When writing for newspapers, magazines, or other non-fiction market, it’s important to get the details right. I hope that’s not a surprise.
I’m currently working on a destination piece for a regional magazine. This particular piece is a mix of my personal experience and history I’ve learned about the location. The goal is to draw people in and inspire them to visit, or at least be aware of a place they hadn’t known about before.
I’ve lived in this a wonderful little town in New Hampshire for a year now. Before that, I had driven through a few times and hiked here before, but I wasn’t aware of the history. There is a lot (of course), and it is enthralling me more every day. I’m thrilled to be writing about even this one small aspect of the town.
The article has a 1,000 word cap. It has to include my personal story and some history.
When I need to research a place, I start with the historical society and local library. If neither of those places have what I need, they usually have recommendations. Newspaper archives are also fantastic and research librarians make the searching easy.
Of course, the Internet is full of information – but it has to be vetted as having correct facts, and that takes time.
So, for Internet research:
- I start with a general search on the topic and hone the search as I find more information.
- I create a folder in my Favorites and save relevant websites to that folder so I don’t lose them (it took me a long time to come to this method!) When finding a Web page of interest, I save it right away. *Most* pages will allow you to ‘go back’, but sometimes they don’t. And there’s nothing more frustrating than finding a page with several links, knowing it’s going to be a resource, clicking on one of those links, and then not being able to ‘go back’ to that first page.
- I do my best to track information I find online back to a solid resource – a book, newspaper, or person, otherwise I’m leery to use it.
Getting quotes from real people also helps with a non-fiction piece. Any subject matter expert, whether they call themselves that or insist, “I just grew up and remember, I’m no expert,” are fabulous. Direct quotes from a couple of people make the piece more conversational and appealing to the reader.
Important: Keep track of all the details and give credit where it is due. I’ve obtained a lot of photos from my local historical society and if the magazine uses them, the historical society needs to be acknowledged. For quotes, first and last name, and town are relevant.
And your personal experience, if the piece calls for it, is what all the details of the article should be wrapped in. For this particular article, I went to part of the historic site and took photos of remnants that still exist today. They’ll complement the images I have from the historical society.
These articles – the ones where I can participate today and learn about yesterday – are my favorites.
What methods or resources do you use when writing non-fiction?
Lisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She loves writing about New Hampshire for local papers or regional magazines, like New Hampshire ToDo. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.