You will have decided which type of book you want to write. Whether you’ve decided upon a ‘How To’ book or a magnificent fictional tome, both can be created in the same manner. Both require dedication and persistence to get to the end. Both require planning and plotting and both require you to tell an interesting story.
Yes, you read right.
You see, a fictional book should be both entertaining and educational. And a non-fiction book should be both educational and entertaining.
Read that again.
Fact (more commonly known as non-fiction) and fiction books are constructed in much the same manner. With a fiction book, you can write topics for chapters on postcards and toss them into the air and let them fall where they may and the essence of the story will still remain the same. However, a book filled with factual information needs those postcards to be put into some kind of logical format or order. This is so that instructions can be followed in a step-by-step instructional manner.
To write either a fact or a fiction book you need to plan and organize yourself just to get yourself started. You need to do some research as well.
Fact needs your:
- experience first
- knowledge second
- then research and, finally…
- your imagination
Fiction needs your:
- imagination first
- knowledge second
- then your experience and then…
While research forms the backbone of both fact and fiction work, the vast majority of research you undertake won’t make it into your book. It may be fascinating to you and you probably won’t want to leave any of it out because it took you so long to find it and you find it fascinating.
For instance, when writing my first fiction book ‘For the Love of Sweet William’, I found some wonderfully fascinating facts about the history of the UK at the beginning of the first millennium. My main character, Heather, is an archaeology/history buff and I needed her to spout off some knowledge about the subject when asked out on a date by an A-list actor. But, my reviewers very kindly told me this part needed to be ‘culled’. I thought perhaps my enthusiasm for the subject had run away with me! So, reluctantly, cull I did. It reads all the better for not having that dialogue included.
Most of the research I had produced went into the recycle bin, but I kept some juicy facts for future books on future topics.
Just remember the reason for research is to give your work substance. To give it a backbone. To help you present a strong and confident piece of work.
If you choose to write a non-fiction book, a memoir about your own life or a biography of a historical figure, you will obviously need to remain true to the tale you want to tell. However, there is an important point to take into consideration; when you quote someone currently living, or describe their character; you need to write as though those people are going to read what you write.
If you have doubts about this, use that fertile writers’ imagination and put yourself in their shoes. Picture yourself reading something someone (perhaps your Uncle and/or Aunt) has written about you. Don’t just picture them, feel it too.
To hammer this point home just a little harder – you don’t want to be sued!
If you’re writing a factual book about say, psychotherapy, and you need to use client or patient examples, as I’ve done in some of my psychotherapy work, you’re going to need to change the names and settings or even infer scenarios within it so that they are not identifiable. However, if it’s a non-fiction book based on a person’s life, the names obviously can stay with their permission. It goes without saying these things need to be handled delicately.
A rule of thumb: to save real people from embarrassment
Whichever method you choose, you should write a note to this effect at the beginning of your book. It can say something like ‘this is based on a true story’, and that your work merges true facts with fictional elements.
There are many more people interested in true or real-life stories than fictional tales. One of the reasons for this could be that true stories tend to show people what it really means to struggle.
The fact-based story helps the reader to understand their own pain has been experienced by someone else. That it’s OK to cry or to feel disillusioned by life. It’s alright that you’re facing struggles and blocks at every turn.
Because someone else has experienced this too. And your book will tell the reader how these people faced the challenges presented to them – and, ultimately, overcame them.
So, the rule of thumb is to be respectful of other people, their lives and their characteristics. Be true to the substance of the tale; remember the people who you write about are being presented from your perspective, not theirs. So you will, at least, need to give them the benefit of the doubt – even if you feel strongly about the possible way they have treated you, it’s not ethical to paint a person as all bad with no redeeming characteristics.
People have their own reasons for their actions, it may not be clear to us and may seem unfair, but that’s where a writer’s emotions are to be kept at bay. If you are too close to your subject, take my advice and back off a little.
If you have trouble doing this, you could write the story as you see it, then put it away for a month or, better still, a year. Then read it again and see how you can alter it without harming the essence of the tale.