- Malcolm Gladwell
- Seth Godin
- AJ Jacobs
- Tim Ferriss
- David McCullough
There. I just listed off a handful of my all-time favorite non-fiction authors. Actually, I just looked to my right and read off the names of the authors of a section of books on my bookshelf.
What they all have in common is, yes, they write nonfiction (for the most part). That means their stuff is real, true, and based on factual evidence.
The problem I have with a lot of nonfiction though is that it’s boring (ironically enough, the same problem I have with a lot of fiction).
Boring people, boring anecdotes, boring writing style, just boring.
I just finished reading Craig Groeschel’s new book, Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After. If you’re wondering, it IS about love, sex, and living happily ever after. Groeschel is the pastor of LifeChurch.tv, the great church that gave us the Bible app!
But I digress.
This post is about two things: first, a look at what makes great nonfiction (and, by extension, great fiction). Second, a simple review of Groeschel’s book, which I received as a review copy.
I’ll just put it out there: I liked Craig’s book. It was easy to read, concise, and the scriptural examples he used lined up perfectly with the message he was trying to get across. As a newlywed (just over a year), the advice and tips he included were refreshing, helpful, and funny at times. All in all, a great read.
I found myself nodding in agreement along with his words, chapter after chapter, liking the writing but not necessarily getting anything new out of it. Like I said, there was some great advice for a newlywed like myself, but it was generally based on information I’d heard before.
I thought by the end of the book I’d give it about 2 or 3 stars out of five. “Craig,” I’d write, “it was good, but it was stuff I’d heard before. I want something new.”
But I can’t do that–the book was very good, and there’s no reason to deny an author a star or two because their information wasn’t new to me. That’s just unfair.
But more importantly, I couldn’t give fewer than four stars because of something deeper; something not as apparent.
Groeschel’s a great writer, and I actually read the book far quicker than I would have if he was just an “average” nonfiction writer.
Groeschel tells a story.
It’s a story about him, most of the time, dealing with one thing or another as a pastor, family man, husband, and human, but it’s a story about other people as well–all entertwined and spun together in a way that reads quite well.
That’s when I realized: this is the secret to great nonfiction writing.
Tell the story.
No matter what you’re writing about, I believe there’s a way to tell the story. No matter how dry, bland, and boring your subject matter might be, you can certainly figure out a way to tell the story (and you should!).
The authors I listed above all do this exceptionally well, with specific mention to guys like Gladwell, Godin, and McCullough. Each of their books, dog-eared and waiting for me to read them yet again, are filled with stories.
These stories tell the histories, battles, experiments, tests, research, and everything in between from our world, and they do it in a way that’s so compelling you forget you’re reading nonfiction.
When you write nonfiction, you need to tell the story as well. Stories are more than just fun ways to convey a message or a lesson–they’re an ingrained part of human culture (no matter which culture it is), and they’re a natural component of our lives. Most people, in fact, only come to an understanding of a subject through the application of it in story (think of the word problems you used to learn in Math).
Story is important–whether you’re trying to tell a story or a fact-based account, and you should ignore it at your peril.
Grab a copy of Groeschel’s book if you can, and enjoy the stories he uses as backdrops for his lessons. Most importantly, start using stories in your own writing–fiction or not.