Most nonfiction books follow one of two predictable structures. When you know what these are, you can choose the one that works best for the information you want to present — and avoid having to re-write your book (a painful lesson Jeff learned recently).
The two main structures we cover in today’s episode are how most non-fiction books are written. The structures are “stolen,” whether the authors know it or not.
We all steal. We don’t mean to, but we pick up influences all around us like a sponge picks up soapy water. And that, dear listener, may be the secret to your success as an author. Absorbing ideas from your life is bound to influence your work — it should influence your work.
In this episode, Jeff and Pamela share their theories on ‘creative borrowing,’ and how choosing between the two main structures most nonfiction books follow can help you create a better, more cohesive presentation.
In this episode Jeff Goins and Pamela Wilson discuss:
- Why creating in a vacuum is a really bad idea
- Jeff’s obsession with structure, and what it taught him
- Why art is richer when it’s composed with some familiar elements
- Pamela’s LEGO analogy for the creative process
Listen to Zero to Book below ...
The Show Notes
- Join The Book Factory to read Pamela’s book before it’s published
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
- F. Scott Fitzgerald author page on Amazon
- Stephen King author page on Amazon
- Leave a rating for Zero to Book! Here’s where: Zero to Book on iTunes
Robert Worstell says
There are more than two approaches to writing non-fiction.
Shawn Coyne has four: Academic, How-To, Narrative, and Big Idea.[http://www.storygrid.com/nonfictions-big-genre-silos/]
Others have peeled out Journals, Biographies, and Memoirs – but those probably fall under narrative, as they tend to follow an arc of discovery/redemption (following Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with A Thousand Faces.”) [http://www.mfschools.org/user/woodhala/students/6typesofnonfiction.pdf]
David Miller stretches this out to 16 types of non-fiction [http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/1-types-of-nonfiction-and-how-to-write-them/], but (like copywriting itself) they don’t often end up as books. Most of these that do tend to follow the four categories above, except where they run into “navel gazing” which might or might not fall into How-To, except the format is radically different. (And where the Eastern School of only answering a student’s questions probably again falls under narrative as an arc, depending on how it’s edited. Lao Tze’s Tao and the iChing do not fall under the above, as far as I can tell.)
Note that Coynes is talking about commercially successful books. The two exceptions I would say exist outside of Coyne’s breaktdown are collections (such as cooking recipes, poetry, prose, photography, essays, etc.) and the “avant-garde” approach (examples would be Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons”) where the author is purposely breaking rules for effect. (Coyne’s is talking from his experience as an editor, which is not needed for collections and avant-garde.)
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There is also a point that Gladwell use of Big Idea, as pointed out about “Blink”, didn’t start off with the premise and then put modules of stories after it. Each chapter built up to explain an additional point of his Big Idea on top of what he told you before – and by the end needed to tie it all together. Essentially, he was writing a narrative arc by building his chapters/modules in that way. This is the reverse of Goin’s description of 4-hour Workweek, where you state the hypothesis first and then prove it with examples. The difference between these looks to be more like Inductive vs. Deductive reasoning to accomplish your point, and the effect on the reader. Both rely on the smaller stories to support and build the support for the Big Idea.
Pamela Wilson says
Very interesting observations, Robert. Looks like you’re a student of structure yourself!