Notes in Narrative Non-Fiction Writing –by Nkiru Asika, Storm 360

Like I shared notes from one of my 2010 The Future Project creative writing classes last week, today I’ll be sharing some of the notes taken from a class on narrative non-fiction which was facilitated by Nkiru Asika, a director at Storm 360. The class held on Saturday 12 June 2010.

She started by explaining that to achieve success in narrative non-fiction, a writer has to look for facts and accuracy. Any good writing starts with the idea, so what are the sources of your ideas? In order to build a wealth of ideas, it is important that you expose yourself to as much as possible – relate with people, read a lot and read widely. There is also the tendency to think that what you are interested in is what the world is interested to know. Therefore, you need to know your audience.

Also, the core thing in narrative writing is interviewing and for interviewing sources, there has to be a strong element of fact checking and you would do well to save the tough and sensitive questions for the last. She gave a basic reporting/magazine outline:

– Start with your LEAD (entry point into the story)
– NUT GRAF (the statement or theme of the piece)
– POINT(S) (1,2,3…)

Some other points worthy of note are:
– You are ultimately writing about people so you ought to look for a way to humanize the issue
– Show, don’t tell (that phrase again!)
– Engage all your senses
– Be precise in language & choice of words
– Avoid clichés; play with language
– Paint pictures
– Watch your grammar – always check sentence structure, syntax and do not rely on the ‘spell-check’
– Pay attention to your style
– Be objective and out-of-the-story – point of view
– Use specific details
– Develop an ear for language – by reaching widely, vary our sentences
– Your writing should be conversational
– Avoid writing words/using words to impress somebody
– Don’t use too many adjectives
– Use more nouns and verbs (in strong writings)

EXERCISE: Write a piece without a single adjective

– Use active words instead of passive words (it’s better to show the doing rather than the ‘done-to’)
– Be observant (day-to-day)
– Write with passion
– It can be useful to get a formal education I Journalism (it’s not absolutely necessary too)
– Show people whose opinion you trust your works/writings
– Writing is a talent but it is also a craft

To round off the class, Nkiru shared the titles some of her favourite books:
– A Thousand Splendid Songs by Khaled Hossein
– Kite Runner by Khaled Hossein
– To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
– The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer by Eric Hansen

Then, the last tip: “If you want to make a living off writing, you need to diversify your writing.” What do you think about the points raised? Do you write creative non-fiction and what has your experience been like? I’d like to hear from you. –GN!


About Nkiru Asika
Nkiru Asika is the Director of Storm 360, a media group. Since returning to Nigeria in 2004, Nkiru, in conjunction with other team members at the Storm Media Group, has produced hit TV shows like Doctor’s Quarters, Naija Sings, and The Apprentice Africa. She delved into journalism when she published a magazine alongside her brother Obi (the CEO at Storm 360) to celebrate Nigeria’s qualification for the 1994 World Cup. She studied at the London College of Communications and then Syracuse University, New York, where she obtained a Master’s degree in magazine journalism. After graduation, she wrote for Smart Money, the Wall Street Journal’s magazine for personal business, and won an award for outstanding writing by the National Press Club of America in 2003.

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Apply to Join Chimamanda Adichie & Binyavanga Wainaina in the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop 2011

Chimamanda Adichie

The fifth edition of the annual creative writing workshop organized by Farafina Trust will hold from June 23 to July 2, 2011 in Lagos, Nigeria. Award-winning writer and Farafina author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be teaching alongside Kenyan writer & Caine Prize Winner, Binyavanga Wainaina. The workshop, sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc, will afford participants a golden opportunity to learn a lot via a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises. The workshop aims at improving the craft of Nigerian writers and encouraging published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling. Participation is limited only to those who apply and are accepted.

To apply, send an e-mail to Your e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application.’ The body of the e-mail should contain the following:

1. Your Name

2. Your address

3. A few sentences about yourself

4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. The sample must be either fiction or non-fiction.

All material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Please Do NOT include any attachments in your e-mail. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. Deadline for submissions is April 27 2011. Successful applicants will be notified by June 15 2011. Accommodation in Lagos will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend for the ten-day duration of the workshop. A literary evening of readings, open to the public, will be held at the end of the workshop on July 2, 2011.

