Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Behind the Books: Before I Write a Word

Since it’s a new year, I’ve decided to start a new strand that looks at the process, at least my process, of writing a nonfiction book (or article). I’m not sure how many weeks it will take, but I’m willing to bet that I’ll learn a thing or two. I hope you do too.

Of course, creating a book doesn’t start with the act of writing. There are a whole bunch of necessary steps that come before I write a word, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on first. Let’s get started with a list:

1. Get an idea.
2. Do a little market research to see what’s already out there on the topic.
3. If the idea seems viable, do a ton of research.

There are a lot more items for my list, but I’d like to pause here for a moment to talk about research. I usually start out by doing some Internet searches and reading stacks of books that I’ve ordered through Interlibrary Loan. I may even visit a local museum or nature center if I think that will help, but once I’ve digested all the facts an important last step is interviewing experts.

Science is an ever-changing world, and talking to scientists working on the cutting edge of knowledge is the best, and often the only, way to get the most accurate and up-to-date information.

I don’t usually include direct quotations from scientists in books, but I like sprinkle them liberally throughout my text when I write a magazine article. There are three great reasons to do this:

Excite readers, add fun

Here’s an example from my article "Body Science: The Art of Anatomy," Odyssey, November 2001.

“[Even] if you have a love for this, you may be turned from it by disgust in your stomach; and if that does not deter you, you may be afraid to stay up at night in the company of corpses quartered and flayed and horrible to behold.”—Leonardo da Vinci

Show the humanity in your topic

Here’s an example from my article "Something’s Fishy," World, National Geographic Society, July/August 2002.

“If a predator tries to eat a seahorse, it often spits it right back out. It’s too crunchy.”
—Dr. Jorge Gomezjurado, seahorse expert at Maryland’s National Aquarium on Baltimore

Put things into perspective for readers/bring authority to a piece
Here’s an example from my article “What Dinosaurs Left Behind,” Highlights for Children, April 2007.

“They [boys] had just the right amount of imagination to see this stuff and recognize it for what it is.” —Dr. Rich McCrea, dinosaur track expert University of Alberta in Edmonton

Your students probably won’t interview experts for the pieces they write. But they might enjoy interviewing older relatives and writing stories about the history of their families. Why not give it a try?

No comments:

Post a Comment