By Brenda Miller & Suzanne Paola
[McGraw Hill; 2012]
The title, Tell It Slant - a phrase lifted from an Emily Dickinson quote - forms the ethos upon which this excellent book on nonfiction writing is based.
With the words, ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant’, Dickinson proffers that writers mine their lives for material and clothe memory in literary fineries; to be playful with the actual truth in order to get at the emotional truth. And so it is that our lively authors Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola explore the various ways to bring a nonfiction story to life across three parts (Unearthing Your Material; The Many Forms of Creative Nonfiction; Honing Your Craft), 244 pages, and 16 subsections.
The book’s structure is clean and simple, following a regular and easy-to-read format – inspirational quote, intro example from one of the authors, discussion of technique, examples of technique, writing exercises to close. The information follows a linear line from basic exercises to more in-depth techniques, pausing for occasional entertaining rumination of why we write nonfiction and how we benefit from it.
Whilst I had some initial hesitation towards the simplistic start – where it dwells on the senses in a section more akin to a high school exercise – the book soon takes off, delivering myriad techniques, examples and sources written in an entertaining, enthusiastic and warm style. In such an instructional book, gentle starting steps are to be expected; and in the context of the denser later chapters this soft opening makes sense, even though more experienced writers would be forgiven for quickly skipping over it. This occasional broadness is a perpetual pitfall when pitching to amateurs and professionals alike, but on the whole Miller and Paola have balanced their information adroitly.
The authors’ obvious verve for the subject shines throughout and allows Tell It Slant to stand out from the myriad manuals currently available. Miller and Paola deliver beautiful and thought-provoking moments of contemplation – essays on death, powerful 140-character pieces and poignant ruminations on the nature of memories – that charge the reader with the power of the very form they are attempting to create, which in turn spurns a passion to get writing. It has put a fire under this reviewer to sculpt more creative nonfiction; a sign of a successful guide if ever there was one.
Despite a simplistic start, Tell It Slant soon blooms into a worthy working companion for the discernible nonfiction writer, penned with verve and passion and brimming with worthy examples, ideas, and further reading to help you bring your stories to life.