Friday, March 11, 2011

NON FICTION ELEMENTS: Touch Blue (Post #4)

Hi Heather,

As you know I read and write both fiction and nonfiction. I love a great story, but I also enjoy feeding my brain with facts about a previously unfamiliar topic. One of the best experiences of all is when the worlds of fiction and nonfiction come together, and upon reading a terrific novel I find both my fiction and my nonfiction brain sated by the experience. This is how I felt when reading Cynthia Lord’s wonderful book, Touch Blue.

An interesting article in the Institute of Children’s Literature discussed creative non fiction versus informational fiction. The article stated:
You might learn a ton of stuff from such a well researched piece of fiction – but the primary “job” of the piece will be to tell a great story. The facts will just add extra spice to a really good exciting story.
That “extra spice” is what I’m talking about—snippets of factual information that make me feel I got more out of a story than just high entertainment value. And I am not alone. As much as kids love story, they love facts, too. In her I.N.K Blog (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) nonfiction writer Linda Salzman says:
Kids love to learn about things that really happened. They are constantly asking “Is that real? Is that true? Did that really happen?” When you are reading nonfiction to them and you can answer with an unequivocal “yes” they are truly delighted
But I would go on to say that when you are reading FICTION and you can point to things that “really happen,” the outcome is the same—kids are delighted. And the delight is amplified when the facts are presented in an unobtrusive way that flows with the story. Consider these nonfiction nuggets in Lord’s book:

From page 59:
“Do you think God ever makes mistakes?” I ask
“Like not giving cormorants enough oil to make their wings waterproof, so they have to stand there and dry them?”

From page 67:
“Lay it [the gauge] along the carapace—that’s the name for the lobster’s back.”

From page 70:
Dad reaches into the empty trap for the mesh bag of leftover bait. “Next we throw out the old bait, put in some new, and reset the trap. The bait bag hangs here in the first part of the trap—called the kitchen. The lobster comes into the kitchen to eat, and then he’ll crawl up this ramp and through this opening between the two rooms. The back part of the trap is called the parlor, and that’s where he gets stuck.”

Wow! In just a few pages I have finally come to understand why I always see cormorants hanging out by the Arboretum off the 520 bridge with their wings spread wide. I learned that the lobster’s back is called a carapace, and I understand how a lobster trap works.

What Lord has done so well is to insert these tidbits in a way that is completely inconspicuous—she has made them part of the story. Kids who are fact-hounds will eat this stuff up. Kids who are just in it for the story will come away with a knowledge they didn’t have to work for. There is a saying that “Everyday’s a school day.” As authors if we can expand a kids knowledge of the world by tucking interesting facts into a piece of fiction, we should go for it!

StorySleuth’s Tip #101: Go for the “extra spice”. Add nonfiction elements to your story, but be sure to do so in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel they’re being buried beneath a pile of facts.