With imaginative storylines and interesting characters, fiction writers can engage their readers from the first sentence to the last. But when you’re writing nonfiction like a self-help book or an autobiography (or even creative nonfiction like a personal essay or memoir), you don’t have the same license to be flexible and inventive—you have to stick to the facts. How do you keep readers interested and turning the pages when you can’t make up mind-bending plot twists or contrive a sympathetic underdog hero? The nonfiction experts at Writer’s Relief have some tips and advice to help nonfiction writers effectively connect with readers.
The Best Ways For Nonfiction Writers To Connect With Readers
Get emotional: Just like with fiction, you want to make your readers care about the people and situations you’re presenting. You can’t make up the facts of what you’re writing about, but you can control the tone of how you write. Real life is messy and emotional, and your nonfiction can reflect that. Use words and descriptions filled with imagery and personality where appropriate.
Stating a fact: Many Continental soldiers perished during the winter encampment at Valley Forge. Adding some emotion: During that bleak winter at Valley Forge, influenza and typhoid spread through the camp, killing many of the Continental soldiers already weakened by hunger and the unrelenting cold.
Include personal examples: When you’re writing nonfiction, you can include a little personal history to draw in your readers. You want your writing to have peaks and valleys of honesty and vulnerability. Save moments of intense, intimate honesty and vulnerability for the most important, impactful parts of your work so that they really hit hard.
Use real-world examples: To help readers connect more fully with experiences or information they may be unfamiliar with, draw parallels that may help them to engage more fully with your writing. Similes and metaphors are great ways to do this. You can also bring in real-life examples about the experience to provide details through a different lens.
For example: If you’re writing about the health benefits of yoga, include input from medical experts as well as some real-life examples of how people’s health improved due to participating in yoga classes. Using examples helps bring abstract concepts into context for the reader.
Add surprises: Plot twists and red herrings aren’t just for fiction! Of course, you can’t make things up in nonfiction, but you add an unexpected twist whenever you can. If we return to the example of the winter at Valley Forge, research shows that log cabins were built for the soldiers—they didn’t all stay in threadbare, snow-covered tents.
If the writing topic and style permit, you might also toss in a joke or humorous observation. Your personal essay about skydiving might include how during the jump, your mouth flapped open like that of a Great Dane riding in a convertible. Or that book about yoga poses might mention how a more difficult position feels like it should be called “the pretzel.”
Choose a topic you care about. If there’s no passion or depth behind what you’re writing about, your readers will sense that and quickly lose interest. If you’re not fascinated by the stories of the Revolutionary War or yoga, your prose will be dry and dull. Be sure whatever topic you’re writing about is something you care about and find interesting. If you can’t connect with the story, how will your readers?
Write like a fiction writer: Just because nonfiction is fact-based doesn’t mean it has to be boring or predictable. Build suspense, build character arcs, and pay attention to themes and tone and pacing. The art of nonfiction lies in learning how to craft real-life situations into interesting, emotionally compelling stories. Even though you’re writing nonfiction, you’re still in control of how and when you reveal information, so use that to your advantage! Half the battle in connecting with readers is constructing a narrative that takes them on a memorable, intriguing journey.
When you think like a fiction writer while writing nonfiction, you’ll be able to create a compelling work that will keep your readers turning the pages. And when your nonfiction self-help book or creative nonfiction essay or memoir is ready for publication, the research experts at Writer’s Relief can help you pinpoint the best markets and boost your odds of getting an acceptance! Learn more about our variety of great services for writers.
Question: How do you make nonfiction writing interesting for your readers?