Non-Fiction: Researching Your Options
by Donna L Martin
I've been thinking for a long time about dipping my fingers into the non-fiction waters. You would think writing picture books, middle grade chapter books and young adult novels along with my essays and poetry would be enough to keep me busy. But I've always had a fascination with non-fiction, particularly when it involves the historic lives of unique individuals. There are many wonderful non-fiction authors out there and I imagine just as many talented wannabe non-fiction writers in this writing community.
But where to start?
Last week Tina M Cho showed us an excellent way to create a proposal letter to whet an editor's appetite for our stories. But what if you are only starting out with an interest in writing non-fiction?
Where do you go from there?
Here is one plan on tackling your first non-fiction manuscript:
Choose A Topic
You can't write a story without an idea. What interests you? Historical figures? Science? Nature? Travel? Pick a topic that fascinates you. Something you might know a little bit about or something of which you know nothing at all. Non-fiction writing requires a healthy amount of research and by the end of it, you will in some small way become an expert on your chosen topic.
Outline Your Chapters
While some fiction stories can be written at a drop of the hat, non-fiction stories require much more planning otherwise you will simply drone on and on about your topic while getting nowhere. A publisher will want to know what each chapter will be about and the more detailed you are about how you will cover your chosen topic makes the actual writing that much easier when the time comes.
Plan Out Your Research
Think of how you will learn everything you need to know about your chosen topic. Depending on your particular story idea, there will be a number of ways to go about researching the subject of your manuscript. At the end of this post I will list various resources to help you with your non-fiction research. Make sure you have index cards or a notebook for taking good notes or even a tape recorder for live interviews.
There must be a method to your research. A way to categorize your notes and organize your research so that you can properly document your sources. Fiction dwells only in the imagination of the writer. Non-fiction, even fictionalized non-fiction, must be based on documented facts which any good editor will ask for when requesting to see your manuscript.
Write, Revise, & Submit
Once you have created your chapter outline, completed your research, organized your notes, and documented your sources, it is now time to write your first draft. After many revisions, critiques from writing partners, and editing for content and accuracy, your manuscript will be ready for submission to a publishing house. Time to celebrate a job well done and time to start researching your next non-fiction topic!
As promised, here are a list of potential resources to help you research different non-fiction story ideas:
1. Interview local experts
2. Local & out of town newspapers
3. Public libraries
a. Research rooms
b. Online databases
e. Archived magazines & newspapers
6. Books already published on your idea (how will YOUR story be unique?)
a. Public & university libraries
c. BN.com (Barnes & Noble)
7. Local & national corporations
8. Government agencies
9. Local & national organizations
10. Library of Congress
12.The National Archives
13. National Geographic Society
14. National magazines
15. Associationas & socities
16. Research institutes
18. Foreign embassies
19. Local businesses
20 Specialized libraries (like presidential)
The resources are out there. It is our job as writers of non-fiction to search out and discover those little known facts about the topics which interest us and present them in a way to fascinate our readers.
No matter the topic, keep writing and have fun with it!