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Tips for Writers: Notes from Muhtar Bakare’s Class of June 2010

One of the best decisions I made in 2010 was to focus on the development of my writing skills. My deep thirst for training made me go all out for as much I could handle alongside final year academics and other activities in the university. The Future Project Creative Writers Workshop was one of those trainings. There we had access to some of the top writers and stakeholders in the publishing industry and similar sectors of the Nigerian creative economy. Muhtar Bakare, the founder of Kachifo Limited, was one of those special facilitators we had the privilege of interacting with.

That early morning of Saturday 5 June 2010, at the REDSTRAT office in Surulere, Muhtar Bakare began by asking the rather scanty class: “Why do you want to write?” Different people gave varying responses; many trying to sound very noble and altruistic. But he was quick to commend someone who mentioned ‘money’ as a factor. Others mentioned fame; need to write compelling stories; and contribution to humanity as their respective reasons. He said, “Be true to yourself; don’t deceive yourself. It takes courage to write and have a voice. To be exceptional in anything; you have to look at failure in the face, and stick out your neck…” He then asked a poignant question, “Are all stories equally valuable?” I only remember that he mentioned the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ in his elaboration on that question.

“Writers are prophets… Read so that you can write. Write to make a difference. Writers codify stories. Writers must have clarity and not mix things up. Don’t tamper with facts, but put your emotions in there. Facts are not yours; facts are sacred. Don’t mess with facts…” he said. Then he asked, “Why is it that we do not write about rain; women and their hair; and seasons?”

“Reading allows you to see how other people handle emotions… Nigeria is yet to change because our writers have not successfully/properly codified the situations that are prevalent… I like subtlety… Take moral positions…” He emphasized the need to do (extensive) research as a writer which would be evident in your content, authenticity and details. Then he quoted some of his favourite lines: “Life is short, nasty and brutish… Time/life has passed, but there is no sweetness here… because we have not got courage… If you want to be nice, you can’t be a writer. If you are looking for the easy way out, you can’t be successful or exceptional. There is no easy way of being a good writer.”

Muhtar reminded us all that Farafina is a business outfit and that as such there would be the kind of books they liked. His frank admonition for us: “It takes at least four years to get a book out (published) from the start of writing, if you stick to it… The (Nigerian) publishing industry has not evolved as an extension of the culture of the people. Culture is very expensive… (think about the cultural artifacts)… it is the highest form of literature that we have… Connect online with other writers across the world/globe. Blog. Apply for those grants… Do creative copying… History is a progression by extension… Geniuses copy, but they do so creatively. Be careful not to make (ordinary) men gods.” I had started this blog, Gbenga’s Notebook! (“Egbe’s Diary, at the time), in May 2010, but had not been uploading new posts. I must say here that I was imbued with passion for consistent blogging by Muhtar Bakare’s words that morning. That mention of the word ‘Blog’ did something spectacular in my head!

He continued, “When you start something, always have the courage to finish it. Apart from Simi Dosekun, Farafina met all its published authors first on the internet… You only own things that you understand… Nigeria needs at least a thousand publishing firms… It took Amazon nine years to break even and Starbucks thirteen years. We will get to that tipping point. We should be who we say we are, not what people say we are… Have absolute dedication to writing. You are a writer because you write, and write consistently. Writing is about what you do privately. You need exceptional discipline. You are the architect of your own downfall.”

As he waxed philosophical, maintaining his calm mien, his words hit home. He implored us to understand the rules of the language we use and be open and willing to be edited. He encouraged us to write creative non-fiction and send to online magazines and blogs, not forgetting to post links to those stories on our blogs. “Don’t be afraid of criticism and write well researched and well modulated stories. No matter how good you are as a writer, people will criticize your work. Don’t take rejections personal. Have the courage to put yourself out there!” That was it. By the time Muhtar ended on that charge, we just had to clap!

What points resonate with you? What lessons have you learned from this recap and what other tips would you like to share with other writers? Drop your comments and share with us! –GN!

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