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Writing Books/Non-Fiction vs. Dramatic Non-Fiction

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Question
I am writing a book about some serious events that happened in my family, and I am confused about what type of book it will be.  I've heard about dramatic non-fiction, and I'd like to know the difference between that and just plain old non-fiction.  Thanx.

Answer
Well, Mildred, Dramatic Nonfiction is quite the challenge.  I have a working definition:  Dramatic Nonfiction is the showing of a true story using fiction techniques.  But, I hasten to add, the fiction techniques mentioned in the definition do not mean making up any events, details, characters or descriptions that can't be substantiated with research.  You can't 'fictionalize' Dramatic Nonfiction.

While all nonfiction books should be entertainingly readable along with informative, not all topics lend themselves to Dramatic Nonfiction.  A cookbook wouldn't for an example.  Neither would an engine repair book.  The True Crime genre is Dramatic Nonfiction even though some authors of those books will include a disclaimer in the beginning of the book telling the reader where the author took 'liberties' by describing clothing or meals based on researched best guesses rather than knowing for certain that the victim wore a red knit dress and had pizza for lunch on the day of her death.  Still the most classic examples of Dramatic Nonfictin are Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' and Tom Wolfe's 'The Right Stuff.'  You couldn't go wrong, Mildred, reading both those books and taking some notes on how the subjects were presented to the reader.

So what are the fiction techniques you can use?  Plotting for one.  As long as what you depict actually happened, you can be comfortable showing those events in a different order if it heightens the enjoyment for the reader.  Pacing is another fiction technique you can use.  As in novels, Dramatic Nofiction books should have ever increasing tension as you head towards the final event of your book.  Characterization is another technique.  If you know the mannerisms, voice inflections, accent, personality idosyncrasies of your real people, include them in the narrative.  It will make the events seem even more real to the reader.  And, you can use dialogue by excerpting from the subject's letters, diaries or taped conversations with permission of course!

There's a lot of work to Dramatic Nonfiction but the end result is astounding.  I recommend 'Writing for Story'; by Jon Franklin as THE book on learning how to write in this form.  Although Franklin's book details writing newspaper articles, his advice and techniques apply equally as well to book length.  You may have to hunt for it in the used book sections on the web but I think it's a must have.

Good luck, Mildred.  You've set yourself quite the task.  Please don't hesitate to ask more questions.  And, I hope you can give me a good rating on the advice I've given you here.

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Liz Aleshire

Expertise

What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?

Experience

I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Organizations
Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Publications
Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

Education/Credentials
B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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