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Section 3

Susan Vreeland Introduces “Artful Research” 

I suppose I’ll always be a teacher in one way or another. Even while writing, I’m teaching, whether I’m writing fiction which teaches about life, or nonfiction, which teaches by explaining something. In both cases, my “class” is invisible, so I have to fire up their curiosity and make the writing clear without me being there.

Expository Nonfiction: “teaching an invisible class”

In my expository article, “Artful Research,” I’m teaching an invisible class of fiction writers, my audience. I want them to learn how they can make their own stories better by doing specific research.

Article versus Essay

An article differs from an essay in that its main intent is to provide useful information, while the main intent of an essay is to put forth an argument on an issue. There is some overlap, however. Both can use a thesis and examples. Among other purposes, an article can present the necessity or advantages of a certain course of action and can then provide methods to carry out that action.

Techniques of Nonfiction: The “Hook”

That’s what “Artful Research” does. Because I’m not in the room with them, my audience might at any moment turn the page and ignore me. As a hook to catch their attention, I begin with a curious example of a writer needing to know something that might seem odd. Then, I tell them what I want them to remember: my thesis, followed by examples from the writing of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the novel that includes “Magdalena Looking.” Because the novel spans 350 years, I needed to do a lot of research, so it’s a good example.

After I get readers to agree to the necessity and benefits of research, particularly for a historical novel but not exclusively, I offer them some research methods that I’ve discovered, including possible sources for information.


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