By Peggy Thomas
Welcome to NF FEST 2024! The Ninjas and I are super excited
to celebrate the art and craft of writing nonfiction all this month with you.
Every guest blogger has been incredibly generous sharing their stories and
providing a wealth of information that will help you no matter where you are on
your writing journey. We encourage you to show them some love by following
their social media and reviewing their books on Amazon.
We also want you to join the conversation! Tell
us what you think in the comments section and on our NF
Fest Facebook page. It helps us plan future
posts. In fact, today’s post comes directly from a comment we had on our
Facebook page. Someone (sorry, I can't remember who) mentioned that
it would be helpful to see how facts from multiple sources can be pieced
together to make a factual scene.
Through the geraniums growing on the windowsill,
Thomas could watch cattle graze in the distant meadow. How many times did his
imagination look even further west across an entire continent to picture “a
rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land”?
It is just two sentences cobbled together with facts from four primary sources:
Here is another example from HERO FOR THE HUNGRY: THE LIFE AND WORK OF NORMAN BORLAUG. I had never used a prologue before, but in this mid-grade biography I wanted a brief scene that 1. showed where much of the action would take place. 2. revealed Norm’s character. And 3. explained why the reader should care about his story. I chose to write the scene where Norm learns that he has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
write the whole thing out, here is some of the information I used and why I
The setting is a Mexican wheat field. But I included certain
details to show that this isn’t a typical farm. The men are Romanian,
Brazilian, Mexican and American. They are standing in a sea of
thigh-high wheat (readers will later learn that prior to Norman’s work
most wheat was very tall).
I show Norm standing in the middle of a small group of
men, heads bent to hear every word their teacher says. He is sweat-stained
and dirty under the hot Mexican sun. Hopefully, the reader gets a
sense that Norm is important, a leader, but also not afraid to work hard. He
leads by example.
Then Norm's wife shows up. Alarm bells go off in Norm’s
head… Has one of the children been in an accident? He’s a caring
When his wife says he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Norm
shakes his head. “That can’t be, Margaret. Someone’s pulling your leg.” He
waves Margaret off, then turns back to his wheat-breeding students. Why on
earth would anyone give him the Nobel Peace Prize? I want the
reader to get the sense that Norm is humble and more interested in the work
than in accolades. Also, he won the Nobel Peace Prize!? Maybe I should keep
reading to find out why.
Each detail from the sweat stains to Norm's thoughts came from
multiple sources: recorded interviews with Norm, old newspaper clippings,
archival photographs, and first-person recollections of the event. But pieced
together they reveal a factual scene that does the job.
Does every paragraph of your current project have a purpose?
What do you want a particular passage to convey? Once you know that, gather your
research notes and write your scenes fact by fact.
About the Author:
A co-host of NF FEST, Peggy is the author of 28 award-winning nonfiction titles and co-author of ANATOMY OF NONFICTION: HOW TO WRITE TRUE STORIES FOR CHILDREN. Her newest books, THE SOIL IN JACKIE'S GARDEN (Feeding Minds Press) and A FAMILY OF TREES (Phaidon Press) will be released in May. Peggy loves nature, gardening and helping new writers to grow. For information on critique services and mentorships, visit her website peggythomaswrites.com.