A middle-aged woman pulled into the space next to mine as I exited my car. My eyes detected an oddity inside the woman’s vehicle. I paused for a second look, humored by my observations. Seat-belted to the passenger side of her Ford Focus sat a life-sized skeleton. Yes, a skeleton.
I had two choices: (1) speak to the woman, listen to what she had to say, and note the details; or (2) flash her a crooked smile and let the imprint of the image speak for itself at a later time. The former option, I believe, works well for those interested in writing narrative non-fiction. Consider the following example:
Let’s say you discover the woman volunteers at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and is on her way there to stage a Halloween party for a group of sick kids. She tells you she’s been taking “Benny Bones,” her skeleton and favored mascot, to the children’s ward for years, since her son’s untimely passing in ‘94. How is her story best retold?
Narrative non-fiction uses a variety of literary techniques to account for actual events: characterization, plot, setting, dialogue, narrative and personal reflection. Through the use of these techniques, I’d spotlight this woman’s story as one of pathos, hope and renewed purpose through selfless service.
The second option is an excellent choice for fiction writers, like myself, in need of a creative catalyst. It’s one of my favorites and easy to employ. Simply select a visual image from your mental cache of possibilities and write. Allow the image to breathe on its own, without imposing preconceived ideas about the story’s objective or outcome. The end product: a dazzling tale spun from the interaction between a sensate experience and your imagination.
The skeleton contains within its iconic imagery, a rich source for writers of contemporary works and assorted fictional genres. The arrival of a protagonist (the woman) adds additional vitality and interest to the piece. For horror writers, the woman could be a specter who combs cemeteries and morgues, recruiting undead soldiers for a world-wide army against an evil zombie dictator. Authors of mystery, might see the woman as a murderer, who travels by car with the remains of her latest victim. The possibilities for plot variations in this instance are endless. Try using a single image as your muse and see for yourself.