Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction

There are a lot of very good books about how to write fiction that sells, among them Don Maass's outstsanding Writing the Breakout Novel, Scott Meredith's classic Writing to Sell (out of print but well worth searching out a used copy) and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

There are also a lot of great books about how to put together a non-fiction proposal for everything from prescriptive diet books to serious history, books like Susan Rabiner's excellent Thinking Like Your Editor.

But what about narrative non-fiction, ie, non-fiction that reads like a novel? Books like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, A Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger or The Rape of Nanking by the late Iris Chang are all great examples of non-fiction that reads like a novel, a true story with prose so compelling that you simply cannot stop yourself from turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Well, I have some good news for you narrative non-fiction writers: The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write & Sell the Novel of True Events by my FinePrint colleague Peter Rubie has just been released by Quill Driver Books. Originally published by Harper Collins in the early 90s as Telling the Story, Peter has extensively revised and expanded the book to include case histories of some of today's bestselling narrative non-fiction titles, as well as plenty of hands-on advice and sample non-fiction proposals. Worth checking out!


Sex Mahoney for President said...

I almost never read non-fiction until I read The Perfect Storm. That book changed the way I thought about writing. I hear the movie is just as good, but have not yet seen it. How could it not be? Isn't that the one where Mark Wahlberg whips out a fake penis?

Sex Mahoney for President

Stockyard Queen said...

When my clients, who mostly write nonfiction, ask for great examples of the genre, I recommend The Perfect Storm and Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. I just ordered a copy of this book. Thanks for the tip!

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

I just bought "Candy Girl" by Diablo Cody. I've only read the 1st page, but it has a really nice narrative tone.

I also highly recommend "No Blacks, No Irish, and No Dogs" a memoir by Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon) where you can totally feel like he's actually speaking directly to you. That is the kind of a memoir I would want to write if I ever decide to write one.

Diana said...

Thanks for suggesting a book on writing narrative nonfiction. And thanks for suggesting a few titles to read!

JDS said...

I just graduated from journalism school, the magazine side of things, longer form journalism. We talked a lot about narrative. Glad to see a book has finally been written about it. Truly a great art.

Devon Ellington said...

I love to READ narrative non-fiction, but it's one of the few areas in which I haven't tried the waters. The book recommendation might make it possible.

Thank you!

Meredith Teagarden said...

Thank you for the list! I will look for these and read them.

Peter Rubie said...

Thank you all for your comments. There are a number of great books of narrative nonfiction, for example, Seabiscuit, Generation Kill, The Hot Zone, Black Hawk Down (one of the best in my view from a professional standpoint even if you don't usually read military stories) and of course the grandpa of them all -- In Cold Blood.
Part of the reason I wrote the book was the confusion that seems to continue to reign over what is permissable and what is crossing the line in writing what I call the "novel of true events."