Every facet of life provides ample opportunity for story. The tidal wave of blogs that course across the internet daily are evidence that even the most mundane of life experiences can be told as a story. Whether or not that story is good is entirely up to the story-teller.
It’s true that I prefer a hearty novel to a nonfiction book most days of the week, but on occasion a nonfiction book will grab me in such a way that I cannot put it down. This is typically due in small part to the subject of the story being told, and in large part to the person who told the story.
The books that grab and hold my attention most are those that fall into the Creative Nonfiction category. These writers aren’t just giving me facts – they’re telling me a story. It’s a true story, but the details are so vivid that I am drawn to the subjects as equally as I am a character in a novel.
Last year, a friend gave me the book Unbroken, by Laura Hildebrand. I knew she was the author of Seabiscuit, a creative nonfiction book that became a blockbuster movie, but I’d never had any desire to read any of her works.
“Trust me,” my friend said when she noticed the doubtful look on my face. “You’ll love this book.” She handed it to me, and I sort of nodded my head, agreeing to try it out, but I didn’t really plan on finishing the book. It took me two weeks to even muster up the desire to read the first page. When I finally started reading, I couldn’t stop.
I was immediately drawn into the life of Louis Zamperini, and I stayed up until the wee hours of the night devouring the story that played out like a movie on the pages. The book read like a novel, and I could not put it down.
The power of creative nonfiction is the ability to tell a true story in a way that leaves readers forever impacted. <—Click to tweet!
Great nonfiction requires many of the things that great fiction requires. You need a good story with a narrative arc, dramatic tension and interesting characters. You want to utilize dialogue and metaphors, and a writing style that keeps readers moving fluidly from one sentence to the next.
Creative Nonfiction is a relatively youthful genre, however. Nonfiction as most of us know it is much more informative, focusing more on facts than description. It can be academic or inspirational, biographical or historical, but it is meant to inform more than entertain, and for some this is a much easier style of book to read.
The beauty of nonfiction is that it doesn’t have to follow a mold. It can be written in poetic prose, in dramatic dialogue, or in straightforward facts. There are a few things that every nonfiction book needs, however, in order to be effective.
You need a subject people are interested in reading, you must conduct killer research, and you have to tell the facts in a way that makes us want to keep reading. It’s also imperative that you know exactly what message you’re trying to convey in your book.
Are you trying to tell a story?
Are you offering encouragement to a group of people (women, men, young moms, teachers, teenagers, etc…)?
Do you want to challenge your readers to think, or do you simply want to give them an escape from their day?
Is this book a how-to, offering readers advice and pointers on whatever subject you’ve chosen for them?
The point is, you must know who you’re writing to, and why you are writing to them. The main point of your message must be clear and concise before you begin the writing process or you will write in circles throughout the entire book.
It must also be noted that, if the outline is important for the fiction writer, it is crucial for the nonfiction writer. You cannot begin to write a nonfiction book with only a beginning, middle, and end in mind. You must, in fact, have each chapter laid out and planned in order to begin.
Research is the key component that separates a good nonfiction book from a great one. You must be the expert on your topic. You can’t guess or assume when writing nonfiction, because you simply cannot state assumed ideas as fact.
I’m speaking in generalized terms, of course. The spectrum of topics one could write on is nearly limitless, so to cover the needs of every style and genre of nonfiction would be impossible. The point is to realize that nonfiction does not have to be dry or academic. It doesn’t have to be flowery or punchy. By employing the benefits of storytelling, you can write nonfiction in a way that keeps readers engaged and, in the end, teaches them something new, opening the world to new ideas and information, and isn’t that the point of writing?
We’ll talk later about how to write a killer nonfiction book proposal, the second most important skill to that of writing the outline.
What is your favorite nonfiction book? What about it drew you in?
This is part of a 31 Day series on becoming an author. To read all the posts in this series, click here. To stay up to date on my daily posts through email subscription, enter your email address in the top left corner.