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I've just started reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and it strikes me, when reading about his obsession with Arsenal that I too have an obsession - with words.

I would like to write a creative non-fiction book about this obsession and the effect it has had on my life. And yes, the irony (if that's the right word) is fully evident to me: that writing down a whole set of words about an obsession with words is like pouring petrol on a fire.

Thing is - I'm not really sure how to approach this project. I mean - the story doesn't really have an end because I'm still writing. And, actually - it's not even a story - just a collection of anecdotes really. Plus, I can't see how it fits into any plot structure - there just doesn't seem to be any arc to it. Add to that the problem that there's only one character (me). All I have really is a theme - obsession.

So here's my question: how can I wrap a plot, story, character-set and a satisfying ending around a bare idea (obsession with words) that seems to have none of these things?


Research: Actually, How about a story as a series of anecdotes? is quite useful. A couple of the answers go some way to addressing my issue, but not all the way because that question relates to fiction and mine relates to non-fiction. Plus my project has more challenges than just the absence of plot.

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    I don't get it. Is your goal to write some sort of help guide for people struggling with this obsession? Do you want to write poetry to make your obsession clear to others? Are you planning to write a book about your life with you as the main character, your life as the story and your struggle in dealing with this obsession as your plot? I don't get what your goal is. There's a lot you can do with a theme, but it's only a starting point and you still have all ways open for using this theme in any style you like. Why does the idea exclude certain types of writing in your eyes? – Secespitus Jun 6 '18 at 10:34
  • @Secespitus - option three please: a book about my life with me as the main character, my life as the story and my struggle in dealing with this obsession as my plot. You make it all seems so simple - thank you. ;) – robertcday Jun 6 '18 at 10:38
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    @robertcday is it something you want to publish? If so, you may struggle up against the likes of Annie Dillard, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert and Stephen King who've all written anecdotally about their writing life. You could make it a novel, tying all your interesting anecdotes into a fictional story about a man obsessed with words and stories. It could make for an interesting tale ... maybe he falls in love with a deaf and dumb woman who refuses to speak and only sign a la Children of a Lesser God and he has to choose between love and his obsession. Just a thought! – GGx Jun 6 '18 at 16:56
  • And it's a good thought, @GGx - thanks for taking the time to express it. :) – robertcday Jun 6 '18 at 17:06
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It seems like your idea does have all the components of a story. You have a main character, you, and a plot, your obsession with words affecting your life. Even if it seems like you don't have a story because a lack of a concrete, prototypical plot/character arc, you've got one in hiding. Given this, there are several approaches you could use.

1. A series of anecdotes (as you've pointed out).

The key to this approach is selecting the right anecdotes and placing them in the correct order to create an arc. It may start with you as a child, obsessing over poems, moving to you as a teenager losing sleep while reading/writing, and ending with you as an adult writing this piece. Even if it seems like that doesn't have a plot, it does. There's a character developing as the story progresses in time. Your job as a writer is then to connect these seemingly unrelated events by injecting tension, character depth, and release.

2. A series of vignettes.

This has the advantage of flexibility in ordering if you make them vague enough. You could potentially order the anecdotes or stories from most to least egregious examples of your obsession, allowing you to create a buildup in tension, a climax, and resolution.

3. Make up a plot to tie together your anecdotes.

Last (and certainly not least, I'm sure there are plenty more ways to go about this project), you could insert a plot, even if in real life it wasn't there. This strays into creative fiction, but it does allow for a more traditional story structure than just a series of anecdotes. Take your anecdotes and tie them together with a more concrete plot. Maybe your obsession with words as a child leads to a drug addiction as an adult (even though this didn't actually happen). This is the "based on a true story" type of project, and could potentially be a lot of fun given your main character is so closely tied to your real self. This approach is about creating a coherent plot, not finding one as the previous two imply.

I'd recommend starting by writing your anecdotes without an eye to a larger story. You may see a story developing in one of these areas as you write your anecdotes. Or, if one of these sounds like an interesting direction, jump right in. In any case, you'll be leveraging your real life experiences to create a story. The creating is the important part; even non-fiction writers must inject some kind of narrative into their work whether it's about Abraham Lincoln or a description of bumblebees. The key is picking up on, or creating, a latent plot hidden beneath what you may consider to be random or disconnected facts/happenings.

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