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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Non-Fiction & Fiction: Not So Different After All

We are so excited for long-time QueryTracker member, Michelle Mclean, whose first book, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, was recently released. 

Michelle writes non-fiction and fiction and was kind enough to write an article for QT on the requirements of both. We are thrilled to feature her today. Thanks, Michelle.

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I always used to think that fiction and non-fiction were worlds apart, completely different things. And they are in some respects. But when it comes right down to it, non-fiction and fiction really aren’t so different. For both genres you need to:

Be aware of your audience – write using language and scenarios appropriate for your target audience. You shouldn’t pepper your non-fiction book with undecipherable technical jargon or pages of high-level, field-specific terminology and examples if your book is geared toward younger students or the general public…anymore than you should describe horrific murder scenes or other graphic imagery in a child’s picture book.

Stick to your point – in non-fiction, especially with projects like essays and term papers, this point is spelled out in your thesis and your entire paper should be focused on proving and supporting your thesis. For fiction, this often translates into the main motivation or goal of your main character. If the entire point of the book is for your main character to save the world, then everything that happens in the book should be leading your main character to the desired end.

Watch flow, pacing, and word count – no matter what genre you are writing in, there is almost always an accepted guideline for how long your project should be. Whether it be a “sweet-spot” word count range for a novel, a contracted word count length for a non-fiction book, or a page requirement for a writing assignment, you will almost always have some sort of length goal to meet. You need to be sure that the pacing and flow of whatever you are writing will hold up till the last page and is appropriate for the project at hand. Your projects need pacing quick enough to hold your audience’s interest but not so quick you lose them, with scenes and arguments and evidence laid out in a logical and well-flowing manner.

Make it matter – regardless of what you are writing, you want it to matter to your audience. The last thing you want to do is bore them or lose them. So make every word matter. Be economical – reading can be hard work, it’s time-consuming. Don’t make your audience work harder to get your point than they need to. Keep it active – nothing is more boring than reading a book of passive sentences. Keep it logical – who wants to be more confused at the end of your piece than they were at the beginning? Above all – make it matter! Give your audience a reason to care….a reason to care what happens to your main character; a reason to care about your thesis; a reason to care about whatever it is you are writing about.

In the end, all writing is the same. Non-fiction writers, fiction writers…we all want the same thing. To connect with our audience and make them care about what we are writing.

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Michelle McLean is a writer and the Chief Editorial Consultant for PixelMags, LLC. In addition to her non-fiction work, Michelle writes YA historical novels and other children’s books. If she's not editing, reading or chasing her kids, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book.

Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers is a fun, user-friendly book that guides the reader, step by step, through writing a dozen different types of essays, including the dreaded SAT essay. Using straightforward, plain English, this book shows the reader exactly what they need to do, from start to finish, and includes rough draft, edited, and final draft versions of every type of essay discussed. This book also provides chapters that include tips and instruction on researching, proofreading, and citations.


B.J. Anderson said...

Great article, Michele! And congratulations on the book release!

Renae said...

Congrats on the book release Michelle! So excited for you!

Julie Musil said...

Congratulations on your book release! I write both fiction and nonfiction, and yes, there are plenty of similarities. Great post.

Suzette Saxton said...

Great advice! Can't wait to give this book to my teenage son. =) Congrats!

Stina said...

This is a great comparison, though I still prefer writing fiction over non-fiction. ;)

Skipperhammond@gmail.com said...

Would literary writers agree that the reader should not be more confused at the end than at the beginning?