Writing Nonfiction: Michael Moore’s 13 rules

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Tips from documentary film maker Michael Moore.

At the Toronto International Film Festivals Doc Conference, Michael Moore shared 13 rules for making a documentary.  Not surprisingly, they apply equally well to any nonfiction writing.

1.  Don’t talk about Fight Club.  Don’t talk about the subject of your article or book.  This isn’t about saving whales or the importance of recycling.  Instead, this is your chance to write an awesome nonfiction story.

2.  Don’t rehash the same-old same-old.  Okay, Moore’s quote is a bit more colorful but anyway.  Come up with something new to say about your topic.  Recycling is good.  Ebola is bad.  Um, yeah.  We know that.  Tell is something exciting and new and different.

3.  Do not lecture.  That’s pretty self-explanatory.  Your reader isn’t going to sit through a lecture or a sermon.

4.  Do not create a product that tastes like medicine.  Good for you but bad tasting is still bad tasting.  Make it wonderful!

5.  The Left is boring.  In truth, political agendas are boring.  You can be politican on facebook.  Be genuine in your writing.

6.  Go after the real villains.  This one is tough in children’s nonfiction.  It is a matter of balance because if you go too far you will be accused of writing a manifesto.  Yes, my editor said that.

7.  Make your article or book personal.  Write about things you care about.  When you do, your passion and enthusiasm will carry your reader along.

8.  Point your camera at the cameras.  With children’s writing, I’m not sure you should do this in the text itself.  This is why I’m right and the mainstream is wrong.  But do be prepared to tell a potential editor or publisher why your work is better than what is already in print on the same topic.

9.  Books and TV have nonfiction figured out.  Moore means that they know how to tell a good nonfiction story.  He wants screen writers to do this for the big screen.  I want you to study nonfiction storytelling on tv and in books.  There’s a lot of great material already out there.  No your competition!

10.  Tell the story that disagrees with you.  Don’t assume that you know all there is to know about your topic.  Dig for the sources that contradict your opinion.  You might find yourself changing your mind.

11.  Does each chapter or section that you write move you.  If not, find a way to make your writing more dramatic.  Make it matter.

12.  Less is more.  This is my personal favorite. When you are done, go through your work with a pen and cut, cut, cut.  Yes, on paper.  You’ll cut more that way.

13.  Sound is more important than picture.  In this one, Moore is talking about the importance of sound to film.  We don’t have that but your writing does need to engage as many senses as possible.  Go beyond sight!

I’ve condenced this like mad.  Go here to read Moore’s full speech.