Guest post: By Shazeen Iqbal, The Writer Vending Machine

A nonfiction book is a unique journey where the author communicates factual knowledge to the reader in the hope that they follow the concepts and ideas being taught. As an author, you might wonder, “Is the reader convinced by what I’m saying? Do they understand the emphasis and the facts that I’m stating? Is my version of the truth driven home for them?” To answer yes, your nonfiction needs a narrative. Narratives (i.e. stories) are typically seen as being part of fiction writing, but they’re just as important in nonfiction. Here’s why…

It transports the reader

Unlike in fiction where you can write a story without needing the reader to necessarily identify with the characters, nonfiction writing requires you to nurture your narrative so readers can capture facts and knowledge as if they were personally in the situation. Thus, you have a responsibility as the author to relay a story that underpins the events or ideas being described. Moreover, the narrative in your nonfiction demonstrates to readers that you can apply real-life examples to your ideas, forming evidence for your views and therefore adding to your credibility.

It keeps it interesting

In simple terms, a narrative increases engagement between you and the reader. It arouses curiosity and excitement about what you are going to tell them next, rather than just dull facts and theoretical concepts. The narrative draws readers into what you’re saying, and even when the narrative element ends, it lingers in the reader’s mind as they digest the facts and are transformed by what they have read. These connections, especially the emotions in a story, help our brains reinforce the information. 

It helps with structure

Without applying a narrative in your nonfiction writing, you may lack a central thread that ties the various pieces of your book together. For readers, it might feel like they have to jump back from chapter 5 to chapter 1 to make sense of what half of the book has been about so far. A narrative helps you keep all the relevant points together and make them gel. If you’re telling a story, it helps you retain a simple, linear narrative to aid the reader’s understanding.

So, you’ve seen the benefits of having a narrative in your nonfiction. But how do you actually add a narrative to your book? 

Here is a plot structure that I recommend for nonfiction storytelling:

Step 1: Setting the scene (introduction, first few chapters)

This is where you introduce the protagonist and the main idea (or central thread) of the book. Usually in nonfiction, this person is you as you’re telling your personal story, but it can be anything. It might be the main concept of the book if you plan to use various people’s stories as examples. For example, if you’re going to explore facts about cloud-based services transforming the way businesses do … well, business, then put forth examples like Amazon’s CEO. If you’re going to explore facts about social inequality, then someone you know or an influential person might be the protagonist that conveys the ideas. 

Step 2: Presenting the conflict (main body)

When dealing with nonfiction, you have to present a problem that the main idea of your book is aiming to solve for your readers. In the main part of the book, you show the reader how your idea or approach resolves the obstacles and threats they are facing. It’s where you arrive at the solution, and so it will be the longest part of the narrative. This is your chance to draw the readers in with your story and build their understanding. If the book is your personal story, show your reader that you’re not just talking about the facts, but have lived them too.

Step 3: Reaching the climax (final chapters, conclusion)

This is the last part of your narrative. In this section, you wrap up your (or the protagonist’s) story. You show off the results of your efforts in overcoming the problem, so readers are convinced that the problem they were facing isn’t as big or bad as it felt earlier. Reiterate the purpose of your book — your main idea — and provide the outcomes and evidence that your solution works. Show the reader how the idea enables them to meet their goals. 

Get in touch

If you need help structuring the narrative of your book, I can help you identify the main events
and points from your content and provide a logical order between them, so that readers have fun reading your book and gain the most for it. You can reach out to me for manuscript critiques/edits on shazeen@thewritervendingmachine.co.uk.

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