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Zoya Patel on non-fiction writing: Teen writing boot camp

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13 April 2021

At the Library's Teen writing boot camp in April 2021, writer and editor Zoya Patel taught teens how to construct their ideas, research and opinions into compelling non-fiction writing. Here she shares some tips and reflections from the first boot camp on Thursday 8 April.

Every day, we’re surrounded by non-fiction writing. The news we read online, the tweets and posts we might scroll through on social media, the information we’re given at school or work. In essence, non-fiction is encompassed by all of these things – it’s factual and true.

But of course, non-fiction writing is much more complex and varied than that simple definition. Writing as a craft is focused on imparting information in a way that compels the reader, either to understand a topic, take an action, or even just to absorb and personally engage with a story.

Non-fiction writing is fundamental to the way we understand the world around us. News articles tell us important and timely information about global events, which is crucial to the way we structure and go about our daily lives.

Feature articles and profiles connect us to stories of the world around us, and to the lives of fascinating people. This is fundamental to how we build communities and engage with each other. Reading about big events, interesting topics, or talented people gives colour and depth to our world.

Reviews and critiques are key to how we assess and value art and entertainment. How often do you check out the reviews for a movie has before deciding whether or not you want to see it? We rely on the endorsements and opinions of others to help us prioritise what we consume in a time when the choices are overwhelming.

And opinion pieces are like the town square of the modern era. Where once the controversial or big topics that are commonly written about in opinion columns may have been discussed in coffee houses and gathering places, in our globally connected, digital world, the opinion piece has taken on this role.

Non-fiction writing has grown and evolved over many years, and also incorporates memoir, biography, history, analysis, and so much more. Creative non-fiction is a genre that’s always changing and is the site of a lot of experimentation and innovation in writing.

If you’re starting out as a writer, and still discovering your voice, it can be really useful to have a try at writing in different non-fiction formats. The existing structure can be a useful way of grounding your writing, and giving you somewhere to start from, and you’ll soon work out the formats and styles that work best for you.

Here’s an activity that you can try when you have a moment. Look up a news website, and pick a headline. Then, try and write about that story in different ways – a feature article, a profile piece, an opinion piece. Adapt your style and structure and see how each format changes the way you approach the content. Have fun!

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