Writing Nonfiction

Ralph's Diary

Ralph’s Diary


My posts here will discuss the trials and tribulations of  writing good narrative nonfiction.  As my book moves toward publication and beyond, I will share my mistakes, insights and suggestions. And how not to go starkly insane during the process.

Publishing is a very long and rocky road. But it is worth the hike.


IMG_0592The title page to the Bantam Regimental history book.


Everyone has a story he or she needs to tell.

You should write yours.

Maybe this will help.


8 thoughts on Writing Nonfiction

  1. Compelling, character-driven narrative nonfiction is more difficult, in my humble opinion, to write than fiction. Real lives do not unfold on a Hollywood timeline. Much of our lives is routine and not very interesting. Finding out what is TRUE and then knowing what to include in your narrative makes writing nonfiction challenging. The author has to find the most important dramatic scenes and build the book’s spine around them. That’s easier said than done. It took me ten years to write Private Heller and the Bantam Boys: An American Medic in World War 1.

  2. I’ve now entered a third round of editing. First of all, I truly understand that no piece of writing will ever be perfect. Second, the more eyes you have on your work, generally, the better it will be. If two or more people tell you something is wrong, you should think about changing it. Many people will have differing opinions. But when several tell you the same thing, you must listen.

  3. If someone says “something is off” with your story, I think it means they sense a problem in structure. Most non-writing readers can’t identify what is wrong. It is because your story “spine” has a curve in it that is not useful. Look at your sequence of plot points. One or more is not working. Revise, replace or eliminate.

  4. Been away working on final rewrites for Private Heller. It shows me that having as many people read your writing helps to find typos and errors. Still on the final galley proof, the proof reader at Lyons Press still found a typo that, at least, six other editors and myself missed. Read your writing out loud to find those critters!

  5. After you write your book the work has just begun. Be prepared to learn social media and other ways to promote your material. I’m learning Twitter, Facebook and LinkIn. It’s a whole new job!

  6. Consider studying screenwriting to learn dialogue. Dialogue should “sound like talk.” But it isn’t. Listen in on real conversations. Notice how many wasted words are used. You must write not one more word than necessary to get the idea across. And dialogue should be things you cannot show. Show don’t tell.

  7. Some of the problems I see with nonfiction is authors get bogged down in details. Give only the most important details that help move the story forward. Studying screenwriting will help this process. Analysis of Kindle readers shows that much nonfiction is never finished by the reader. Keep the story moving.

  8. My publisher chose to put my photographs on the page with the narrative rather than a “picture well” in the middle of the book. I liked this option so that the reader can see exactly what is being explained in the text. The downside is that the picture quality is not as clear as on glossy inserted pages; But I would rather have the immediate visual despite the lesser quality.

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