Writing Exercise: Fiction Techniques for Nonfiction Characters

Try these writing exercises to improve the quality of your nonfiction characters. by Bill Roorbach with Kristen Keckler
Author:
Publish date:

1. PUT YOUR DAD ON STAGE
Think of a particular way your childhood perception of your father is different from your adult perception. Then come up with a scene that shows that childhood dad in action. If your dad wasn’t around, write about whoever ended up playing the role. Write the scene twice—once from your childhood point of view (language and all), and once from your adult point of view, the view from your desk as you write.

How are the scenes different? Can you work to make them even more different? Now try a new angle: Write the scene from your dad’s point of view. (Let’s call this fiction-in-the-service-of-nonfiction, since you can’t truly know what it was like to be him.)

2. BRING YOUR MOM ON NEXT
This time write a long passage describing your mother. Get the physical characteristics to put a picture of her in our heads, but also try for gesture, her favorite phrases, characteristic dishes, dress, hobbies, work, fingernails, figure, the works—including her subtlest subconscious methods of inducing your guilt. Keep it expositional.

3. UNITE YOUR CHARACTERS
Now write a scene featuring your parents together, a time when things were strained, perhaps. If you choose a happy time, do be sure you’re working toward dramatic tension. Again, two tries, first from the child’s point of view, second from the you sitting at your desk.

Excerpted from Writing Life Stories, second edition © 2008 by BILL ROORBACH WITH KRISTEN KECKLER, with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.


This article appeared in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest.Click here to order your copy in print. If you prefer a digital download of the issue, click here.

Image placeholder title

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 23

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an appointment poem.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give Order

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give Order

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give an order.

Casey Wilson: On Writing a Non-Human Perspective

Casey Wilson: On Writing a Non-Human Perspective

Author Casey Wilson shares what it was like to write from the perspective of a dog in her latest novel A Dog's Hope, as well as the journey from indie to traditional publishing.

Family Stories as Inspiration for Historical Fiction

Family Stories as Inspiration for Historical Fiction

When writing fiction, there's always a fine line between reality and make-believe. Debut author Kirstin Beck explains how her family's history became the seed for her novel Courage, My Love.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 22

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a nature poem.

The Past Is Never Past: Drawing on Personal History to Write Engaging Historical Fiction

The Past Is Never Past: Drawing on Personal History to Write Engaging Historical Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Karen White discusses what drew her to writing historical fiction and how she uses a modern setting to explore history.

Writing Multiple Timelines and Points of View

Writing Multiple Timelines and Points of View

YA author Natalie Lund gives her top reasons why writers who might be afraid to play with multiple timelines and/or points of view should jump in feet first.

Alexander Weinstein: On Writing a Thematic Short Story Collection

Alexander Weinstein: On Writing a Thematic Short Story Collection

Author Alexander Weinstein discusses how he came to select the theme of his new short story collection, Universal Love, and what it was like to see those themes reflected in the real world.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 21

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a blank me poem.