Use Your Fiction Skills To Write A Personal Essay - Write It Sideways

Image courtesy

Today’s post is compiled by regular contributor Sarah Baughman.

a skilled member of my writing group once explained she couldn’t imagine composing a personal essay.

While the effective description and plot development she employed throughout the woman novel-in-progress impressed all of us, she stated she'd find it impossible to generate a few ideas for a nonfiction piece about her own life.

I do believe she’d probably be amazed. Imaginative nonfiction varies according to most of the same literary characteristics which make great fiction.

Describing this genre as embodying the “use of literary art in presenting nonfiction,” Creative Nonfiction Editor Lee Gutkind says that innovative nonfiction article writers “make ideas and information that currently occur more intriguing and, usually, more available.”

If you’re enthusiastic about writing a personal essay, a number of the really tools you rely on many while crafting quick tales or unique chapters would be the perfect building blocks.


Fiction authors know the significance of conflict in going a plot forward, and outside the writing globe, disputes big and tiny move life forward! Everyone experience them, and these day-to-day conflicts, even the trivial people, can fuel an individual essay.

Track the interior and external conflicts you experience on a given day.

  • Which ones have under your skin layer?
  • Those educate you on something about your self you didn’t know before?
  • Those that make us feel more attached to your environment additionally the people around you, and those are isolating?
  • Do any conflicts, inside their quality, give way to a greater sense of peace?

Behind every conflict that causes further expression, there lurks an account.

Example: “Just us, When One Toddles” by Jennifer Baumgardner, the latest York Times, 8/25/11. An annoying conflict within the parking at the airport lot offers solution to expression regarding larger conflict, and benefits, of being one moms and dad.

Composing Prompt: Identify a recent conflict, internal or external, trivial or significant, which has led you to a greater comprehension of yourself. Remember a specific moment that made you conscious of the conflict and begin by narrating the scene (like in Baumgardner’s essay: “Our automobile, a 17-year-old red Honda Civic, shimmered in the heat. ‘This isn’t good,’ I thought.”)


There’s a t-shirt boating the web that writers will cherish: “Careful or you’ll result in my next novel,” it proclaims.

Truly the very best characters in fiction feel real people, and observing the important points always establish those characters—appearance, thoughts, dialogue, actions—can help us see people within our everyday lives with new eyes. Unlike fictional characters, people we know can’t change in accordance with our imagination, nonetheless they do have their very own tales. A willingness to move outside our relationships and view individuals with a “writer’s eye” can actually induce much deeper appreciation because we’re challenged to cover such close awareness of their traits.

Example: “Christmas Eve at St. Clement” by Amy Rosenquist, Literary Mama, 12/6/09. Rosenquist’s essay about the woman autistic son flourishes on detail–past actions, small obsessions, statements, responses, real characteristics–and paints an engaging portrait of a complex, endearing child.

Composing Prompt: Describe an essential person in your life via an event both of you went to that reveals the character of this individual and holds importance for your relationship (like Rosenquist’s Christmas time Eve solution).


Places we all know well offer powerful backdrops for individual essays. But “setting” doesn’t have to add a spectacular sunset or breathtaking hill range–even noting the normal detail in our own homes (meals cluttering the sink, dirt regarding windowsill, a quilt tossed over a sofa) is a wonderful exercise for recognizing exactly how spot informs plot.

Whether you select at first to create about a substantial experience, working place descriptors to the tale as you get, or whether you use destination as a starting point, you’ll find that your personal ties to various settings can boost an individual essay.

Example: “Not Like You” by Katherine Gries, Brevity, Issue #32, January 2010. In Gries’ compelling essay, peaceful settings—first in forests, then in a house—provide stark contrast to your physical violence she suffers.

Composing Prompt: When has a certain spot served as a significant backdrop to an event? Step beyond your experience to supply a detailed description for the place. Give consideration to exploring how the place either reflects, or contrasts with, the knowledge.


I always found dialogue tricky, but writing down meeting quotes for freelance journalism assignments assisted me personally overcome some of my reservations about deploying it.

While every day speech might be punctuated with clumsy interruptions you don’t always wish to use in writing, paying attention closely to conversations and mirroring real speech habits can aid the development of authentic discussion. Readers like dialogue—it’s a great break from solid description, moves plot along, and reveals character quickly. Try jotting down just a couple of interchanges from conversations you’ve had throughout everyday and seeing exactly what could trigger a story.

Example: “Montana Soccer Mom Moment” by Laura Munson, the newest York instances, 7/23/10. a discussion between mom and daughter, punctuated by description, forms the core of Munson’s heartfelt essay.

Writing Prompt: remember a discussion you'd that, like Munson’s, served as some type of switching point. Use dialogue interspersed with description of the interior responses to relay the conversation.

Can you compose both fiction and innovative non-fiction? What strategies can you make use of that connect with both genres?

How to cite this essay: