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Non-fiction Structure

If you're a non-fiction writer (other than inspirational articles and devotionals) this is the place for you.

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Non-fiction Structure

Postby WriteTight » Mon Nov 11, 2013 6:48 pm

Hi Everyone,

When writing non-fiction, in my experience it's best to choose a structure and stick with it. Here's an example some authors use:

-Open with a Scripture or quote
-Tell an analogy
-Teach the concept
-Wrap it up with some questions or reflections

Do you follow a structure in your writing, or just roll with it chapter by chapter?


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Re: Non-fiction Structure

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 11, 2013 7:18 pm

Adam, I don't write much non-fiction, but if I were to do so, I'd avoid opening with a scripture or a quote. When I give writing lessons, I advise against it, for the following reasons:

1. When a reader sees a scripture or a quote before the text of the essay (or devotional, or what-have-you), it is usually set apart by italics or an extra space. It's natural for the eye to skip right to the "real" text, and then that scripture or quote is missed altogether. If it's important to you that the reader encounter that scripture or quote, I advise that it should be incorporated into the body of the text, where it is less likely to be skipped.

2. Starting with a scripture or a quote is done very frequently--it's almost an expected formula for writing of this sort. I encourage writers to break out of that structure, and to try something new and different. Indeed, it's because it's so often done that the "skipping" that I described in #1 happens. The reader thinks, "I'll just skip this and get to the meat of the piece." Even if the reader doesn't think that consciously, it's a natural action.

Incidentally, I also strongly advise against starting with a dictionary definition--just about the worst thing you can do. If your article contains a term that's unknown to most of your readers, give them a definition within the text. But don't open with a definition, and particularly not with a definition of a word that people know already.

With all that in mind, there are lots of creative ways to open a piece of nonfiction. You want to grab your readers' interest--depending on the subject matter, you could open with an amusing personal anecdote, with a shocking statistic, with a hypothetical (or real) person experiencing the situation you're about to write about, a mysterious situation that will be answered as the reader moves through the material...

I'm not sure it's always best to use the same structure when you're writing, either. You don't want to be predictable--to give the reader any reason to stop reading. If your structure causes your reader to feel as if he (or she) has already "been there, done that," then you've lost a reader. There's no reason that nonfiction shouldn't be as creative as fiction. The more you find ways to make your nonfiction new, different, and fresh, the more likely you will be to build and keep your readership.

Well, that was more than my "two cents worth." Your post just happened to touch on something that's very important to me. I'd love to know your thoughts on this--particularly if you disagree with anything I've posed here (it's fine if you do--I can take it).

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Re: Non-fiction Structure

Postby oursilverstrands » Sat Nov 23, 2013 12:29 pm

Sorry Adam that I'm a Johnny-come-lately to this post. For all the reasons that Jan mentioned, I never begin a non-fiction piece with scripture, even if it's a devotional.

Catching the reader's attention is always a fond challenge for me, so I give extra attention to the opening sentence.

Your "formula" seems more like an outline for teaching a Bible class. In my view, non-fiction writing should be just as creative as fiction. My church supplies each member with quarterly Daily Devotional which is a compilation of many writers like Swindoll and Max Lucado. It's a delight to read their non-fiction devotionals, not just because of the lessons they teach, but also because of the creative way they're written.

I'm curious to know what you mean by "chapter by chapter." Are you writing a non-fiction book?


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