Writing Non-fiction

Like any other product, your content has to satisfy a market need. So your non-fiction proposal should begin by addressing this, as it is the first thing your editor will look for. A lot of writers will tell you that writing nonfiction is easier than writing fiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s less work to get it ready for the publishing process. While fiction writers often use a basic outline and then go wherever the story and characters take them, nonfiction takes careful planning before you even start writing. To get you started, the steps below explain what I have found over the years to work as a sound basis of how to write a nonfiction book.

Be clear on your objective:

Before you embark on your writing journey, you need to know why you’re going on this journey in the first place. What is it you want your reader to know? What do you hope to make them think or feel or do once they’ve read your book? Do you want to explain a topic that you’re passionate about? Or do you want to share a story that will inspire or guide your reader?

Showing and Telling

Expository nonfiction is not so much about telling as it is about showing. Here you focus less on the narrative and more on explaining a topic. Textbooks, self-help books, and how-to books are all expository.

Narrative nonfiction is nonfiction that tells a story. Some other subgenres of nonfiction are narrative too: memoir, autobiography, and biography, for instance, also tell a story. With this kind of writing, it’s all about telling.

Drafting an outline

This is important since it will help you ensure that you cover everything you want to say. An easy way to draft an outline is to follow these steps:

· Write down the main parts of your book’s structure. If you’re going with a narrative style, these will be the beginning, middle, and end parts, in whichever order you decide to tell them. For expository nonfiction, you’ll write down the different main topics you’re going to cover.

· Now consider each part separately. Write down all the points you want to cover in that part.

Look at all these sub-points and see what you can combine, what you need to separate into different points, which points can be sub-points of others, and so on.

· Decide in which order you want to discuss each sub-point. There may be overlap, so you’ll have to decide where you want to discuss the sub-point in more depth and where you just want to touch on it.

· Decide how much space you want to give each sub-point. This will help keep you from rambling on and on about something that’s not that important in the bigger scheme of things.

Remember that your outline is not set in stone. During your research you may, for example, come across something that you haven’t thought of before and that you’d like to cover as well. Throughout the writing process, you can still chop and change things as you need to.

Decide on your style-guide

A style guide is a set of guidelines that will help you be consistent in your writing. It can cover anything from whether you’ll be using the first person or the second person to little details like whether or not to write out numbers. It’s not strictly necessary to choose a style guide before you start writing, but it will make the process much easier. Writing in a consistent style right from the start will save you time later on.

Once you have an outline, you’ve actually done most of the difficult work. With a style guide to help you take care of the little details, it’s now only a matter of getting your ideas on paper—or in your computer.

Some readers steer clear of nonfiction because they think it’s just a collection of boring old facts, with nothing exciting happening. This is really just because they haven’t read a good nonfiction book yet. Nonfiction can be just as much of a thrill to read as fiction: maybe even more so, because you know that what you’re reading about has really happened.

For you as a nonfiction author, the challenge is not just to choose a story to tell but also to choose a story that your readers will find compelling. What you may find interesting may not necessarily be something that will appeal to readers. Any story - even if it’s true, and even if it’s not really that compelling in itself - becomes instantly more compelling if you set the scene. You want to draw your readers in and make them feel like they’re right there with you.

In writing nonfiction, you may be reluctant to use dialogue. You need to stick to the truth, after all. However, there are ways to incorporate dialogue without losing credibility. You may find quotes from interviews, transcripts, court documents and the like.

Be a little wary of using representative dialogue. Your credibility could be at stake! This is where you don’t quote what the person actually said but create dialogue from what they may have said, but it still needs to sound authentic. Consider the person’s speech patterns, accents, phrases they’re known to use and the context in which they’re speaking.

Using Plain Language

While you may be tempted to show off your great vocabulary, you need to remember that first and foremost, you’re trying to communicate effectively. If nobody understands the words you use, how will they understand your message? Simplifying your language doesn’t mean you’re dumbing down your message - You can still explain complicated concepts, but it will get the message across more effectively. It will also make the text more conversational, as if you’re talking directly to your reader—and it will keep your book from becoming dull.

Research! Research! Research!

While nonfiction tells a story, it’s ultimately about facts. To have any credibility as a nonfiction writer, you need to be able to back up those facts. Even if you’re writing a memoir, you need to get the facts right. Do you have the dates right? Are you sure about the timeline of events? Was that building there, in that street, at the time you’re writing about? In the age of Google, there’s no excuse for not doing your research, so dig deep.

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