Nonfiction: writing on the cutting edge of truth.


SO YOU WANT to write a narrative nonfiction book.

Go ahead.

It’s a lot like writing a novel.

But there is one difference.

And it is a major difference.

With narrative nonfiction you have to stay on the cutting edge of the truth.

It may not all be true.

It may not all be totally accurate.

But you need to stay true to your sources.

Maybe you have interviewed someone.

Maybe you have read old diaries.

Maybe you have read other books.

Maybe you have read newspaper clippings.

Maybe you have waded through trial transcripts or courthouse records.

The information you find may not be hard, cold, gospel.

But it is the truth as remembered those you have interviewed, those who have written diaries, books, and newspaper articles, those who have testified in court, those who have recorded history from their own personal perspective.

And you cannot stray from recorded truth in any form.

Don’t ever embellish it because you believe it would make a better story.

You have done your research.

You’re ready to write.

You might want to consider these tips for writing narrative nonfiction.


  1. Write a compelling concept. Find a different way to write the same old story. Editors want the same thing, but make it different.


  1. Unless they are an integral part of the story, don’t begin with time, the season, or the weather.


  1. Don’t start a story with “It was …” or “It is …” or “When …” or “Before…”


  1. Write narrative nonfiction like a novel, making use of characters, scenes, dialogue, descriptions, and drama. Don’t preach. Tell a story.


  1. There are four ways to begin a nonfiction story: Use or a hook, tell a story, describe a scene, or make a character worth reading about.


  1. You are the literary photographer. You are the camera. Make sure your readers seen the characters and the scenes you see. Let your readers into your heads.


  1. Use all five senses when writing about characters. When writing scenes, let your characters know what they see, what they feel, what the smell, what they touch, what they hear.


  1. Unless you are writing a memoir, don’t write first person. The “I” gets in the way.


  1. Like a novel, enter the story late and leave early. Write a slice of life that tells a particular story, long or short, article or full-length history.


  1. Ask yourself: Why did I tell this story, why did I introduce this character, why did I write this scene, why did I use that quote? If it doesn’t move the book or the story forward, cut it out.


  1. Don’t add a lot of unnecessary facts or a lot of unnecessary details just to prove how smart you are and how much you know. They tend to stop the story dead in its tracks. Remember the old adage: Just tell me the time. Don’t tell me how to make the watch.


  1. When writing dialogue, stay with “he said” or “she said.” Don’t use exclamation points or adverbs to prove a point.


  1. Don’t tell the story. Use dialogue.


  1. Tell your story in a distinctive voice. Use your voice. Tell your story as if you were sitting across the table from your reader.


A novel is a book packed with lies.

They must be lies.

You made them up.

A great narrative nonfiction book is nothing more than a novel filled with truth as you find it, as you record it, as you want others to remember it.

It may not be your life.

But it’s somebody’s life.

Treat it with dignity.

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