Writing Lessons

LITTLE ROCK - Just a short item from the Association of Alternative Newspapers convention:

Ted Conover is right on two accounts. But that should not be surprising; after all, his book about spending nearly as year working as a prison guard in Sing Sing, Newjack, won the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award. He spoke to about 25 reporters and editors today, and he urged alt-newspapers to "consult the unconsulted," or those people whose real lives are affected by the big issues of the day but who aren't civic leaders, pundits or experts. He should know: his books have dealt with Mexicans who were illegally immigrating and, of course, the life and culture inside a prison.

The second point is a bit of inside baseball for us writers: lay off a bit on the first person. He advocates "first person lite," or the use of first person by writers only when it brings a unique perspective to a scene that the writer has witnessed. He related how one editor cut half of the "I's" out of one of his stories, saying readers didn't need to know what was going on under the hood. A writer's first-person perspective on a story is most often not the most informed or interesting there is to be found.

Conover's right; far too much of the current craze for creative nonfiction uses irrelevant first person constructions where the writer inserts himself/herself into a scene for no good reason.

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