Jeanette Taylor

About Jeanette Taylor

Jeanette Taylor has four nonfiction books in print, on the history of the British Columbia coast. She’s a nonfiction writing instructor and coach; and she regales passengers aboard the historic Columbia III with coastal tales. Jeanette can otherwise be found in the office of her 120-year-old log house on Quadra Island, overlooking orchards, gardens, fields and the sea. She’s currently at work on a history of the colonial era, told through one man’s experiences.

When and How Should the Nonfiction Writer Offer Insights

When Should the Nonfiction Author Interrupt a Story to Offer Insights?
Readers of nonfiction want glimmers of author interpretation, either within an underlying narrator’s ‘voice’, or overtly in first-person—but doing so in my current piece, a history of a privately-owned 694-acre island, is difficult. Lots of ‘facts’ have been lost and I’m not comfortable about speculating—though I do have educated guesses. Instead I left readers to their own conclusions in a first draft that chronicles the stories of aboriginal people, European royalty, an heiress, and a murder victim.

But reviewers of that draft have wanted more. “You write the story without […]

Tips for organizing research materials

Tips for Organizing Research Material for a Nonfiction Writing Project
Nonfiction projects, whether it’s a memoir, an essay about a natural disaster, or a community history, are backed by research. For memoir there are clippings, journals and contemporary accounts. The essay involves interviews; as does the history, along with archival records. And each of those research forays adds to a growing stack of digital and paper documents.
Techniques for Creating Order Out of Chaos

For many writers this log jam of details becomes a troublesome impasse. Here’s some techniques for organizing that paper stack, based upon my current history project. Twin Islands, […]

When is a draft manuscript ready for review?

When is a draft manuscript ready for feedback?
Writers ache to share their literary darlings with others, but therein lurks danger. To the writer, those first few chapters—or even a first full draft—are loaded with the sparkle of a rough-cut gem. But that’s not how an unskilled test reader will perceive it. Much of its strengths still remain in the writer’s imagination, in what Ann Lamott calls The Shitty First Draft, in her witty essay of that title. What will stand out like inflamed scars to a spouse or friend are grammar issues, a bumpy story flow, and characters lacking […]

What Drove Europeans to Settle in 20th century Canada?

Leaving Behind the Known World:
The James and Isabella Robb Family of Comox, BC
This is the first in a series of mini-portraits of 20th century immigrants to British Columbia, exploring what compelled them to leave their homes–and what they found in their new lives.

James and Isabella Robb were among the first settlers in the Comox Valley, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Unlike many of their peers, James had savings to help them get established. He was a master brewer in London,[1] which provided a comfortable but limited income—with not enough to spare to nudge his children above the […]

Publishing a memoir may require buy-in from others

Is Consent Needed from Others for Personal Writing ?
Many personal writing projects get shelved at the concept stage because of fears about how others portrayed might respond. What’s lost is not just a writer’s search for personal meaning, but insights for others too—in that premature decision. Premature, says writing instructor Annette Yourk, because the time to consider others is years down the road, after a second, or even a third, draft is complete. Lots of things will change in the process. You’ll cut some stories (and some people) during redrafting, and one of your subjects may no longer be […]

The opening of both fiction and nonfiction requires skillful crafting.

The Complex Craft of the Opening Paragraph in Fiction & Nonfiction 
The first paragraph of a piece of writing must be impeccably crafted. And that’s just the start of what’s required to draw readers in. A structure and purpose should be evident, promising revelations ahead. Period and place is established to ground readers in the situation. Tension, which may be as simple as an underlying narrator’s need to know why, simmers just below the surface—and there are hints of more ahead.

And that’s not all. Whether readers know it or not, they seek connection with a central character from the outset, […]

Choose Words that Breath Life Into Writing

Specific Details Fully Engage Readers’ Minds
Deliver need-to-know background details at a rapid clip, but for transformative drama slow the pace and inject life with the sparkle of sensory and specific details. This is the passage readers will remember years later because it lit up the frontal cortex of their brains, where experiences are processed.

Show (rather than simply tell) fiction and nonfiction readers what a character experienced as he paddled up a river.  Be specific. It wasn’t just any river. It was the Courtenay River on the BC coast in the fall of 1862, when the water was alive with the […]

Nonfiction Writers Must Delve Deep Into Their Characters’ Lives

Writing about People in Nonfiction
Intriguing people are at the heart of most stories and you need to know them intimately, whether you’re writing a community history, a travel piece, a memoir or a biography.

Hemingway advised writers to compile comprehensive information about their lead character’s personality and life. Only the tip of an iceberg of details will show in the final piece, he advised, but all of it informs your storytelling.

Compile Everything Known into a Chronological List

There are multiple benefits to such a list. It underscores gaps where more research is needed; and periods of intense accomplishments or duress (great story dynamics!) It may point to anomalies in this […]

Write clear, bold sentences in an ‘active voice’

Write Straight to the Point
The passive voice—with its side stepping, roundabout phrasing—lacks clarity, punch and immediacy. Many of us speak in this suggesting-things way, but when it slips into our writing it both deadens the impact and requires more words.

I know this, but in a bid to strike a conversational tone, a passive style sometimes slips into my writing and hides there, true to its obsequious nature, through multiple edits.

Like many Canadians, my initial attempts at an active writerly voice seemed brash, brazen and downright rude. But it’s not. It’s the basis of clear, forthright and succinct communication.
Examples of Passive and Active […]

Two Mysterious Deaths in the Nixon Family of Twin Islands, BC

The Mysterious Deaths of Harpur and Margaret Nixon of Twin Islands, BC
Reverend Harpur Colville Nixon, a well-to-do Anglo-Irish gentleman, bought Twin Islands, BC in 1912 or 1913. He and his wife had a farm on Denman Island so this new place was purchased as a haven for himself and his second eldest son James–who was just 23 when he married a 48-year-old widow named Margaret (Street) Butler in Vancouver in 1912. The newlyweds were a sociable couple who made friends with the Mansons of nearby Cortes Island, who preserved most of what’s known about these intriguing people.

Margaret was an Englishwoman who had trained as a […]