by Christine Liu-Perkins
Powerful nonfiction draws readers in by exploring some aspect of being human. As Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato wrote, ". . . you find your narrative by humanizing your story" (Thinking Like Your Editor, p. 192).
Even in writing about science and nature, "Create a connection between your subject and your reader's life," advised Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Anatomy of Nonfiction, p. 155).
I learned the value of building on a human connection when I was assigned to write about the Temple of Heaven located in Beijing. My first draft described the temple's architecture and its (very cool) hidden symbolism. I used lively language and a sense of progression. I included wow-type details. Surely readers would find the temple as awesome as I did.
But in reading it over, I sensed that draft still lacked something. It was dry; it was boring. What was missing?
I pulled back and started wondering, WHO used the temple? What did they use it for?
I dug deeper into the research. The answer was emperors. Considered to be mediators between heaven and earth, the emperors themselves performed ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven. These ceremonies involved three days of fasting and mental preparation, a parade of some 3,500 people, and elaborate sequences of offerings and prayers.
Eureka! Here was the focus I needed to help readers connect to the temple. Describing the emperor's actions and his desire for heaven's blessings brought the article to life and gave readers a way to feel the significance of the temple.
Question for you: in your current project, can you amplify a human connection to deepen the reader's experience?
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