Nonfiction Isn’t Creative: Fact or Fiction?
When new writers find out that I write primarily nonfiction, many of them sigh. “I understand that you can make money at it, but I want to be creative.”
Let me clue you in on a secret – nonfiction, especially nonfiction for children, is creative and that creativity starts with the idea. Take one idea that has kid appeal. Add it to another idea with kid appeal, stir the two together and you get a brand new idea that is also . . . (can you guess?) . . . creative.
That’s what Kelly Milner Halls did when she wrote Dinosaur Mummies. Dinosaurs had been done. The same with mummies, but dinosaur mummies? Not only did the topic have instant kid appeal, it was something creative no one else had touched.
Another creative approach is to let kids in on a secret. “The other adults lied to you but I’m here to tell you the truth. They don’t think you can handle it but I know better.” That’s the subtext for David Harrison’s Pirates. He makes it plain that the life of a pirate was tough and it was often short. Not only did David come up with a topic that is original for its honest approach, he also handled it in a creative way. This isn’t your standard prose nonfiction. The story is told through poems.
Picture books are written to be read aloud and the very best authors use their creativity to make their book a fun read aloud for both the reader and the listener. Some writers use rhyme (see Lisa Wheeler’s Mammoths on the Move). Donna Bateman takes rhyme and notches it up in Out on the Prairie. How? She patterns her text after “Over in the Meadow” while still imparting solid information about the flora and fauna of the tall grass prairie.
You don’t have to write picture book nonfiction to use a creative approach. In his novel-length book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, author Steve Sheinkin tells readers about the early atomic arms race. The topic is worthy of James Bond and the execution is no less gripping than a spy novel. He uses narrative to build suspenseful scenes that pull the reader in to this high-stakes adventure.
Any of these topics could have been written up in a ho hum encyclopedia style which would be sure to lose readers if it ever made it out of the slush pile. Instead, these authors used their creativity to the max.
Ask yourself. Are you creative enough to write for today’s nonfiction market?
Sue Bradford Edwards is teaching Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults in the WOW! Classroom this October and November.