Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 5)

Step 2 of my Three-Step Writing Process is writing the First Rough Draft. To write your first rough draft, you use the creative (right) side of your brain.

Find a large block of uninterrupted time and write all the information you can think of regarding your book. Don’t get hung up in grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Write whatever comes to mind. Some of your chapters will be briefly outlined on this first rough draft, others may be in detail, and some won’t exist at all.

You may choose to write a synopsis of the entire book, or you may want to take smaller chunks of your “elephant” so you don’t get indigestion. On the first sitting, I write a brief overview of the book. After that, I usually write a chapter at a time, so I’m usually dealing with 15-20 pages at a time. I follow the same steps for each chapter. If there are personal stories within the chapter, I use the same process for each story.

Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 4)

Next create a preliminary outline before you begin the actual writing of your book. This may change as the writing progresses, but you need a guideline to start with. Your outline should be built around your chapter titles. Perhaps you have 10, 12, or more.

Then write a paragraph about each chapter. Be aware that this may change drastically, but it is important to get down as much information as you can.

Each point must support the main theme. Each chapter, though self-contained, needs to promote the main idea of your book.

Example from Wounded by Words:

Chapter 1:  Hurtful Words – Caustic words and demeaning statements can be as dangerous to our wellbeing as any weapon. People often use words that dominate and control when they feel insecure themselves. Unfortunately these words are often directed at close family members, often children, and the outcome is much pain and suffering. The tension resulting from these heated words often leads to the telling of lies by both parties.

This concludes Step 1 of the Three-Step Writing Process. Lay your work aside before continuing. Step 2 will be covered in next week’s blog

Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 3)

Now let’s talk about my Three-Step Writing Process regarding nonfiction books.

Step 1: Theme and Outline: First, decide what your main purpose is in writing this particular book. Where are you going? State your theme in one word. State it in one sentence. Know what you want to say, and say it. Keep to one subject. You are using the analytical (left) side of your brain to write your focus sentence. You will probably start with something general and refine it as you develop your book.

For an example, I am going to use my book, Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse.

One word: abuse.

Sentence: Now is your chance to break the cycle of emotional and verbal abuse and set yourself and your loved ones free.

The major problem with most book manuscripts that are rejected is they deviate from their premises. The writer tries to tell too many stories or attempts to make too many points in one book.

Step 2 and 3 will be covered in future blogs.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 2)

Writing a nonfiction book involves many other things besides the actual writing. I also include reading, rewriting, and editing in my time. These, too, are important parts of the writing process. To write you must spend as much time reading as you do writing. You will gain ideas for your own writing, and it will help you develop your own writing style. Also you need to read articles and books on the subject you are writing about to better educate yourself on your subject.

Writing is starting with a blank computer screen and putting one word down after another. And the more information you have in your head at the time you begin, the easier the task will be. If you wrote a page a day, you’d have 365 pages at the end of a year. Of course those wouldn’t be edited pages, but we will discuss that in later blogs.

Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 1)

We will begin a long series on writing nonfiction books from the formation of an idea to a final product. Writing a book is like eating an elephant. A person does not dare to attempt the project in one sitting! We will cover book proposals, writing the entire elephant, and contract negotiations. You’re reading this because you want to write, to get your book published, and to glorify God. Right? You can use these same techniques for articles, stories, and fiction, as well as nonfiction books. Are you published?

Forty-one years ago when I began writing, I made a commitment to God and to myself that I would write for an hour every day. I started writing Sunday school take-home papers. Now I have over 30 books published, my latest being on domestic violence, titled Breaking Invisible Chains. However, with running my critique business, editing manuscripts, and teaching students to polish their writing, I still struggle with finding time to write my own books! What kind of a commitment are you willing to make? Perhaps you could start with a promise to write for an hour a day. If you spend that much time daily, I can guarantee that on many of those days you will spend much more time.

Writing the Short Story (Part 5)

After you reach the climax in your story, be brief and be gone. Wrap it up as quickly as possible, being careful not to leave any loose ends. Once you have reached the climax, your readers won’t have any reason to keep reading.

Set your story aside for a week, then go back and rewrite and rewrite more. Ask yourself, “Will it hurt the story if I leave out this word, this paragraph, this entire scene?”  If not, take it out. Whittle away all the dead wood. Make sure your characters are well developed, and the main character solves his or her problem, averts disaster, or overcomes his opponent himself? Your scenes should move along smoothly and transition well from one to another. And also make sure you have not left any loose ends?

It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you must use good fiction techniques. People love stories. They want to escape from real life into an imaginary adventure, but they need help with their problems too. You can meet their real needs by meeting their felt needs through the vehicle of fiction. And God can teach spiritual truths through your fictional characters.

