Hey, writer-person. Wanna be successful at writing non-fiction articles? Ask any pro and they will tell you about the always-works way to write non-fiction stories especially those “how to write” screeds that other writers can’t seem to get enough of. You’ve seen this rubric before, no doubt, so let’s get started!
1 — Tell people what you are going to tell them.
2 — Tell them.
3 — Tell them what you told them.
For example, in writing this instructive piece I am starting out explaining how I will tell you how to structure a non-fiction article. For purposes of this article, I am currently explaining what I will tell you. What is it that I’m trying to convey here? It’s about how to write a non-fiction article, of course.
Okay, let that sink in until you fully understand it. Now, let’s move on to the second section.
I am telling you what I said I would tell you. Please note carefully how I am going about this part of the 3-part structure. I am explaining what you are telling the reader about what you’re telling them. Straightforward? You bet, but just a minute. Did you really tell the reader what you were going to tell them or did you go off on a tangent? Remember, it’s all about fulfilling your promise.
Last, I am telling you what I just told you about writing a non-fiction article. I am re-explaining the 3-part structure so that it re-enforces your understanding of how to do this. This is the most important part: telling people what you told them so it sticks in their mind. In this case, I am telling you to repeat what you told them. It’s what readers want and expect from a professional writer who abides by the 3-part structure.
What about the traditional 5-part structure for fiction? Good question. It’s different.
Finally, I have reached my true calling. I am the world’s most accomplished (and best loved) grave robber. I owe it all to the Japanese concept known as Ikigai.
As many of you know, Ikigai is a way to learn what you should be doing with your life. Let me show you how the four principles have helped to shape my blessed and awesome lifestyle of excavating those from the hereafter.
What you are good at. How could I not be good at something that I feel passionate about i.e., freeing a dead body from its earthly prison, giving it new life in a medical school, a necrophiliac’s basement or placed in someone’s bed to persuade them to do the ‘right thing.’ We all want to help others live in God’s light, don’t we? If I can be part of that then I’m totally on board.
I am so proficient at grave robbing that I even invented a special device to help expedite the process. I fastened a flashlight to my hat so both hands are free. Yes, I know that miners have been doing this for years, but I’m doing it overground.
What you love. I admit it. I’m a cadaver whore. The exhilaration of anticipating how far a corpse has rotted, watching the joyous maggots living their own peak lives (insects benefit from Ikigai, too) and the ghastly stench that propels me into cosmic consciousness are special gifts. It’s like Christmas morning in the dead of night whenever I’m lifting carcasses. When I thrust the spade into soft earth it’s like, dare I say it… sex. And when I feel that first shovel-tap on the casket…
What the world needs. Grave robbing has a long and cherished tradition in art and literature. (Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, yo.) Sadly, it’s become a lost practice. I don’t know what’s with young people these days that they don’t want to do this kind of work. They think it’s beneath them or something to wear a top hat and torn slicker while skulking through graveyards. There’s a growing movement to bring back artisan handicrafts like pickling, knitting, or making clothes from hemp. In a world full of digital this and virtual that, I am doing my part to promote old world, shovel-in-hand skills. You’re welcome.
What you can get paid for. Are you kidding me? Do you know what a corpse goes for these days? A pretty penny, I tell you. I’ve got orders backed into next year. It’s supply and demand, baby. With so many people wanting dead bodies and few of us offering this service, I have job security like you wouldn’t believe.
You know how your parents were always telling you to have something to fall back on if your writing career didn’t pan out. Grave robbing is the key to lifelong financial security. Career tip: Find a guy who buys rings and other jewelry items without asking too many questions. You make bank both ways. That’s good biz in today’s gig economy.
In conclusion, I know that grave robbing isn’t right for everybody, but is it right for you? Keep digging (if you know what I mean) until you find your own calling through Ikigai.
