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How to construct a non-fiction book

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Writing a book can be difficult. It’s hard to know where to place certain scenes, what is important enough to put in and not important enough to take out, or even where to start or end it. This becomes much harder when writing non-fiction. Do you start with your birth? Or maybe you start with your childhood, puberty, university, the first time you moved out of your parents’ home? The possibilities are endless, and every story is unique. What follows is a general guide to help you write a non-fiction narrative.

The first step is locating the important points in your narrative. If we take a general narrative about suffering from a mental health issue, then we can specify that the important points will be:

However, we all know that not all narratives will fit into that, and that mental health narratives are far more complex. So perhaps your narrative will look something like this:

Whatever your narrative looks like, it is important to develop a chronological narrative, in which the events unfold as they did in your life. In fictional narratives, writers sometimes use time as a plot device, in that they might perhaps jump forward in time or use flashbacks to make the plot more interesting. However, in non-fiction, plotting your events as they happened works far better. However, some people might find that they want to start their narrative off with their admittance into hospital and then start their story, leading the reader along their journey. So, for example, a narrative might begin with the narrator having a conversation with their therapist about writing a book, and then from there will go into the start. This can serve as an easy opening into the narrative, and can work when done well. But it is up to the individual whether they want to pursue that.

Once the important points have been plotted out, it is now important to think about pacing. Pacing is incredibly important in narratives. After all, no one wants to watch a film in which non-important conversations are drawn out and important conversations happen too quickly.

One general mistake that people tend to make when writing is to go in as much detail as possible. On paper, this seems like the right choice to make. After all, more detail means that the reader is likely to feel as though they are there when reading. However, this has the opposite effect on the reader. When confronted with too much detail, the reader can switch off and stop paying attention. Which is why pacing is very important.

Now, pacing will vary slightly from book to book but the crux of it is this:

For example, the scene in which a person is suffering a mental breakdown will need to be explored with detail. But it’s not important to talk about the surrounding area and describe the colour of the ambulance. The focus should be on the person, their feelings, and what happens. However, in a scene where the reader is getting to know the person’s family should have very little detail, and move faster.

Along with pacing and important plot points, another big thing is constructing emotional payoffs. When watching a film or reading a book, there are moments in there that have been constructed to have an emotional impact on the reader. Though it might feel odd to construct a non-fiction narrative as a fictional narrative, the narrative will still need emotional payoffs, for the reader to feel connected with the author. Emotional payoffs can include:

It’s important to build these up, as they are important points of your narrative and need to be delivered as such. Generally, most authors like to distance themselves from these points, as they are the most emotional and can be quite distressing to revisit. However, this makes for a poor reading experience and can also make the book be less impactful. As such, building up to these points in the narrative is very important. This can be done in the following ways:

It is also important to consider that authors will feel a need to distance themselves from the narrative. As stated before, it can be quite distressing writing about certain events. Narratives can suffer from this, as the author will pull back from putting their voice and emotion into the book. This can make the narrative come across as cold and distant, which is not what the author or the reader wants. When writing the narrative, the author shouldn’t be afraid to put in any feelings that they think are important to the events, or their own voice.

There is also the case of the ending of the narrative. With a non-fiction narrative, it is hard to know when to end the narrative. Most authors tend to end their narratives at the diagnosis of the mental illness. However, mental illnesses don’t disappear when they have been diagnosed. There is the matter of recovering and learning how to deal with the illness. As such, the narrative should continue past the diagnosis and show the reader how the author has come to deal with their illness, and what steps they have taken to do so.

Though these are general points in constructing a narrative, they are important to consider and put into effect when writing.

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