Elements of the Writing Craft. Part One, Lesson Eight: Storytelling in Nonfiction

Ref: Pages 13 and 14 from the text by Robert Olmstead

  1. What are some unusual, survivable dramatic experiences that you can report? Make a list of ten.

Sliding down a cliff face.

Tear gas chamber.

Trapped in ocean undertow, swept out to sea.

Pinned against a pier pylon, swimming back to shore.

Kicked in the face, broken cheekbone.

Lost control of a vehicle during a high-speed turn in the rain, slid to a stop against a tree.

Chased through a park at night by a violent stranger.

Landslide covered four lanes of highway 100 yards ahead.

Lost in unfamiliar woods at sunset.

Lightning strike a few feet away while inside a small passenger plane.

2. Interview a person who has had one of these experiences.

3. Find some detail left behind by the disaster. Use this key detail in a descriptive paragraph or two. 

4. Decide whether to re-tell the story or allow it to be told in first person.

“They came from the fog. We were surrounded. Tall, hissing, snake people lunged at us from all sides. A mesh of needlelike teeth pierced my arm. It dragged me down. Fierce and powerful jaws thrashed and ripped my shoulder from its socket. It was so strong. My arm fell limp. There were so many. And so suddenly. I was hauled up to my feet by my First Sergeant and pain flared in my shoulder. An ophidian gurgled as it was skewered and slumped dead before me, broken pikes jutting from its back. 

My company rallied and we broke pikes into their scaly hides. Half the bastards went down into silent heaps, their ranks shattered. A robed figure drifted into vision, lifted a clawed hand, and pointed at me. I yanked a pike from the dirt, pinned it under my arm, and charged. From inside its drooping, green sleeve, forked black lighting. It struck me square in the chest and sent me back, hard. The impact radiated out from just under my neck and down my arms and legs. I twitched and everything went numb. When I stood, the attackers had vanished along with the fog. Red forked lines now traced the veins under my skin and when the weather turns stormy, my scars itch.”

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