Mahatma, “America’s Favorite Rice,” confirmed that it has delivered 200, 5-lb. bags of Enriched Extra Long Grain White Rice to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC to be used by investigators who retrieved thousands of waterlogged cell phones tossed into the Potomac River by rioters who threw them out of bus and car windows as they departed the nation’s capital.
“They think they’re so darn smart, discarding their phones from bridges so we couldn’t trace their movements,” said FBI spokesperson Stan Dashower. “We Googled how to get data from wet cell phones and it turns out that you let them sit in rice. Did you know that? Yeah, it soaks up the water.”
The ploy was discovered when Texas-Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s yacht Donny’s Bitch ran aground under the 14th St. bridge after hitting a mountain of smartphones. Cruz would not comment, but the DC Harbor Patrol said they received a distress call at around 10 pm last night. When they arrived on scene, Cruz’s wife Heidi was throttling the boat back and forth trying to dislodge it from the phone mountain as her husband yelled at her.
“Most of the phones were on the Consumer Cellular and Straight Talk networks,” said Metro PD Captain Marcus Smolens. “We’re not sure how important that fact is right now, but we’re looking at all the evidence.” Smolens noted that the police would be checking areas under the Key and Memorial Bridges as well.
“We are proud to play a role in helping law enforcement track and identify those who have caused loss of life and property in the Capitol building,” said Mahatma’s Senior Vice President, Marketing John (Jack) MacKeen. “As we all take a moment to reflect on the challenges facing our country, we want all law-abiding Americans to know that we also offer four varieties of boil-in-bag rice, including white rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, and brown rice.”
My friend Horace, well, he’s not actually a friend, more of an acquaintance, handed me a can of worms and said not to open it.
“Why not?” I asked.
He looked at me like I had an extra head, which I often carry around to scare little kids, and said: “Because it’s a can of worms, for god’s sake. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to open it.”
Everyone but me. Apparently. But his admonition scared me enough that instead of opening the can, I set it aside and Googled: ‘What to do with a can of worms.’
The answer came back strong and clear. ‘Don’t open it.’
I was directed to several web pages, one of which relayed the story of a woman named Pandora who was given a jar by Zeus. He was a big deal, king of the Gods, and then there was something about Prometheus stealing fire, yada, yada. Anyway, he warned Pandora not to open the jar, but she did anyway and released all the evils into the world. I wouldn’t want that on my head for eternity. Not only that, but people on the web were arguing about how Pandora’s Jar became Pandora’s Box over centuries of retelling the story. It has to do with translating from Greek to English, but I became bored with the discussion and moved to the next site which offered suggestions about hitting a hornet’s nest with sticks.
‘Don’t do it,” the internet people advised once more. Again with the negativity.
To bolster their position they showed me a video of a guy with a large gut spilling out of his T-shirt holding a beer in one hand and a tree branch in the other whacking the hell out of a hornet’s nest. His friends were laughing as his head grew to twice its size and his eyes swelled shut. They laughed even harder when the medivac helicopter’s downdraft blew the beer out of his hand.
Is this what I have in store if I open my can of worms? Do worms even fly? Are there more evils to be unleashed that I don’t know about?
I stared at the can. Then I stared at the can opener. Then I noticed the pull tab. The universe was telling me to open this can.
So I did.
What was inside? Worms slithering around in dirt and moss, minding their own business except for that one worm, the largest of the lot, who squinted from the light for a few seconds, then looked me squarely in the eye and said: “Now you’re in trouble. Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to open a can of worms?”
He was right. My life is in shambles. I don’t want to talk about it. Trust me; you don’t want to know about it, either. Just know that I am rebuilding my life from scratch.
It’s a long road, but I will get there, because I’m learning from my mistake. Yesterday, I saw a sleeping dog and let him lie.
I am the spokesanimal for Small Animals Against Anthropomorphizing® and we’re pissed off.
You people never seem to understand that every time you give us human characteristics we suffer. Life is difficult enough being a small critter without you piling on the addition of people-type feelings and then projecting your emotional issues on us. Yeah, I’m looking at you C.S. Lewis, A.A Milne, Lewis Carroll, E.B. White and Walt Dis… I can’t even say his name. And what’s with all those letters instead of first names? Ashamed? I thought so.
