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Jo Ann Beard, "The Fourth State of Matter" originally appeared in The New Yorker, A question for nonfiction writing students: When writing a true story based on actual events, how does the narrator create dramatic tension when most readers can be expected to know what happens in the end?

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Read the essay here subscription required. Ask yourself: Where can I condense this? Finally, as every writer knows, writing is a muscle, and the more you keep exercising, the better shape you'll be in. But where I see most people tripping up is in describing everything and showing next to nothing.

Do I repeat myself anywhere? If something reads somewhat disingenuous, or you're only telling half the truth — know that readers and editors can smell it a mile away.

This essay is a great example of a writer communicating a very specific experience in universal terms that the reader can empathize with. If you can tell your story honestly and with vulnerability, it is a real gift to give your reader. The essay then ends back in those woods — chronologically, we're in the same moment we started, but are left with my aha moment, and a clear sense of how my perspective changed.

Then I recommend starting your essay at that scene, and going from there.

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