This ends the blog series on “Writing the Short Story.”



Writing the Short Story (Part 4)

It may help to think through your story in scenes. (See previous blog for more information on scenes.) Each scene must move the story forward. If an event is unnecessary, leave it out. Even in a book, your writing must be tight.

Scenes include five things:

  1. Setting
  2. Antagonists
  3. Action
  4. Somebody wins
  5. Resolution

Build suspense as you go along. Keep your readers guessing. Before a conflict is solved, put a barrier in your main character’s path. Don’t give the story away. Once you get into novel writing, you can confront the main character with conflict upon conflict, but in short stories stick to one conflict. Keep your readers hanging on a cliff. In novels, try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. If you don’t, the readers might put your book down and never pick it up again. Don’t you have half-read books on your shelf?

Stories need to be filled with action. Stay out of your character’s mind, and keep the story focused on his or her activities. Once in a while, you can tell us what the main character thinks, but not all the time. Help your readers identify with the main character and the problems he or she is experiencing.


Writing the Short Story (Part 3)

Short stories and novels have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Write the beginning and the end before you go back and fill in the middle. You may change some things as you go along, but you must have a game plan.

Another way to phrase this is the three O’s:

Objective  –  Beginning

Obstacle   –   Middle

Outcome   –  End

In the first paragraph of your story, you must hook your readers. Open with an exciting beginning that makes them want to read on. Also open with the viewpoint character. Write your story as seen from one person’s viewpoint, either first or third person; third person is usually easier to write. Paint a brief picture of your main character, showing his personality, so the reader can see him and identify with him.

Example taken from The Hair Pulling Bear Dog by Lee Roddy:

At first, D.J. Dillon thought the terrible nightmare had returned. In his sleep, he again heard the squeal of brakes, the crash, and then the awful silence. The 13-year-old boy’s blue eyes blinked open. He stared into the soft moonlit darkness of the kitchen where he slept on a rollaway bed.

His blond head turned automatically toward his parents’ bedroom wall beside him. He started to call softly, “Mom?” Then he remembered.

She was dead six months now, killed in that auto accident. The mountain’s silence had carried the sound for miles. D.J. had heard it up the canyon without knowing who was in the collision.

Memories flashed over him again. The hurt swallowed him like a silent, ugly monster. D.J. started to turn over and bury his face in the dusty pillow when he heard the crash again-but now he was wide awake!




Writing the Short Story (Part 2)

Now write a synopsis of your story. Eventually this will form the body of your story. On the first draft, let it flow down on paper. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Just get your story down. If you think of small details as you go, include them. But don’t worry about your construction in this first rough draft. Leave yourself free from constraints so your creative juices can flow. After it is written, lay it aside and let it cool.

Now go on to work on another project. Have a file folder or a folder on your computer labeled with the name of each project you are working on. Keeping organized records is imperative. Every time you find something pertaining to that idea, place it in the file. You may prefer to keep your files and research material electronically on your computer, but I would always suggest you have a hard copy backup.

God inspires us to write; I’m convinced of that. But God doesn’t tell us the words will flow down on paper and settle in concrete. He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting.

Remember that I told you to write a theme sentence and to make an outline before you began the actual writing. Then get as much down on paper as you can without worrying about the structure. Now let’s go back and put in the actual structure in the next blog.


Writing the Short Story (Part 1)

Currently, one of the fastest growing markets in all of Christian writing is fiction. However, if you are a beginning writer, I do not suggest you start with a novel. Instead, write a short story for a church school take-home paper. See The Christian Writers Market Guide for a list of take-home papers.

The tips I give will work for fictional techniques in nonfiction pieces, such as personal experience stories, as well as for short anecdotal stories written within nonfiction articles and books.

An excellent definition of fiction is given by author Lee Roddy. “Creating characters in conflict culminating in crisis and change with commentary.”  The four key words are character, conflict, crisis, and change, called the “4 C’s of Fiction.”

A story is comprised of three elements: theme, plot, and character. Normally you can think of theme as the foundation on which the story sits. Your focus sentence will be based on the theme or main point you are trying to achieve. The story is either character-driven or plot-driven, depending on whether the main character is the most important element or whether the storyline is more important. These three qualities are always integral parts of your story, regardless of your emphasis. Think of them as forming a triangle with the theme as the base.

As in other writing, whether books, articles, or stories, form a focus sentence before you begin. This is the glue that holds the entire story together. The structure will be different for fiction than for nonfiction. Also, write a rough outline. This may change as the story unfolds, but you need to have a plan in mind even though this may change.