I’ve heard other nonfiction writers use terms like inciting incident, emotional trigger, creative spark, moment of inception, central mantra. I like to call it the creative core.
What is it?
It’s the heart of a great nonfiction manuscript.
It’s what a specific author brings to a topic, to a manuscript that no one else can.
It’s why a topic chooses an author, not the other way around.
It’s the result of an aha moment, and the source of passionate writing.
It’s what connects a topic, any topic, to a universal theme that everyone can relate to.
And according to nonfiction author Heather Montgomery, it’s what makes the best nonfiction books timeless.
Sound like magic. Well, it kind of is.A nonfiction book’s creative core is deep inside an author. Maybe it traces back to a powerful childhood memory. It might be the result of a deep-seeded desire, hope, belief, or disappointment. Here are some examples.
Tanya Lee Stone wrote Sandy’s Circus because, as a child, Alexander Calder, was the only artist she immediately understood in a way that her father and sister seemed to understand all artists. Calder was her link to a secret knowledge that made her feel more closely connected to her family.
Deborah Heiligman’s “nonfiction novel” Charles & Emma is so compelling because everything about who she is as a person drove her to write a book “in service to the love story” between Darwin and his wife. It's a book that only she could write.
Next year, I have a book coming out that traces back to the walks my father, brother, and I took through the woods near our home when I was young. The knowledge my brother and I learned on those meandering journeys and the closeness it made us feel to my father had a strong impact on both our lives. In many ways, I’ve been writing No Monkeys, No Chocolate since I was 8 years old.
How can a writer go about identifying the creative core of a work in progress? He or she must think deeply and ask questions that may have an uncomfortable answer: What really prompted the writer to choose his or her topic. Journaling can be an invaluable tool during this process. Writing about the moment of inception can help writers stay connected to it and the emotions it triggers.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, the best writing comes from a place of vulnerability. We write because we have something we need to say.