com.