Writing non-fiction characters

This week Story Board, an online resource for independent journalists, interviewed me about freelance writing. Below is an excerpt. You can read the whole interview here.

Q: How do you know if you have a good story idea? Are there elements of an idea that tell you that it’s a winner?

There’s a couple of things I look for in a good story. I look for character, a personality at the centre of the story who can make it come alive. And a person who can speak about their own motives because otherwise it’s really hard to find out what’s going on inside people’s heads.

I remember a workshop I once went to with a writer, an American magazine writer, writes for The Believer and a bunch of other magazines. And he said he approaches it like a novel. Like he’s writing fiction. Desire is the engine that drives fiction, it’s what motivates characters. And so every time he interviews someone, the question in the back of his mind is “what is this person’s fundamental desire here, what it is that they want?” And I really found that fascinating. So that’s what I try to look for is a character and some way to access what’s going on at a deeper level for them and the desire that’s driving them.

I also look for some connection to a bigger story. There’s always a small story that illustrates a bigger story. So in the case of Ruben and Carmen the small story is how they’re living their lives and the bigger story is a story of climate change and our cultural fixation with the apocalypse and wondering if things as we know them are about to drastically change.

Advertisements