By Peggy Thomas
For anyone who is leery of leaping into nonfiction writing, I’d like to suggest Nonfiction-lite. Adding a nonfiction element to your fictional project. One way is by adding nonfiction back matter. This works especially well if there is an historic or scientific element to your story.
For example, in How Fire Ants Got Their Fire, a fictional origin story, fellow Ninja Susan Kralovansky added a recipe for the main character’s “prizewinnin’ chili.” But what I like most is the creative way that she included facts about fire ants on the end pages. Each fact is displayed on a chili pepper.
My good friend Kathleen Blasi’s sweet story called Milo’s Moonlight Mission follows the main character, Milo, as he helps his mother do all of her chores so she can accompany Captain Milo on his space launch. But when they hear about a meteor storm, they prepare for a new mission. Based on a real experience, Kathy added back matter that explains what a comet is and when to watch the Leonid Meteor shower each year. There is even a call to action as she asks readers if they will set their alarm to watch the next one.
One more example comes from fellow Ninja Lisa Amstutz. Her picture book called, Finding a Dove for Gramps, follows a boy and his mother as they participate in the Christmas Bird Count. Tension rises when the one bird they most hope to find proves elusive. In the back matter Lisa added a short description of the Bird Count, how to join, and most fun of all, a checklist of birds so readers can join in the hunt.
Adding nonfiction back matter to a fictional story adds educational value that librarians and teachers love, and added sales value that editors appreciate.
So, what kind of back matter could you add to your writing project? A recipe, craft, game, fun facts, background info, call to action…?
Leap in! Nonfiction is fun!
Peggy Thomas is the author of dozens of award-winning nonfiction titles including Lincoln Clears a Path.
by Christine Liu-Perkins
Powerful nonfiction draws readers in by exploring some aspect of being human. As Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato wrote, ". . . you find your narrative by humanizing your story" (Thinking Like Your Editor, p. 192).
Even in writing about science and nature, "Create a connection between your subject and your reader's life," advised Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Anatomy of Nonfiction, p. 155).
I learned the value of building on a human connection when I was assigned to write about the Temple of Heaven located in Beijing. My first draft described the temple's architecture and its (very cool) hidden symbolism. I used lively language and a sense of progression. I included wow-type details. Surely readers would find the temple as awesome as I did.
But in reading it over, I sensed that draft still lacked something. It was dry; it was boring. What was missing?
I pulled back and started wondering, WHO used the temple? What did they use it for?
I dug deeper into the research. The answer was emperors. Considered to be mediators between heaven and earth, the emperors themselves performed ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven. These ceremonies involved three days of fasting and mental preparation, a parade of some 3,500 people, and elaborate sequences of offerings and prayers.
Eureka! Here was the focus I needed to help readers connect to the temple. Describing the emperor's actions and his desire for heaven's blessings brought the article to life and gave readers a way to feel the significance of the temple.
Question for you: in your current project, can you amplify a human connection to deepen the reader's experience?
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.