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Congrats, Storystormers, you are almost done! Tara asked me talk to you about how to get nonfiction ideas.
In fiction, anything is possible. But nonfiction shows the world as it really is, even when reality seems too surprising to be true. Here are some ways to inspire ideas for nonfiction stories.
- Do some self-reflection. Think about your personal history, your areas of expertise, and what subjects capture your fancy. You don’t have to be an authority on your topic, but you should choose something that will hold your attention. You could be living with your manuscript for months, or even years.
- Notice your unique perspective on the world. Pay attention to gaps: places where your views differ from the views of most people. Great ideas lurk in the gaps. For example, I am fascinated by plants and all they do, yet I’m aware that many people—including children—see plants as inert and uninteresting, like green statuary. My desire to share my perspective was the driving force behind PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a picture book about the surprising ways plants move.
- Read about your subject. As a science writer, I read science news religiously, and I’m always on the lookout for intriguing stories. My current work-in-progress is the story of people trying to save a beloved, struggling species. I noticed the story popping up in the news for years. I also noticed that no one was writing about it for children. Last summer, I pitched the story to my editor and landed a book contract.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll stumble across an interesting story idea. A few years ago, I was writing a magazine article about Arctic terns, tiny birds that migrate from the Arctic to Antartica every year. I called up a seabird biologist who had studied these birds. We talked at length about them, then we kept talking. He told me about other work he was involved with, like a big research project to track seabirds in advance of offshore wind farm development off the East Coast. That conversation launched me my book BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Protect Seabirds.
Finally, read plenty of children’s nonfiction. Today’s nonfiction writers are telling true stories to children in wonderfully inventive ways. Read a hundred books or articles, then a hundred more. You’ll get exposed to an exciting range of possibilities for how to tell your own nonfiction stories.
Rebecca Hirsch grew up climbing trees and splashing in streams in western Pennsylvania. She worked as a plant biologist before becoming a writer. Her many nonfiction books for children include BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Save Seabirds, a Junior Library Guild selection, and PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a Kirkus best picture book of 2016. Her newest book is DE-EXTINCTION: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life. When she’s not writing, you might find her baking bread, playing backyard badminton (badly) with her family, hiking with her dog, or growing plants in her garden.
Rebecca is giving away one of her books, your choice, either BIRDS VS. BLADES or PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL.
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.