Monday, April 14, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Building a Book, Part 2

In The Art of Information Writing, Colleen Cruz and Lucy Calkins say:

“The challenge when teaching information writing is to teach children to generate ideas, align them with facts, and weave both facts and ideas together into a text.”

Instead of the metaphor of weaving, I like to compare nonfiction writing to the process of putting together the pieces of a puzzle or constructing a building.
The puzzle pieces are my chunks. They are like building blocks of different sizes and shapes. I play around with them, moving them here and there until they fit together in a way that is clear and logical.
During this process, I usually end up combining some chunks. And I break apart other chunks into smaller pieces. My goal is to create sections and subsections that are parallel and roughly equal in length. When nonfiction writing is well organized, it’s easier for readers to hold the information in their mind and make sense of it as they move from page to page.

Transitions are like glue. They are like the mortar that holds the building blocks together. In The Art of Information Writing, Colleen Cruz and Lucy Calkins say:

“Writing is like constructing a paper chain—each piece must connect logically to the piece that comes before it. One way to accomplish this is with transitional words.”

Transitional words and phrases and sentences maintain a book’s flow. They are the tool I use to move readers from one idea to the next.

Transitions are important, but I try not to fall in love with them. Why? Because I have to be ready and willing to toss them out and try again during the revision process. If an editor doesn’t buy into the structure I’ve chosen for a book, I’ll have to rip apart the manuscript, rearrange the chunks, and craft completely different transitions to tie everything together. Sometimes this is a really hard process. Sometimes I mourn darling transitions that I’m forced to kill. But I have to have faith that making these changes will ultimately result in a stronger manuscript. And that is always my goal.

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