Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Unnatural Narrators in Nonfiction

By Linda Skeers

You’ve gathered your information. Checked your facts. You’re ready to start writing but

stop and wonder, WHO is telling this story? WHO is presenting the information? WHO is my narrator?

​Maybe it’s not a WHO, but a WHAT.

An inanimate object. A thing.


Let me explain.

Many wonderful books have been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. How do you introduce him to children in a fresh and unique way? That was the task Eve Bunting gave herself -- and she succeeded with THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN.

The focus is on the simple, worn down cart that carried his coffin. Bunting was able to show MLK Jr.’s character by comparing his work ethic and struggles with that of the hard-working cart. By stepping back and creating a bit of distance, the story is still emotional – but not sorrowful.

This was just an ordinary cart – that eventually found a home in the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. “This is the humble cart that, not so long ago, carried greatness.”

Sometimes the perfect object can speak volumes.

That’s exactly what happens in Janet Nolan’s THE FIREHOUSE LIGHT.

Nolan had stumbled upon a fascinating little tidbit – a light bulb in the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department has been burning for over 100 years!

And nobody knows how.

Great fact. But is that a STORY?

It became one when she took a giant step back, looked at the bigger picture and wondered about all the events the light bulb would have witnessed through the years.

And THAT became the story!

The book follows the evolution of firefighting from volunteer bucket brigades to sophisticated equipment and new and improved techniques – always being illuminated by that single, amazing light bulb.

How do you handle an intense historical event filled with violence, hatred and prejudice in a picture book?

Sounds impossible.

When Rob Sanders first entertained the idea of writing about the Stonewall riots, he thought so too.

Until he stepped back and focused on the two buildings that joined together to become Bonnie’s Stone Wall restaurant – the centerpiece of the event.

You’ve all heard the saying, “If these walls could talk”? Sanders gave them a voice. And they had a lot to say in STONE WALL – A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution.

By allowing the building to describe the events as they unfolded, it gives the reader an extra bit of space – space to take it in, understand it, but not be completely overwhelmed by it. It’s a safe space to view something so intense and powerful.

Looking for a fresh angle on your subject? Don’t stare at it too closely or you could miss an important element. Step back and look again – what else do you see? Specific objects? A place? What’s lurking in the corners?

By exploring your subject AND everything surrounding it, you might discover a unique and unusual way into your story – one that makes it stand out AND pull readers in.

Linda Skeers teaches how to wrote picture books at the Whispering Woods Retreat. You could be one of her students! 

1 comment:

  1. Love stories like this, even have one myself!