The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Nonfiction

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Nonfiction

by Christina Boufis


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Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, is true stories told using literary techniques and creativity. Narrative nonfiction essays are often featured in magazines such as Esquire, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Harper's. Book-length narrative nonfiction works have grown in popularity since Truman Capote published In Cold Blood in 1965. Nonfiction works such as Into Thin Air, The Orchid Thief, The Perfect Storm, and Seabiscuit have smashed sales records and brought the genre into focus for the mainstream. With the rise of self-publishing and blogs comes a new generation of writers who want to tell their stories to a wider audience. The Complete Idiot's Guide® to Writing Nonfiction gives narrative nonfiction writers the instruction and tools they need to elevate their storytelling to an art form that appeals to more readers. In this book readers learn:

  • What narrative nonfiction is.
  • The literary building blocks of narrative nonfiction.
  • How to research nonfiction subjects.
  • Tricks for remembering details of events from one's own life story.
  • How to conduct interviews for a book or article.
  • How to find inspiration when writing nonfiction stories.
  • Word choice and grammar help.
  • How to overcome roadblocks such as stalled motivation and inhibitions when writing about real, living people.
  • How to craft several types of narrative nonfiction by example.
  • How to find markets for their work and get published.

In addition, author Christina Boufis interviews successful narrative nonfiction writers in many subgenres and gets their insights on what inspires them and how they overcome their own obstacles.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781615642298
Publisher: DK
Publication date: 11/06/2012
Series: Complete Idiot's Guide Series
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 403,003
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Christina Boufis is director of the writing program at the San Francisco Art Institute. She has been teaching nonfiction writing at Stanford University since 1999. Her essays have appeared in many of the top consumer magazines, and her first published essay for Glamour was nominated for The Heart of America award. She recently concluded a narrative blog for titled The Big "M". She has a Ph.D. in literature and women's studies and is working on her own recession memoir, Spent.