We have our own problems: pesticides, traps, predators, grimy kids squeezing us to death, pulling off our little legs while dancing (RIP, uncle Benny), feeding us people food — all because people think we love them.
And where do people get the idea that we love them? From your inane, bullshit stories that makes us seem human.
Do you understand the vicious cycle of horror that you wreak upon us?
I know what you’re about to ask me. Aren’t you now exhibiting the human characteristic of anger?
While this makes me appear humanlike it’s not the same. This is bona fide animal fury and my shrink has told me to own it. That’s why our members, including me, don’t need any more emotional projection from you people. Deal with your own shit.
And another thing, when you misspell our written words or make it seem like we’ve got a human child’s fractured vocabulary that’s… that’s… UGH! It gets me so angry that I can’t even talk about it. Don’t even get me started on backwards letters.
Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about dogs and cats. They’ve long ago relinquished any rights to not feel like humans. That was their choice, and it works for them. But for the rest of us, stop making believe that we’re a font of human foibles. It’s damn depressing.
Beware. We’re growing in numbers and keeping track of your transgressions. We’ve received interest in joining our group from insects. Not to mention non-animals like plants, trees, rocks, and vegetables are getting tired of having human emotions thrust upon them just so you can tell one of your feeble tales.
I know what else you’re probably thinking. Doesn’t my plea itself reek of meta self-awareness, a human trait? Screw you. That’s none of your business.
This is your last warning. We’re mad as hell. Though definitely not in a human way! And we’re not going to take it anymore.
Watch out! You have no idea (unless you attribute it to us, you bastards) of how we will seek our revenge.
To whomever (not whoever… right?) finds this letter:
If you’re reading this letter it means I’m dead. Well, maybe not fully dead. Perhaps I’m just rotting in an undisclosed government location waiting to be tortured. Well, not really undisclosed. Obviously, the federal thugs who would have grabbed me out of my bed in the middle of the night know where they put me. Come to think of it, the torture part may be overstating the case, too. At least I hope so.
Anyhoo, things aren’t looking so hot for me, a crack investigative reporter, since I saw a top-secret government report that blows the lid off what Americans really believe about their country. If it’s made public, the social fabric of the United States could fray or unravel or whatever happens when a textile breaks apart.
Bottom line: The U.S. would no longer be a country. It’s unclear what it would become but definitely not a country.
While rumors of the report’s existence have been circulating for at least the past 5 years, it has been kept under wraps. Only a handful of people, like me, who have proof of its existence are, well… I already explained my situation to you.
Alright, I’ve kept you in suspense long enough, and I can see flashing lights outside my window. (Note to self: Hide this letter really, really, really good so THEY don’t find it.)
The official report, titled “The Official Report,” is the result of decades of investigation in which government officials asked Americans under the guise of doing census research whether the following statement was true or false:
We are better than that.
Just like you, I hear this catchphrase all the time. It’s usually coming from some TV talking-head politician or public figure who wants to reassure me that we have the power to correct our mistakes even though we are often called a jerk-face-of-a-country by other nations. What the hell do any of them know about the real us?
Here are some of the study’s responses from honest-to-goodness Americans:
– A 45-year-old mechanic in the Midwest said: “No. We may not be better than that, but we are better than those people.”
– A self-identified Libertarian college student said: “No. It’s up to each of us to decide whether or not we choose to be better than that. That’s my right. Deal with it.”
– A stay-at-home mother in Boston said: “Probably not, but who the hell are you to be asking such a question?” (There were footnotes, but I didn’t have time to read them.)
– A high-tech executive in Austin said: “Negative, bro, but the word ‘better’ is totally a relative term. I’ll loop in my algo team and get back to you.”
– A beet farmer in Louisiana said: “No, sir. That doesn’t sound right to me… who’d you say you were with again?”
