TM: In his introduction to The Best American Essays of 2007 David Foster Wallace wrote, “Writing-wise, fiction is scarier but non-fiction is harder—because non-fiction’s based in reality, and today’s felt reality is overwhelmingly, circuit-blowingly huge and complex.” How does his description of the challenge of writing non-fiction strike you?
HN: To write strong, journalistic non-fiction, you have to do a lot of research. You have to make a lot of phone calls, do a lot of reading, visit as many people and locations as you can, and then try to somehow combine all that undigested information into something that a reader can stomach. But honestly, while reporting is hard and requires a lot of effort and elbow grease and legwork and chutzpah, I think the most challenging thing about writing non-fiction is turning that information into a story. Because if the narrative isn’t unfolding the way you want it, you can’t just change the details to make it better, the way you would when writing fiction. You have to represent the truth.
It’s very hard to be both a storyteller and a chronicler of reality. So to tell a true story that readers want to follow to the end, you’ve got to be very conscious of your craft—of your characters, chronology, pacing, setting, foreshadowing, backstory, detail—all those same elements that are so important in fiction writing. And then you’ve got to make double-sure you’re not making anything up.
For real, go read this piece. It’s awesome. (Emphasis mine)