On Writing Nonfiction

As nonfiction authors we can fall into the hole of over-explaining, over-demonstrating, over-exampling our work so much that we drown in our own words!

You’re a writer. You know how it goes. That helpful idea is really great – it might even make a pretty good book.

I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, gearing up for a great adventure.

There was a curious book about Blackbeard the pirate – got some great nuggets o’ information from that one. The curiosity was that the author interspersed his real history with italicized fictional sections – he created these little dramas that wrapped around the facts he was relating. It worked for awhile, but I was studying Blackbeard, and eventually skipped his fine literary work.

Another book was written by a college professor who decided to go back to college in her early sixties to get bachelor’s degree in fine art. It’s very well written, and tremendous fun as this older person navigates her way through classrooms full of twenty-somethings. Eventually, of course, the novelty wears off, and it becomes a book about art.

The book that caught my eye, however, was written by a leading physicist, and dealt with the end of days – what will happen at literally the end of time. His physics are infallible, and when he writes in that realm his work is magical.

His work strays into the philosophical, and still holds the interest for awhile, but eventually wanders off into that sand trap that we nonfiction authors fall into: too much illustration.

Let’s look at these two paragraphs.

Everybody agrees that bananas are yellow. But some people might see them as a reddish brown. Others might say they are golden. Others might say they’re a springtime green. Some think they are a yellowish green, while others may think they’re more brown. Regardless of the exact shade, we are perceive them as yellow.

While people may differ on their perception of the exact hue, most will agree that bananas are yellow.

I’ve done this a million times: over-explained things so severely that I’m certain my readers have walked away. They’ve lost interest. Lost focus. They’ve stopped paying attention… there, you see? I did it again!

Maybe we’re afraid that we’re not expressing ourselves clearly enough. Maybe we just want to make sure the reader gets it. Or maybe we don’t know when to stop making our point.

Whatever the cause, the first paragraph has over forty words, while the second has less than twenty. Our nonfiction book bubbles up to way over twice its needed size.

Is it useless padding designed to inflate our word count? There, I said it. It’s probably not, but, if you’ve written nonfiction, you know the temptation I’m talking about.

And you know that what’s lurking in the back of your mind every minute you’re at the word processor: gee, this thing isn’t much more than a pamphlet! Let me add just one more example…

Okay, so, here, take the pledge with me:

I PROMISE TO WRITE CONCISE SENTENCES THAT PROVIDE ADEQUATE ILLUSTRATION FOR MY READERS, BUT ARE FREE FROM SUPERFLUOUS EXAMPLES.

We have to fix it! It’s up to you and me to set the nonfiction world straight!

And please, never forget, black lives matter!

Author: John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as Smashwords.com.

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