September 15, 2020 7 min read1 Comment
Guest post by Author & Coach Jordin James. Twitter: @justjordinjames
You might think you’re writing non-fiction because you have something important to convey, but the deeper reason you are writing non-fiction is because you want to engage and connect with others in a conversation bigger than yourself.
This is why hearing internet crickets days after publishing an article you thought would engage your readers hurts so deeply.
It’s enough to make you wonder if you actually have something meaningful to say or if this is the best way to spend your time. You do and it is, but like all creatives, the time has come to hone your craft.
There are two main reasons non-fiction articles flop:
The argument is the message you’re trying to convey. It’s what you’re hoping the reader will do at the end of the article. Every engaging piece of writing has a strong and clear argument.
The strength of the argument is built on contrast and the clarity of the argument is built on how clear you yourself are about the bottom-line you want to convey to your readers.
This article goes over how to both strengthen and clarify your message so you can write more engaging non-fiction and feel more connected to the larger conversation you’re longing to engage in.
A long-term way to strengthen your argument is through research, but you can also strengthen your argument immediately through the use of contrast. This is because contrast elicits an emotional response, and humans are motivated by emotion more than anything else.
Contrast is the art of describing the experience of the problem and then comparing it to the experience of the solution.
That should strengthen your argument immediately, but I have one more tip as you’re stringing your structure together:
"The deeper you describe the experience of the problem, the deeper the reader will experience the power of the solution."
This is because the solution is only impressive when in visceral contrast to what it feels like to experience the problem.
For instance, if the problem is holding your breath, the solution is tobreathe. Breathing, on its own, is relatively unimpressive. But when you’ve been holding your breath for a minute and have intense pressure in your lungs, tunnel vision creeping in, and panicky thoughts, taking your first breath is like, “OH MY GOD YES!”
You want your readers to experience that, “OH MY GOD YES!” moment with you. That is the moment that strengthens your argument because that is the moment that packs the biggest emotional punch—it’s the height of the contrast.
The way to make the most of the, “OH MY GOD YES!” moment is to really get into the sensations, emotions, and feelings of the solution to the problem to elicit a visceral reaction in the reader. Then when you offer the story of the solution, they’ll understand fully what it feels like to finally experience the solution.
Another example is people’s shoes being too tight. The solution to the problem is to take them off. Really describe what it’s like to walk around all day with shoes too tight.
You’ve got blisters. Your toes are screaming. You're literally wincing every time you walk. The pain is haunting you but you’re trying to keep up appearances and it’s so distracting. Your whole body is tense.
Then you reach down and put your finger inside the heel, pull it off your foot, and stretch out your toes for the first time. OH MY GOD YES!
See what I mean? I just described taking off shoes. On its own, it would elicit zero emotional response. But because I described in detail what it feels like to be in the problem, you were right there with me experiencing the relief of that “OH MY GOD YES!” moment.
Strengthening argument through contrast was something I learned from my old writing coach,Bill Kenower. If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of contrast and storytelling in non-fiction writing, I recommend you check him out!
Clarity is the soul of non-fiction. Without clarity, your message gets lost, the reader gets confused about how reading this article helps them, and they exit. Clarity solves this.
But your article can only be as clear as you are yourself about what message you are trying to convey.
Before you even start writing your article, there are 4 things you need to get clear on.
I made a template for myself that I fill out before I write my non-fiction articles. Sure, it takes a little more time upfront, but I find that it saves me time later because I don’t have to edit and restructure nearly as much.
I’m offering this template to you, as well as giving you an example of how I used this template for this very article. You’ll see how I crafted this article from the very beginning and how it morphed into what you just read.
Download the blank template here.
And download the example here.
Writing non-fiction? Check out our Sell-Your Non-Fiction Book program, led by Literary Agent Sam Hiyate!
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October 26, 2020
Jordin, As a novice non-fiction writer I always look for materials to improve my craft. This article is something I am going to reread several times. Thank you for your help!