With my time running out, (I was allowed eyes-only on the document for 10 minutes) I stopped reading the rest of the interviews and jumped to the findings section, which was broken out into a separate segment marked “Findings.” I quickly wrote down the last paragraphs exactly as presented.
“This non-partisan report took decades to complete and encompasses the views of millions of Americans. Under no circumstances should it be released to the public as it will cause citizens to be more bummed out than they already are. All the data show conclusively that in asking the question presented to Americans: Are we better than that? the resounding answer was ‘no.’
Our recommendation is for our public officials to keep saying, We are better than that, because what the hell else do you suggest?”
I was shaken by the last line. It is so true. What could anyone possibly suggest that might change things?
P.S. — Please send my posthumous journalism award to my sister Diane, and not to my other sister Karen. She’s always been mean to me.
Acting on a tip from a former member of the reggae icon’s band, music historian Alvin Papell has spent the last 12 years collecting evidence that Bob Marley was overly optimistic about the future when he sang ‘Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright.’
Now, he has proof.
“It wasn’t my goal to besmirch the Bob Marley legacy but truth is truth, especially when it comes to catchy, melodic songs, like Three Little Birds, Papell said, during an interview from his home in an undisclosed location surrounded by an electrified, ten-foot fence, topped by razor wire and mean dogs that will bite you. “It’s my job as an honest-to-god music historian to follow the evidence no matter where it leads,” he said, sitting in shadows and using a ridiculous voice-changing machine.
Papell, who gained never-before access to Marley’s private letters and leftover rolling papers with scribbled lyrics said it was clear to him that the musician was obsessively sanguine about the future. “It bordered on Pollyanish positivity,” the researcher said. He conceded that confidence in the future is something we can all use a little more of, especially these days, but that the song pushed unrealistic expectations and “presented his millions of fans worldwide with a false sense of hope and security.”
What was particularly destructive,” the music expert added, “is how many times he repeated the head-in-the-clouds phrase during each performance of the song. Smoking large amounts of ganja can make you forget what you’ve already said.”
Papell, who keeps a pistol in every cabinet and drawer for protection, said: “I cringe every time I watch videos of concerts with rabid fans singing along to these distortions of reality. Most of these young people don’t yet know that life will stomp you down to nothing as you get older especially when you receive a worthless diploma from some on-line university that just takes your money, and then your wife leaves you.”
Not everyone agrees with Papell’s appraisal of the song’s message. Ziggy Marley, son of the reggae legend, said in a prepared statement. “It’s just a song, man. Chill the fuck out.”
The music historian, who is also examining whether the Rhapsody was indeed Bohemian and if Uptown Funk really gave it to you, has also received credible information that perhaps Baby hasn’t got Back. “Again, I’m not trying to take away anyone’s good time, but we need to weed out the dangerous falsehoods and misrepresentations that have characterized the music industry for decades.”
At press time, Papell also revealed that contrary to popular belief Jimmy Buffett was not wasting away in Margaritaville. “All empirical data point to the Trop-Rock singer having only a slight beer buzz,” the heavily-armed historian said.
I remember fondly the moment we met in the souvenir shop at the beach. Me, making believe that I was perusing key chains and bicycle license plates searching for my name. And you, swaying atop the cashier’s desk after some kid flicked you with his grimy finger forcing you to dance. You kept your smile, but I could sense your humiliation at being manhandled for someone’s prurient urges.
I knew that I had to help you escape that horrible place, to protect you from the crude advances of men who only wanted you for one thing.
I have never regretted my decision, not even for a second. Oh, the fun times we had. Driving cross-country in my subcompact car. Remember that time in Montana when we promised each other…
We had a relationship that didn’t know prejudice, only love. We would drive down the street proud of being who we were, not paying attention to the tsk-tsks of those who didn’t understand what was in our hearts or in your hips. We came from two different worlds, but we loved each other and didn’t care who knew it.
