“Life is an adventure. There’s so much to find out and so much to do, sometimes you don’t know where to start. In the pages of the books on your library shelves, however, lie some amazing real-life adventures just waiting for you.
Non-fiction books, fact books, info books, world of wonder – call ’em what you want – are some of the most exciting books you can find. With one of these in your hands, you can whiz around the planet, and flit from frozen polar wastes to baking deserts and dripping tropical rainforests. You can climb aboard a pirate ship, dodge dinosaurs or dive to the depths of the ocean and come face to face with deadly sharks.
Non-fiction books are portable teleportation devices. They can whisk you to any place for the very moment something exciting happens – an active volcano just about to erupt, or a star ending its life in a spectacular supernova explosion. Non-fiction books explain how the real world works. But the best thing about them? You can be sure that everything in them has actually happened.
What is non-fiction anyway?
A lot of people (me included) don’t much like the “non-fiction” label. I can’t think of many other things that are defined by not being something else. Essentials are things you need to have; non-essentials you can do without. But a jumping animal with a long tail instead of a fluffy one is a kangaroo, not a non-bunny. It’s not as if start the morning by gulping down a hot cup of non-coffee and some non-cereal. I prefer to have tea and toast.
Anyway, many other authors have talked about this elsewhere. This blog, is supposed to help you collect your ideas and get writing, so let’s get going!
Find something to write about
You can write about anything you choose. Just make sure that it relates to life in the real world. So, virtual-reality Pokémon are ok, but no unicorns please. I mostly write science-based non-fiction. Here are some topics publishers never seem to tire of:
You don’t have to write about science. You can choose history, geography, travel, art or better still, make your own mash-up. You can also look outside subject headings and invent your own theme. My book, Rebel Science, tells the stories of “rebel” scientists who rocked the science boat and changed the world. With another publisher, I put together a series of choose-your-own-adventure books.
It’s fun to be inventive, but don’t worry too much about being über-original. If you bring your personality into your writing, you can’t help but make it original! Pick out and talk about the things that interest you and your enthusiasm will make it interesting to other people. No one else is quite like you, as my old teacher used to say (but I don’t think she meant it like this).
How to start
Now it’s time for some R&R. Not rest and relaxation – tsk! – research and writing! There is tons of information in libraries and online. Reading stuff that was written at the time something happened is great for giving you a flavour of a subject. It can also be fun to track down and talk to experts, because they often have interesting ideas and new angles.
Make notes as you read. It’s nearly impossible to write about something if you don’t understand it. Ordering your notes will help you figure out what are the most important to say and find a natural flow for the story. As you go along, be sure to write down the juicy tidbits and fun facts you unearth.
How to write interesting non-fiction
The world is amazing. There is plenty of “Wow!” to go around. In my opinion, the best non-fiction sprinkles wonder-dust around, which sends your imagination wild and sharpens your curiosity, so you want to find out more.
Some people think that because it is true, non-fiction has to be serious. But there is some brilliantly non-serious non-fiction out there, too. The Horrible History and Horrible Science book series are very funny. Silly facts and jokes – anything that makes writing fun to read – are great. I love to discover the daft things that the brainiest people do.
Write as if you are having a chat with someone. Remember, you are trying to explain something you think is really cool. The famous thriller writer James Patterson says:
This is a good time to be playful with language. Who wants to read about sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia? What about “ice-cream headache”, or “brain freeze” instead?
Don’t lose the plot!
All writing – non-fiction and non-fact too – is about stories. Just because the subject matter is real and true, it doesn’t mean it is just a collection of facts. A list of facts is really boring to read (this is one of the reasons I don’t like calling my books “fact books”).
Try not to get carried away in a breathless rush – give your story time to unfold. When you’ve got it down on the page, read through it thinking to yourself, “Have I left anything out?”
Anyone can tell a good story. After all, you do it every day when you chat to your friends, or talk about things with adults. Above all, enjoy yourself and have fun. Happy writing!”
Our thanks go to Dan Green, a writer and science communicator who lives in London, for this very entertaining post!
Rebel Science is shortlisted for the 2016 Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize. His Basher Science book series of books has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.