978-0-226-31814-1-frontcoverFor the past approximately 30 hours, I have been hell bent on reading a book I bought used at The Strand, Jack Hart’s Storycraft. I’m already about three-fourths of the way through it, which tells you something: It’s both insanely useful and readable.

I prowled the basement of The Strand a few weeks ago looking for books about how to write non-fiction. Books about how to actually piece together a non-fiction book are difficult to find under the piles of books about fiction writing and writing to find your inner soul and writing for TV, film, and stage. I had been considering writing one, except that I don’t really know what it would say. While I’ve written three non-fiction books, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you how. They were trial and error. I think they turned out well, but I’ve been convinced there’s a more reasonable way to attack this beast. So I’ve been searching for a book that does for non-fiction what many, many do for fiction: lays out a step-by-step plan for tackling what I think is a more complicated (not harder, necessarily, but more complicated) process than writing novels. Making a readable, juicy story out of reality can be a bitch.

Finally, my search has been rewarded with Storycraft. Hart tackles this topic for both the long-form magazine or newspaper feature as well as the book, and his words are helping me to focus my next book idea. He walks readers through story, structure, point of view, voice, character, scene, action, dialogue, theme and reporting. He offers insights I actually haven’t heard a billion times before in a billion other writing books. There is standard, important stuff about active protagonists and story arcs. But there are wonderful specifics: Use lots of metaphors, but space them out — every three paragraphs or so. Hemingway and Fitzgerald used to drive through the Spanish countryside pointing at objects that the other would coin a simile for (or pay the penalty, a drink of red wine … of course). Make sure you check yourself occasionally while writing for signs of tension — clenched jaw, tight shoulders — and relax before continuing.

Now I’ve got lots of work to do on what I hope will be my next book proposal.