"NONF" IS A BALL: NONFICTION POINTERS
© Pegi Deitz Shea
I got tired of saying "nonfiction" for several reasons. Anything "non" sounds negative. Plus the word has a few syllables and sounds stuffy. I prefer "nonf" because it reminds me of nerf balls, which were invented when I was about 10. Like a nerf, "nonf" can be painless, fun and squeezed into many shapes as long as you keep your hands firmly on it. So, let's have a ball!
The following steps can help students shape all kinds of Nonf, from biography and reports to personal or critical essays. Note: These steps also assume students have done their research or interviews.
FOCUS: Especially with today's Internet resources, students' research may overload them. Have students do a "close-up" instead of their subject. If it's a biography, focus on the turning point in the person's life, or the person’s childhood, or accomplishments in one field. If it's a report on an animal, focus on one aspect. For example, have all your students focus on their animal’s diet and how it finds food. Or its habitat. Stress “specific” over “general.”
PLAN THE PIECE: Public Speakers follow an easy-to-remember organization: After the Opening Hook, 1) tell readers what you plan to tell them. 2) Tell them. 3) Then tell them what you've told them.
OPENING HOOK: Reports and biographies don’t have to start at the beginning—which often is boring, e.g. John Doe was born in 1950. Instead, ask students to find the most interesting fact about their subject and use it to “hook” readers.
Here are a few examples of hooks:
1) The question: What do you get when you cross a horse with a whale?
2) The dramatization: John Doe fidgeted in front of the music executives. They placed his invention, the compact disc, on the player. Would the CD amaze the executives? As the music began, John watched their eyes widen.
3) The quirky fact: Everybody knows computers can do many wonderful things. They are especially handy at making hundreds of copies of people. People?
WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO TELL READERS: AKA a "thesis statement," "argument," or "main idea." Keep it short—one or two sentences. For example: Computers can “replicate” or copy people over and over again so that film directors do not have to hire hundreds of extras for their movies.
TELL READERS: AKA the "body" or "evidence." Students have several organizational options:
· chronological: discuss facts from beginning of a person's life, or beginning of an animal's hunt, to the ending point.
· lateral list: discuss facts of equal importance in an order the writer introduces. E.g. A walrus ("horse + whale") uses its tusks in three different ways. Subtitles help guide readers.
· narrative: discuss subject in story form. Good when focusing on one point in a person's life. Or when you want to put reader in the middle of the action. E.g. John Doe became tired of his music albums getting scratched. He hated when his cassettes became unraveled. In 1975, he decided to do something about it....
WHAT YOU'VE TOLD READERS: AKA the "conclusion" or "wrap." This is a mirror of your thesis statement. However, it must have the punch of your hook so that readers will remember your message. Find a quotation from your subject that sums up the main idea. Or ask another question to make readers ponder or do further research after they're done. E.g. If a walrus is a horse plus a whale, what is a man plus a whale?
STYLE POINTERS: The writer should have a Nonf-ball catch with the reader. These pointers will help students write bouncy prose:
· Make the subject relevant to readers. Keep asking readers questions to involve them, and compare the subject's life to readers' lives.
· Weave quotations from your subject (or an expert on your subject) through the body of the story. Consider making a quotation the hook or the conclusion.
· Use metaphoric language. Nonf demands similes, metaphors and exciting action verbs even more than fiction does.
REMEMBER: Make "Nonf" a ball, and your readers will love playing!