Many people think that it’s easier to write a non-fiction book than a novel. However, that doesn’t mean there is less work involved in writing a non-fiction manuscript. Fiction authors often create a basic outline and then go wherever the story and characters take them. In contrast, writing a non-fiction book involves careful planning before you even start to ‘put pen to paper’.

Below are some important tips that will help you with the early stages of drafting your non-fiction manuscript.

Key Tips for  Writing Non-fiction Books

The five key steps for planning and writing your non-fiction manuscript include:

  1. Be clear about your goals for your non-fiction book
  2. Ensure you have a good understanding of the non-fiction genre you’ll be writing about
  3. Focus on the narrative structure of your book
  4. Draft an outline
  5. Write, write, write!

1. Be clear about your goals for your non-fiction book

Before you embark on your writing journey, you first need to consider why you’ve decided to write a book. What do you want your reader to know? What are you hoping to make them think, feel or do once they’ve read your book? Do you want to explain a subject area that you’re passionate about? Or do you want to share a story that will inspire or motivate your audience?

When you have a clear idea what you want to achieve with your writing and what your end goal is for your published book, you’ll be surprised at how the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.

2. Ensure you have a good understanding of the non-fiction genre you’ll be writing about

Once you’ve figured out your goals for your book, you need to decide what type of non-fiction manuscript you’re going to write. There are a range of typical genres or topics for non-fiction books. So the one you select will determine not only what you end up writing about, but also the best way to do it.

For example, narrative non-fiction involves sharing a story with your readers. However, unlike fiction, the story you are telling is factual. Common non-fiction genres include memoir, family history, autobiography and biography – all of which tell a story.

On the other hand, for expository non-fiction, the objective for your manuscript is less focused on the actual narrative and more about explaining a specific topic. Self-help books, textbooks and how-to books are all examples of expository non-fiction books.

3. Focus on the narrative structure of your book

If your main goal for writing a non-fiction book is to tell a story, then you need to decide how you want to tell it. This, in turn, will determine how you develop the narrative arc structure of your manuscript.

Examples of different types of narrative arc structures include:

Traditional Three-Act Structure

This type of book structure involves telling the story in chronological order. You start with the beginning, or the set-up act. Here you are essentially setting the scene: introducing the protagonist and describing the event (or events) that underpins the protagonist’s story. The middle part, or the confrontation act, describes the protagonist’s journey and the obstacles and characters they encounter along the way. In this part, you may also introduce an antagonist.

The antagonist doesn’t have to be an actual person but, rather, could be a major challenge: such as societal beliefs or a process and/or thing that needs resolving. Throughout the confrontation act, you’re building up the suspense. Then, finally, you come to the end of the narrative, or the resolution act. This is the climax of the story that you’ve been building towards.

After the climax, you need to tie up the loose ends and emphasise what message you want your reader to take away from your book.

Manipulating Time

With this structure, your story commences somewhere in the middle of the narrative and then uses flashbacks to tell your reader how the situation arose. You may also jump forward to future events and then go back to an earlier point in time. This structure is particularly effective when there could be a risk that your reader may lose interest in the introductory scenes and just want to know what will happen next.

Circular Structure

In this case, you start writing your story with the climactic event that would normally come at the end. You then go back to the beginning and the middle of the story in order to describe what led to this major event. At the end of the book, you reiterate the climactic event and tie up any loose ends.

Parallel Structure

This type of structure involves telling two or more stories at the same time. Each separate story has its own beginning, middle and end. You can weave the stories together or tell them separately but, at the end of the book, you need to be able to tie them all together.

Sections and/or Chapters Structure

You may find it makes more sense to divide your book into sections or chapters according to various topics. For example, if you’ve writing a how-to business book in which you intend to outline certain steps or principles, the best way to do this might be to tackle each step or principle separately. However, you can still build in an overarching narrative by structuring your manuscript so that one step or principle leads directly on to the next.

4. Draft an outline

Now it’s time to draft the outline for your book. This is a vital process as it will help you to ensure that you cover everything you want to say.

A simple method for drafting a book outline is to follow these steps:

  • Write down the main parts of your book’s structure. If you’ve decided to use a narrative style, these are the beginning, middle and end parts – in whatever order you decide to tell them.
  • Now consider each part of your manuscript separately. Jot down all the points you want to cover within that part.
  • Look at all these sub-points and see what you can combine, what you need to separate into different points, which points can be sub-points of others, and so on.
  • Work out which order you want to discuss each sub-point. There may be overlap so you should decide where you want to discuss a sub-point in more depth and where you just want to touch on it.
  • Decide how much space you want to allocate to each sub-point. This will prevent you from rambling on and on about something that’s not that important to the overall direction for your book.

Remember that your book outline is not set in stone. During your research you may, for example, come across something that you hadn’t previously thought of. Throughout the writing process, you can still change things as much as necessary.

5. Write, write, write!

Once you have produced an outline, you’ve done most of the initial hard work so now it’s a matter of getting your ideas onto the page. Aim to get rid of any distractions, then sit down and launch into the task of writing your manuscript!

Non-fiction books can appeal to many readers

While some readers steer clear of non-fiction books because they think they’re just a collection of boring facts, these type of books can be just as exciting to read as novels. In fact they can be even more so, because you’re aware that what you’re reading about has actually taken place in ‘real’ life or it encapsulates the author’s expertise and knowledge of a particular topic.

For this reason, establishing clear goals and having a good understanding of your specific genre are important steps to achieve a succcessful outcome for your non-fiction book. Likewise, drafting a comprehensive outline is pivotal to the writing process as it helps you to organise your thoughts and ensure that all crucial aspects are covered in your manuscript. This outline provides you with a roadmap while also allowing for adjustments as needed along the way.

While the initial planning process may seem intensive, it lays the foundation for a well-written and engaging non-fiction manuscript. So, as you embark on your writing journey, remember that every word you put on paper contributes to the fulfillment of your book’s purpose and the connection you establish with your readers.