It’s World Book Day in the UK! A more cheerful international day than many we tend to highlight.
A book is a precious, precious thing.
I love to read. It’s one of the ways I relax at the end of the day and I find novels, in particular, relieve stress and help me go to sleep. Sometimes they enable me to imagine an alternative, better world, full of hope. Alternatively I use them to immerse myself in post-apocalyptic hellscapes that help take my mind off things. According to my kindle I read 72 novels last year. I read fiction in a blur or a binge. It’s very satisfying.
But when it comes to non-fiction books I like a paper copy, and I am more discerning and more intentional and ponderous in my reading style. I tend to buy these books second hand and turn down the corner of pages, scribbling in margins, breaking spines. Sounds a bit brutal but I only buy hard copies of books that I know I am going to refer to time and time again. You should see the state of my cookery books.
For this post I wanted to highlight a handful of books that I return to often which focus on how to improve non-fiction writing. I most recently used them a couple of weeks ago when I gave a training to the folks at ARISE on storytelling. ‘Share a million stories’ is the theme of this year’s World Book Day and these books will help you do that. As you’d imagine, they are all incredibly well written which makes browsing them very far from a chore.
Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction
This book really takes you through the anatomy of a good story. It covers elements such as point of view, voice, dialogue, scene, action, and character. Examples of writing from award winning journalism means it grips your attention from the outset!
Narrative nonfiction has flowered across media, from newspapers and magazines, to books and documentary film, to radio, television, and new digital forms. Despite the diversity, narrative springs from a common theory of story and employs shared techniques. But surprisingly little help exists for writers who want to create the kind of nonfiction that dominates today’s real-world storytelling.Jack Hart
Writing tools: 55 essential strategies for every writer
This book is made up of tiny little chapters that are like a pop of enlightenment. I often get tied up by grammatical rules but this book demystifies the technicalities that slow me down. There are homework tasks where you can practice what you learn and lots of advice on how to build the habit of writing and planning a plot or a story.
On writing well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction
This book has an authoritative but chatty style. It’s really a beauty to read. The chapters are separated out into sections covering; principles, methods, forms and attitudes. I really liked this quote on the lead (or sometimes the lede) – or the need to construct a strong opening. I use it a lot:
“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until … safely hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit: the lead.”William Zinsser
Here is a blog that provides 7 Inspiring Writing Tips From On Writing Well…
The people I work with, in universities and NGOs, have been taught to write in a particular style – in journal articles and technical reports. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. But that style of writing is not always accessible or impactful. It’s good to experiment with different ways of capturing the reader’s attention, cutting out the clutter and reeling them in with some emotional content.
Learning to write well is an ongoing labour and none of us have cracked it – least of all me. I would love recommendations for other books on writing, especially from people outside the US (because these books draw heavily on writing from North America). Help broaden my horizons! Leave a comment below. And Happy World Book Day!
This blog was written by Kate Hawkins.
This seems like an appropriate moment to remind you that if you like our work, you can buy our book, Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure. It’s a right good read.
If you would like to commission a training for your staff on story telling, just drop us a line.