My most recent batch of students is busy writing away. They are deep enough into their work that they are attempting to create scenes. A nonfiction scene is a lot like a fiction scene in that it is a great way to pull your reader into the story. It uses dialogue and characters, setting and action. Unlike the fiction scene, it all has to be true.
That means that if you include dialogue, you have to have dialogue to quote. It has to be word for word.
That means that if you find “someone mentioned needing to buy new shoes” in a source, that is all you can write. You cannot write ‘One of the students said, “I need to buy new shoes.” Nope. The problem is that the quotation marks imply that it is a direct quote. To use the quotation marks, you need to have found those exact words. “And I said to him I need to buy new shoes.” “Marcus said to me, ‘I need to buy new shoes.'” Something like that.
There are times that you have a bit of wiggle room. When I wrote about a family of armadillos, I could describe the four young armadillos digging into the dirt and tearing into a fallen log when they heard insects. Why? Because they are typical armadillo behaviors.
But when I wrote about the protests in Ferguson in Black Lives Matter, I couldn’t say that a protestor did X or a protestor did Y unless I had that information from my source material. Even if X and Y are both fairly innocuous actions, when I’m talking about people, I need to know that someone did it. Otherwise I have to say, a protestor may have done X or may have done Y and that isn’t the sort of thing my editor is going to let stand.
Creating a scene can be tricky but if you have the facts to pull it together it is one of the best ways to pull a reader into your writing.