Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Behind the Books: Tinkering with my Tools

Way back in October, I began a series of posts that focus on the five basic tools in my nonfiction writer’s toolbox (type, style, structure, voice, and point of view), and they have all been leading up to this post. Today I’m going to talk about how I use those tools as I’m writing, or to be more precise and use a popular educational term, as I’m pre-writing.

Here’s my process:

1.    Get an idea. Sometimes it’s a broad idea, like I want to write about hurricanes. But usually, it’s more specific and conceptual, like I want to explore the interrelationships of living things using a cocoa tree as the hook.

2.    I do some research to see if my idea is viable and to make sure another author hasn’t already done a brilliant book on the topic.

3.    I dive in.

4.    After I have a solid body of research, I take out my toolbox and start tinkering. I think of my tools as the items on an a la carte menu. I choose each one separately, but with the goal of combining them to create a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying meal.

Here’s a recap of the items on my menu:

Categories: survey, specialized, concept, biography

Style: narrative, expository, persuasive

Structure: description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect

Voice: lively, lyrical, or somewhere in between

Point of view: first, second, third

It used to be that I’d just plunge into the writing and see where it took me. I was shooting in the dark. Often, I ended up with a big, bloody mess.

But now that I have a have a well-stocked toolbox, it’s easier for me to imagine important elements of a manuscript in advance. (Get ready. I’m about to mix metaphors again.) Will a survey with a compare & contrast structure taste better with an expository style or a narrative style? Will adding a lively voice ruin the meal?

Does this process always work?  No. Sometimes I have to do some sample tasting. And let’s face it, sometimes I still have to just plunge into the darkness. I don’t know if I’ll like a meal until I’ve eaten half or even all of it. But having these tools and thinking about how to mix and match them definitely helps.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you lay out the tools that you choose from but know that sometime you just have to begin writing and see what happens.

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