Genre tips

Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Nonfiction

A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic–nothing else. This year, I’ll be covering writing genres.

Today’s genre:



prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history

Tipsa to z

  1. Be imaginative. If it’s been said before, try a different slant or add details no one’s talked about.
  2. Say it simply.
  3. Surprise the reader with insider knowledge–details they didn’t know about.
  4. Write the book the world needs. It may be about a rising political leader or a world nation in trouble.  Make it relevant and authentic.
  5. Interview lots of relevant people.
  6. Make the chapters active, not passive. Put readers in the middle of your nonfiction story.
  7. Use all five senses.
  8. Don’t include the kind of detail that readers will glaze over reading. Put that in footnotes or appendices.
  9. Decide what type of nonfiction you’re writing (i.e., biography, history, journalism, expose, or that sort).
  10. Know who your reader is.

Popular Books

  1. The Elements of Style by E.B. White
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  3. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  5. The Double Helix by James Watson
  6. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
  7. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  8. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  9. The Republic by Plato
  10. Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

Click for complete list of genres

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May 2017. Click to follow its progress.

51 thoughts on “Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Nonfiction

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  4. There are a few books on your list that most people wouldn’t really class under “non-fiction” as a genre, though they’re certainly not “fiction,” either. “The Republic” is philosophy (and actually has a strong fictional element, really), and both “The Prince” and “The Communist Manifesto” are political theory. (Well, political, anyway. They’re both a little hard to pigeonhole.) I’m not sure a grammatical reference manual quite fits into the base genre, either; reference and grammar books have their own categories, after all.

    I’d suggest another tip, too: Know your documentation level. If you’re writing academically, you have to footnote everything, but non-fiction for mass consumption usually doesn’t footnote, just leaving a trail of (often unmarked) endnotes instead. (Which can be really frustrating if you’re used to academic non-fiction!) When you’re not writing up as many citations, you have to treat your sources (and especially quotations!) differently than when you’re using direct citation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think most people consider philosophy as non-fiction (though it reads as fiction at times!), but I get your point. Communist Manifesto (I’ve read it in the original Russian, oddly enough) is more about economics than politics, but sometimes you can’t tell a difference between those two.

      Good point about the citations.


      • Plato’s philosophy (other than “The Apology of Socrates”) always has a strong fictional component, because it’s always a fictional dialog between Socrates and his students (or whoever else just happens to be around, like a group of playwrights). But I usually see “non-fiction” as “fact-based”, while philosophy is inherently theoretical. Actually, in the case of “The Republic” it’s almost more the “utopian” genre than philosophy, even. (Well, with some bouts of dystopian. It’s an odd experience reading “The Republic.” Especially in the all but unreadable translation I read.)

        “The Communist Manifesto” was written in Russian? That’s weird; I’d have expected it to be written in German, like the rest of Marx’s works. You’re right about the economics, though; it’s hard not see them as blurred, particularly in Marx.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting discussion. I guess, as for fact, that often seems fiction regardless. I definitely see your point about philosophy. It makes a lot of sense.

          I suppose because The Communist Manifesto had such an impact on Russian history back in the 1920-30s, it was translated by the time I read it in the 70s. Interesting read. That guy was smart.


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  6. Excellent tips and characterisation, dear Jacqui….
    “Say it simply” & “Surprise the reader with insider knowledge–details they didn’t know about”: those two points make so much sense when it comes to this genre.
    I guess Capote´s “In Cold Blood” perfectly fits here. I have read that book and I personally think is Capote´s masterpiece (I have only read short stories by him after that one, I don´t think he took it further!). The way he makes us “active part” of the story and ultimate trail are remarkable.
    They say that Nonfiction is a genre that doesn´t sell well though… I wonder why, when in fact many very succesful series on Netflix are in fact related to this genre, if you stop to think of it…. 😀 Great post!… Love & best wishes! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a big fan of reading non-fiction, though I haven’t written much of it since my grad school days (long ago in a galaxy far far away….). But a well-written bit of history or natural history? I’m as engaged as I am in the latest mystery!
    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now they are coming up with innovative genres such as Creative Non-Fiction that crosses the line between truth and fiction. Had to know what you might be reading. It makes it difficult for people writing memoirs to know where to draw the line. Two friends are stuck in limbo because they started out writing non-fiction but received too many comments like “some of it sounds made up.” Guess James Frey made things difficult for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. Non-fiction infers lots of research, maybe footnotes and a bibliography. Who could doubt that?

      I did have one book I moved from non-fiction to creative nonfiction to fiction. Kind of for the reasons you mentioned.


  9. I just read a book about the history of medieval times, and I was prepared to scan for what I needed and not really read in depth. Surprise! This was a really interesting history. The most interesting element was the tense. The authors wrote it in present tense, so once in a while I slipped into 1100s and forgot I was reading about centuries earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I used to enjoy the children’s Horrible History and The Knowledge books when I was younger, they’re non-fiction with a humourous slant. I stopped reading non-fiction for fun as I got older but I recently discovered the liked of Bill Bryson who write non-fiction with a humourous slant and I think that’s the style I like best.

    Cait @ Click’s Clan

    Liked by 1 person

    • His is great, I like historians like the Shaaras, but I think their Civil War and WWII books are categorized as fiction because of the rich characters (with stuff you could only extrapolate from evidence)


  11. I’ve read quite a bit of non-fiction, though none on this list. Some authors that have stayed with me – Desmond Morris, Bernard Lewis, Ahdaf Soueif and Amin Maalouf.It’s true that non fiction can be as engaging as fiction, especially history,


    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great non-fiction is as captivating as any story, and this list highlights some of the best. In some cases, charts, photos, maps, and graphs explain content. Any masters or doctoral thesis would fit this category.

    My favorite is Eats Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation! by Lynn Truss. Every writer should own this book, and you and I know a few who should hang it around their necks.

    The one work I’ve had published is an article in Arts & Activities, a resource magazine for teachers. It was a lesson plan for an elementary school art project. Not a full book, but a non-fiction article.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jacqui, I’m not a bookworm but on the occasion, I do read I enjoy fiction. However, in recent years I’ve read a couple of non-fiction stories that touched my heart. One book was written from a mother’s perspective after losing her daughter at the Pentagon 9/11 attack and another from a fellow blogger who tells the story of her young daughter’s death. I connected with these authors on the mother level and discovered I actually liked non-fiction. Prior to reading these books I always thought I wouldn’t like true stories. So, this was a happy discovery. Thanks for the list of suggestions!

    Art Sketching Through the Alphabet “N” (Nightingale)

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  14. I would add: have a theory. Many themes in non-fiction have already been covered over the years, and you’re bound to say what has already been said, if anything becuase you’ll study on books that have been published in past years. But if you have your own idea about a subject, that will make it your own book. Just be accurate and don’t try to bend the facts to sustain your theory 😉

    The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir

    Liked by 2 people

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