Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Expository vs. Narrative Nonfiction: Dep-Sea Denizens, Part 2

On Monday, I shared an expository passage about some amazing deep-sea critters called bone-eating snot flower worms from my upcoming book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses and talked a little bit about the process of writing that book.


Today, we’re going to continue our discussion of the differences between narrative and expository nonfiction by looking at two consecutive spreads from Michelle Cusolito’s wonderful book Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN, illustrated by Nicole Wong. And then, Michelle is going to share how and why she chose to use a narrative writing style (which tells a story or conveys an experience) for this book.

Here are two consecutive spreads from Flying Deep:


Like the bone-eating snot flower worms I described on Monday, these deep-sea denizens are nothing like the creatures we see on land. The environment is so exotic that young readers can’t help but be intrigued.

Let’s take a closer look at Michelle’s fascinating narrative scene:

10:00 a.m.
A desolate landscape stretches before you.
Soar along
sloping mounds
of cooled lava.
Like a puppeteer,
use the miniature arm inside
to control the large arm outside.
Grasp a piece of glassy rock.
Drop it into the sample basket.

Movement
out the starboard porthole
catches your eye.
A ghost crab!
Could there be more?

Fly forward.
Watch for jutting vent chimneys
as you tunnel through darkness.

Eerie spired loom.
Black smokers blast
scalding water
and poisonous, sooty particles
from deep inside Earth.

Cottony field of bacteria
wave in currents.
shimmering water swirls.
Pompeii worms,
like sausages sporting dreadlocks,
move in and out of tubes.
Dinner-plate-sized clams

Nestle among rocks.
Giant tubeworms’
feathery plumes sway.
Few humans have seen
the blooming oasis.
thee vigor and variety
of life is breathtaking.

Notice Michelle’s use of second-person narration, similes and metaphors, and precise word choice. She varies sentence length to build drama, and her imagery is spot on. The craftmanship behind this book is undeniable.

“To write in a narrative style,” says Michelle, “you need the basics of a story: beginning, middle, and end. Biographies tend to have this built in, but many STEM topics will not work in a narrative style.”

But by framing her book as an undersea adventure, a journey to a hidden world beneath the waves (which has a built-in story arc), Michelle found her way to a narrative style. Here’s the backstory:

“I was out for a walk when the first line popped into my head. ‘Imagine you're the pilot of Alvin, a submersible barely big enough for two.’ (Note: it fits three. My memory was wrong.)

“I thought, ‘Whoa! That's good!’ I reached to my back pocket for my notebook, but I had forgotten it. [Luckily] it dawned on me that I had another tool in my pocket I could use—a smart phone with a Notes app. I sat down beside a pond to type that first sentence and more came flooding out. I typed wildly, with one finger, trying to capture everything. 

“When I looked up thirty minutes later, I had a 500-word draft. [By] putting the kid reader in the pilot seat for a typical dive day, I had found the heart and structure of my story. 

Once I decided on using the structure of a dive day [a narrative with a sequence text structure], many of the decisions were made for me . . . so I was able to [focus on] word choice and rhythm.” 

By comparing this response from Michelle to my comments on Monday (scroll down to read them), we can begin to identify patterns underlying an author’s decision to use either expository or narrative nonfiction in STEM-themed books. 
Expository nonfiction is the best choice for books that explain or describe widely-accepted science knowledge or concepts, while narrative nonfiction is a better choice for titles that focus of the role of humans in making scientific discoveries. Narratives can explore how scientists carry out investigations or the nature of scientific inquiry.

1 comment:

  1. The best lines come on walks (or in the shower!). Loved reading this story behind the story!!

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