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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...

Fact or Fiction? No need to choose
by Tama Westman

Fact or fiction? Truth or fantasy? What will you write? Traditionalists who draw a hard line might have you choose one manner of writing or the other. However, life rarely divides into black and white so easily. Perhaps that's why color television is considered so much more interesting. A careful melding of fact and fiction can create an interest and help readers identify more easily with what you are writing. The recent ABC made-for-television movie about a possible pandemic of bird flu is a prime example of this tact.

Writers relied on what the public already knew as fact, and then fanned their flames of fear by adding the "what if" factor to the script. Could the disease mutate and become transferable by human contact? Could our best friends, neighbors and family members become our mortal enemies with an invisible weapon that would lead to a living nightmare? This careful union of the truth with the imaginary sparked the interest of millions who tuned in to consider the possibilities for themselves.

Bringing Hollywood home
When I first started writing a column and assorted feature stories for the newspaper, I was careful to keep to the facts. My resulting articles were true, factual, sequential and boring. However, all was not lost. A writing buddy whose expertise was in the the fiction genre came to my rescue by gently showing me how to add transitions and descriptive prose that brought the same factual material to life for the reader.

She showed me how to build the scene, create the moment, and pull the reader in through the use of emotive, descriptive and leading words. I soon realized that while we all like to be informed, moreover, we enjoy becoming part of the story, to wonder about the "what if." Could this have happened to me, might it still, and how would I respond? Hollywood's new release, Poseidon, also places the viewer into the tantalizing position of asking, "What would I do?"

By drawing a picture, the reader is better able to relate and consider and then follow through to read the rest of the story. I used this same process when it came time to write brief reports on faith-based and community-based outreaches this last year while on assignment for a leadership foundation. More than maintaining the who, what, when, where, why and how of traditional news writing, I've taken my writing to the next level, by adding in the "O"—short for "Oh..." the emotional tug on the reader that makes the story personal.

Opposite holds true
The same process, only opposite, holds true for you wonderful fiction writers who are able to weave magic through your fingers as you cast your storylines. The time spent on researching facts and details gives your writing that extra punch of reality that makes your story believable for the reader. While you could easily create whole new worlds, when you use the familiar or what the reader recognizes as tangible, your writing comes alive.

One of my favorite authors happens to be an avid gardener. She entwines her horticultural knowledge into her storylines and gives the reader the idea that she too could graft a new strain of rose, or plant the perfect perennial garden much like the characters in the novel. By adding real touches of life, her characters have more dimension and become more interesting to the reader.

The same author writes a series of hard-hitting, police murder mysteries set in the future. By interviewing police detectives and forensic experts, she is able to bring a tense reality to her fiction that makes it leap off the page, and, off bookstore shelves. My writing buddy taught me to keep files filled with facts, figures, recipes, and what we call "reality bites" that are added to our writing to make it real-ly great.

Whether you favor writing nonfiction or fiction, I encourage you to pull elements of other writing styles into your own work for added depth, draw and delivery. While stretching your skill level can be a bit of a learning curve, the result is well worth the effort.

Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary magazine, Haute Dish. Her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students, and teaches beginning and intermediate writers at conferences throughout the country. Married with two grown children, she keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Further samples of her writing can be viewed on her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com feel free to e-mail comments to tama@tamawestman.com









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