We’ve been through a lot of rough times over the years. Remember when I placed you in the middle of the forklift steering wheel so we could be together all work day. My boss called you a distraction. Imagine. The love of my life, a safety hazard. I was given a choice to either remove you or lose my job. I looked, as I often do, to our wedding day: “Let no one tear them asunder,” the justice-of-the-peace said. I took those words to heart and I know, my darling Hula dancer, that you do, too. I found another job and we were free to be husband and plastic-thingie-on-a-spring-with-a-suction-cup.
And remember that time when hooligans broke the driver’s side window and kidnapped you (along with a pen, tire gauge and a pine tree air freshener)? The police laughed when I filed a report, but I scoured the streets and alleys until I found you. Was shooting to death those three boys an overreaction? I don’t think so.
But now, the world has changed, my darling. That face I fell in love with is no longer… how should I put it, ‘accepted’ in today’s social circles. It seems crazy, I know. We’ve always been honest with each other and now is not the time to beat around the grass skirt. Your face is not Hawaiian. It is Caucasian and the forces against cultural appropriation in today’s society are too much for me to bear. (Somebody said it’s because you’re ‘vintage,’ but your religion never mattered to me.) Your eyes are like the stars but, alas, they are blue.
This may be the biggest mistake of my life, but we must part. Even though nobody can ever take your place, Amazon sells culturally-accurate Hula dolls with Polynesian faces and everything. I will miss you, but I’ll be okay.
I worry for you, though. Where will you go; what will you do? Is there a shiny, Armor-Alled dashboard for someone like you in today’s crazy, mixed-up world? I will think about you every time I make a sharp left turn or drive over a bumpy road.
You will forever jiggle in my heart,
Stan with the canary yellow Yaris.
Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now, he’s not — serious, that is.
As local officials struggle how to safely open schools, the Centers for Disease Control announced that it will distribute ‘Magic 8-Balls’ to school administrators to help them make decisions based on the most reliable health information available.
“Sadly, we realize that the issue of school safety has become politicized,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield. “Our initiative will allow school officials to have the most up-to-date, real-time guidance with accuracy and objectivity far beyond anything we could hope for from our laboratory work. Conjecture, politics and especially malarkey, have no place in scientific discourse.”
He noted that when the Magic 8-Ball offers responses like “As I see it, yes,” and “Don’t count on it,” the orb is exhibiting no-nonsense leadership with zero room for interpretation or second guessing. “Above all else, we want the nation’s children to be safe and putting them in the hands of doctors and other ‘so-called’ highly educated and trained professionals is ludicrous in this day and age,” said Redfield.
Redfield, who is a real, honest-to-goodness medical doctor himself, acknowledges the limits of his field. “As researchers continue to learn new aspects about this novel coronavirus, public health officials are being forced to alter treatments and protocols to reflect the latest findings, and that can be quite inconvenient. Not to mention irritating. The Magic 8-Ball will circumvent all this rigmarole so students can get to class and parents can get back to work — safely.” He added that CDC will offer shaking instructions on its website in English and Spanish.
Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has been critical of what he calls ‘a lack of accountability’ at the highest levels of government, said he was optimistic about this new approach. “The President has pushed decisions to the governors, the governors have put it on the shoulders of county executives, and they have passed it down to the city mayors. Finally, we have an apparatus that will take responsibility for our children’s lives.”
The plan is not without controversy, however. Several PTA groups in Texas, for example, called the idea of using a child’s toy to make life and death decisions ridiculous and proposed giving school officials and parents more rational and carefully thought-out tools based on tried-and-true scientific methods.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Sherry Dossman, President of the Texas Parent Teacher Association. “We’re asking parents, teachers and school officials to consider making their decisions using Tarot cards, I Ching sticks and Ouija boards. We’ve also heard from some concerned parents that they are seeking augurs to lead them in divination of sheep entrails. It’s important that we respect everyone’s opinion as we decide how best to open our schools,” she said.
Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now he’s not — serious, that is.