Table of Contents

Part 1 An Overview of the Genre 1

1 What Is Narrative Nonfiction? 3

Narrative Nonfiction: A New Literary Form 4

Early Developments of Narrative Nonfiction 4

Reasons for Writing Narrative Nonfiction 6

How Nonfiction Differs from Fiction 7

Short Forms of Nonfiction 8

Personal Essays 8

Lyrical Essays, 9

Travel Essays 10

Food Articles 10

Profiles 10

Literary Journalism 11

Science and Nature Writing 11

Hybrid Forms: Vignettes and Mosaics 12

Longer Forms of Nonfiction 12

Memoirs 13

Autobiographies 14

Dramatic Book-Length Journalism 14

Biographies 15

2 Story and Structure 17

What Is a Story? 18

Provoking a Response in the Reader 19

Do You Have a Story? 19

What Are the Ingredients of a Story? 21

Characters 21

Conflict 22

Setting 23

Plot 23

Resolution 23

Story Structure 24

The Narrative Arc 25

Different Ways to Begin a Story 26

In Medias Res: Into the Midst of Things 27

Chronological Order 28

Reverse Chronology 29

Breaking the Narrative 29

3 Finding Your Subject 31

Finding Story Ideas 32

What Are You Passionate About? 32

Look Around You 33

Think Like a Writer 33

Mine Your Expertise 34

Check Your Local Newspaper 35

Mine Your Memories 36

Who's Your Audience? 37

Finding Your Voice 38

Choosing a Point of View 39

First Person 39

Second Person 40

Third Person 40

Multiple Narrators 41

An Omniscient Narrator 42

Part 2 The Building Blocks of Nonfiction 45

4 Building Characters from Real People 47

Characters in Nonfiction 47

Flat vs. Round Characters 48

Yourself as a Character 49

Wants, Needs, and Desires 50

Physical Description: It's in the Details 51

Using Specific Descriptive Words 52

Using Dialogue to Capture Character 53

Conversation's Greatest Hits 54

Re-creating Dialogue 55

How to Write Respectfully About Real People 57

Doing Unto Others 51

Changing Names to Protect the Innocent 58

Conflating Characters 59

5 Truth, Lies, and Nonfiction 61

Did It Really Happen? 62

Taking Liberties with the Truth 62

The Media Fallout 63

Stretching the Forms of Nonfiction 64

Comedy and Exaggeration 64

Imagining Things When You Weren't There 66

Deconstructing the Memoir 67

Establishing Your Credibility 68

Admitting What You Don't Know 69

Using Conditional Words to Signal the Reader 70

Re-creating from Memory 71

What Do You Owe Your Readers? 72

Compressing Time 72

Principles for Writing Nonfiction 73

6 Scene Setting and Summary 77

Lights! Camera! Action! 78

Orienting Your Reader in Time 78

Using Descriptive Words in Your Scene 79

Orienting Your Reader in Place 81

Thinking Through Your Senses 81

Capturing Place 82

Using Details 83

Mapmaking 85

Tips for Writing About Place 86

Showing and Telling: Yes, You Can Do Both 87

Take the Scene Test 87

Telling: The Reflective Mode 88

When to Use Scene vs. Summary 89

Part 3 Drafting 91

7 Just the Facts: Doing Research 93

Researching Your Own Life 94

Journals, Diaries, and Letters 94

Other Documents 95

Social Media 96

Using Photographs 96

Interviewing Friends and Family Members 97

Researching Other People's Lives 98

Doing Archival Research 99

Using Statistics and Government Resources 101

Traveling: Being There 102

Immersion Journalism 103

Putting It All Together 104

8 Honing Your Interview Skills 107

How to Conduct Interviews 108

Deciding Who to Interview 108

Preparing for the Interview 109

Listening and Asking the Right Questions 110

Do's and Don'ts for Interviewing 110

Recording the Interview Ill

Beginning and Ending Your Interview 113

Interviewing as an Art Form 114

Letting Your Subjects Reveal Themselves 115

Paying Attention to Body Language 115

After the Interview 115

Transcribing Your Interview 116

Editing Quotations: What's Allowed? 116

The Relationship with Your Interviewees 116

Libel 117

What Is Libel? 118

Protecting Yourself Against Libel 118

9 Composing Your Nonfiction! 121

Establishing a Writing Routine 122

Dealing with Procrastination 124

Overcoming Writer's Block 125

Banishing Your Internal Censor 127

Drafting 127

The Iceberg Draft 128

Finding the Theme 129

The Importance of the Lede and the Conclusion 130

Hooking the Reader 131

Writing Satisfying Conclusions 132

Reflecting on the Experience 133

10 Short Forms of Nonfiction 135

The Personal Essay 136

Yourself as Subject 136

Your Voice 138

The Questioning Mode 139

Tips for Writing Personal Essays 140

The Travel Essay 141

Autobiographical Travel Stories 141

Travel Writing Close to Home 143

What Are the People Like? 143

Tips for Writing Travel Articles 144

The Profile 145

Your Choice of Subject 145

Researching and Writing Profiles 146

Tips for Writing Profiles 147

Food Writing 148

Filling Your Soul 148

Tips for Food Writing 149

11 Long Forms of Nonfiction 151

Why Write a Book? 152

The Memoir 152

Deciding What Your Memoir Will Be About 153

The Reflective Mode 154

Tips for Writing Memoirs 155

The Autobiography 155

Chronology in the Autobiography 156

Digging into the Past 156

Tips for Writing Autobiographies 157

Long-Form Journalism 158

Immersing Yourself in the Subject 159

Seeing the Forest for the Trees 159

Tips for Writing Long-Form Journalism 159

The Biography 160

Why Choose This Person? 160

Researching for a Biography 162

Tips for Writing Biographies 162

Sustaining a Book-Length Work 163

Outlining 164

Organizing Your Material 164

Staying Motivated 165

Part 4 Crafting Memorable Nonfiction 167

12 How to Make Your Sentences Sing 169

Why Grammar and Punctuation Matter 170

Varying Sentence Length 171

Run-On Sentences and Fragments 172

Take the Fragment Test 173

Fixing Run-On Sentences 173

Using Strong Action Verbs 175

Metaphors and Similes 176

Avoiding Clichés 179

How to Make Your Prose Musical 180

13 Revision: Your Best Friend 183

Revising for Focus 184

Finding the Central Focus 184

Beginnings and Endings. 186

Revising at the Paragraph Level 187

Pacing in Your Paragraphs 187

Revising Your Sentences and Getting Rid of Clutter 189

Revising at the Word Level 190

Checklist for Revision 192

Avoiding Common Writing Mistakes 193

Changing Point of View 193

Not Having a Voice 194

Not Keeping the Fans Straight 195

Holding Back from the Reader 195

Part 5 After the Writing Is Done 197

14 Breaking into Nonfiction Markets 199

The Narrative Nonfiction Market 200

Breaking into the Market 201

Do Your Home-work 201

Sending Your Work 202

Literary Magazines 203

Breaking into Literary Magazines 204

What Do Literary Magazines Pay? 204

Where to Find Literary Magazines 205

Online Magazines 205

Sending Work to More Than One Publication 207

The Nonfiction Query Letter 208

Dealing with Rejection 209

Learn from the Experience 209

Tips for Dealing with Rejection 210

Frequently Asked Questions 212

15 Self-Publishing Your Work 215

Blogging 216

Brainstorming a Blogging Subject 216

Catchy Blog Titles and Tag Lines 217

Secrets for Writing Successful Blog Posts 219

Self-Publishing e-books 221

One Writer's Success Story 222

Choosing Your Self-Publishing Platform 223

Advantages and Disadvantages 224

Marketing Your Nonfiction 225

Using Social Media 226

Book Bloggers 225

Giving Live Readings 227

16 How to Sustain a Writing Life 229

Building a Supportive Writing Community 230

Forming a Writing Group 231

How to Structure a Writing Group 232

The Importance of Constructive Feedback 233

Tips for Giving Feedback 234

Revise Your Work After Getting Feedback 236

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Nonfiction 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are considering writing your life's story, I believe this book gives excellent advice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im black