It’s finally happened. You have to write a story based on a nonfiction event or idea. Sound boring? Not so fast. While a nonfiction story MUST use real facts, there is no reason it has to be boring. Narrative nonfiction is one category that makes a big splash in libraries, schools, and even wins a lot of awards. That’s great. But how do you write narrative nonfiction?
1. Start your research
- Pick a topic that interests you and start looking things up. Search the internet for any kind of information that you can find on your topic. Be sure to use valid sources like university websites, government websites (like NASA), historic websites like Mount Vernon, etc. Go to the library and check out books on your topic. Read widely. You want to get a good idea of what’s out there.
2. Find a Knowledge Gem
- Look for something unusual about your topic. For example, did you know that President Lincoln created the Secret Service the same day he was assassinated? Or that John Wilkes Booth’s brother saved President Lincoln’s son, Tad’s life, a few months before John Wilkes Booth shot the President? (Tad had been pushed onto a train track and Edwin Booth pulled him to safety before the train arrived). Both of these knowledge gems are very interesting – and fun to know. See if you can find something like that about your topic.
3. Write your Story Around the Knowledge Gem
- Once you have your knowledge gem, try to write a story around it. Maybe your story starts with how President Lincoln originally created the Secret Service to track down and find counterfeit money. (which is true). But the main idea of your story would be how ironic it is that the man who created the Secret Service—the team whose sole goal is to protect the President– was assassinated that very night. That is a unique angle and would make a very interesting story.
4. Stick to the typical Story structure
- Your story, even though it is a nonfiction story, should have a beginning, middle, and an end. It should be exciting and use different story elements, like mystery, intrigue, excitement, and also build tension throughout. Just because you have to stick to the facts, doesn’t mean that the story can’t be entertaining!
Stuck on where to begin?
Check out some of these award-winning and fun narrative nonfiction books:
- Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book) by Steve Sheinkin
- Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
- Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin
- Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
Find a topic that interests you or one that is assigned to you. Do some research. See if you can find one Knowledge Gem about your topic. Now write a couple of sentences about your knowledge gem. What makes it exciting? What makes it unique and different? Make sure to use exciting, active words and paint vivid images for your reader. Does your piece sound interesting? Great! You are making non-fiction fun!
Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and is always on the hunt to learn something new. Like any good scientist and author, Jennifer is rarely without a notebook and writes down her observations throughout the day. You can learn more about Jennifer HERE and at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.