Monday, March 24, 2014

Deadliest Animals: A Look at Structure

Here are some great quotations from The Art of Information Writing:

“Writers often make plans for how to organize their information writing. Writers make one plan, then they think about different possible plans, and they keep doing this over and over.”

“So much of what makes a writer strong . . . is the ability to envision a variety of structures her work can take and then to choose and implement one of those structures.”

To develop a structure, students should pretend to “fly above the terrain of a topic like an airplane flies above the earth, allowing for a bird’s eye perspective.”

“[O]ne of the most important ways to revise is to consider alternative structures.”

“[A] writer needs to build a sound structure; that structure then allows the writer to elaborate without the text becoming a swamp.”

I agree with all of these statements.

When I was writing books like No Monkeys, No Chocolate, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, and Under the Snow, I really struggled to find the right structure. For No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the process search took 10 years, 56 revisions, and 3 fresh starts. I documented that process in a RevisionTimeline comprised of videos and downloadable samples of rejected manuscripts. I invite you to share it with your students.

Luckily, structuring Deadliest Animals wasn’t nearly as difficult. As a matter of fact, it came to me fully formed in a single flash of inspiration. And it happened very early in the process. It was truly a gift.

The instant I read that mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on Earth, I knew that “oh wow” fact would somehow play a central role in the book. After all, who wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these tiny pests are so dangerous?

And as I continued to research, I learned that the “usual suspects”—lions, tigers, bears—aren’t really the critters we should worry about most. There are plenty of deadly plant eaters and lots of deadly little guys. And some of them live much closer than most people realize. Basically, this topic was full of surprises—and that was my hook, that was the idea that would form the core of my structure.

And that brings us to one more great statement from The Art of Information Writing:
“[E]ffective information writing shows the writer’s own involvement with and interpretation of a subject. Readers want to read texts in which facts carry and create ideas.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The best nonfiction uses information to present an idea that is meaningful to the author. We see the topic through a lens that he or she creates.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing these quotes (I love your MONKEYS timeline, by the way). I especially love that aerial analogy... Finding the right structure is always the key!