Reworked ChronologIc Structure

For any number of wise reasons—logical, aesthetic, or otherwise— you may decide that a linear, chronologic structure doesn't fit for a particular piece of creative nonfiction. You may turn to the fiction writer for a model of structure that could work better for your purposes. For example, you may drastically reorder chronology by opening up an article or book with a scene that in real time belongs elsewhere in the story, even at the very end.

Tom Wolfe opened The Right Stuff, for example, right in the middle of an emotionally moving episode in the life of Jane Conrad as she awaits possible news that her husband's plane has just crashed. The episode is not truly "in the middle of things," but the later chapters do go back to earlier years. Wolfe didn't open by telling us that he was about to tell the story of the astronauts' lives; he didn't tell us about the structure of NASA or the Navy fighter pilot training program; and he didn't tell us that Pete Conrad would survive to become an astronaut. Wolfe took us first into the compelling emotions of a twenty-one-year-old wife of a twenty-year-old fighter pilot as they began married life, a life that would bring to her many moments of terror. The result? We're immediately involved. We're not concerned about all the background. We can't become interested in the astronaut training program until we become involved at a human level with the people participating in it—and Tom Wolfe does this for us. He does it throughout this exemplary book of creative non-fiction, getting us into the mind of someone and then coming out to look around at what's happening.

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