Exciting narrative nonfiction needs all the elements of any great story: plot, characters, action, and turning points building toward a satisfying conclusion. Much of this stuff will come from research, but how you structure and tell your story is also key. In this Creative Lab, we’ll practice hands-on techniques for arranging your research into a fast-paced structure and we’ll work on finding the right voice to make your true story come to life.
Prerequisites and Advanced Preparation
This Creative lab will work best for people who have an idea for a middle grade or YA nonfiction book and have done some of the research already. Bring your research notes on a laptop or on paper—whatever works for you. If you’ve started a draft of your book, bring that too. Be ready to write on your laptop or in your notebook—and on index cards, which I’ll bring. And one more thing: think of one published book (fiction or nonfiction, for kids or adults) that does what you’re hoping to do with your book. Something that captures the feel of the project you have in mind.
- Introduction: a very quick description of Steve’s process, the steps he uses to structure nonfiction stories.
- Writers briefly introduce their own book ideas—just a few sentences each.
- A more detailed look at the storyboard technique: how it works and how it can help, with examples.
- We’ll discuss finding “must have” material in research—stuff that just has to be in the story. Steve will give some examples and writers can share their own ideas.
- An exercise: writers will start their own storyboards, making index cards with key scenes and material from their own research. Writers will arrange the cards to form an outline for their book.
- Sharing the storyboards and discussion of what works, what’s missing, how they could be improved.
- Finding the right voice: writers will share the book they’ve chosen as a model and describe the feel they want for their own book.
- Discussion of what makes a good opening scene and why.
- Everyone will pick an idea for an opening scene for their book (this can change later, of course; it’s all about trial and error).
- Steve will describe how he gets started, his technique of doing a rough sketch, with examples from his books.
- An exercise: writers will take 15 minutes to sketch out their opening scenes.
- A few participants will read their scenes aloud.
- Working in small groups, writers will discuss each other’s scenes, offer ideas for revision, take notes on their own work.
- Discussion of what comes next: how to turn these basic building blocks into a plan for completing a full draft.
- Final Q&A
- Identify the key moments in the true story they want to tell
- Make the first draft of a storyboard—a plan for structuring their story in a satisfying way
- Identify gaps and missing material in the outline, places where more research is needed
- Begin to craft the voice they’ll use for their story, the mood they want to create
- Draft an opening scene
- Work with colleagues to revise both storyboards and opening scenes
- Make a step-by-step plan to complete a full draft of the book