I think this is really excellent advice – so I’ve just copied it to a friend who‘s grappling with the structure of a non-fiction book.


Dear Fluff,

Heavens! I deeply apologize for causing His Obtuseness such anguish. Although this is not your line of work, I would hope that you could guide him to water for I’m sure he’s dehydrated.

Are there other animals about that he could visit? Disguised, of course, so they won’t know where he came from. But now that I think about it, that may not be much of a problem since he seems to spend much of his time under the table. If the Red Lion is no more, are there Pink Flamingos or Puce Koalas or Amber Canaries or, perhaps best, a Paisley Badger nearby where a poor soul can wet his whistle in peace whether above or below the table?


I have never had a drink from the Red Lion. I have never been to the Red Lion. I have never even seen the Red Lion. And yet, on reading your post, a little part of my heart just died. :cry:

Perhaps, and this is clutching at straws, but perhaps it is a small mercy it wasn’t converted into a theme “pub” (how many fake Irish pubs can the world endure?). Even worse, as has been witnessed on many occasions here, is the conversion of a proper pub into a pokies venue with beer. Anything must be better than that soulless death that seeks the appearance of life. Zombie pubs we call them, as much for the faces of the pokies punters as the lost soul of the once proud local.

But this does not help write a series of non-fiction masterpieces…

Dave, Scottie,
Thanks for you’re kind words. The whole thing is so heart wrenchingly sad. :frowning: I mean, I can’t set foot outside the house, without passersby pointing at me, and accusing me of being the owner of one of the offending human zombies. It’s as though they blame me for not keeping him under control. Human thought processes are beyond definition.

The RED LION’s ex-tomcat mouse/rat catcher ( he’s shacking up with the she cat mouser at The Prince of Wales, these days), called by the other day, chancing his arm, or fore paw. When he realised he was, urinating into the wind, so to speak, he settled for a moment or two of, social intercourse, during which he mentioned that, His Obtuseness, and a few of his zombie compatriots, have been found, mumbling and milling around the Beer&Spirits aisle in the new Tesco. Shouts of “Two pints of bitter and a Drambuie shandy darlin’,” and such like, have been heard by the staff :open_mouth: Gawd knows where it’s all going to end, I’m sure. My image is suffering terribly. :frowning:
P.S Oh my…dear me…I do believe you two are seriously offtopicking. I do hope I don’t end up being blamed for your transgressions.

The demise of the English pub is one of the sadnesses of our era. Coincidentally I live not far from a Red Lion which has turned into a Tesco Express. The Anchor just down the road has also closed; the old Woolsack, complete with a large sack above the door, metamorphosed into the Mojo sports bar, which then became the Piazza Firenze, which promptly caught fire.

Herr Schweinkotflügel,
As the venerable Mr Hugh, points out, “Really excellent advice”.
Only one discordant note, Herr S.

Of course only Ms rebecca can confirm or refute this assumption, but I get a very strong feeling, that she has absolutely no intention whatsoever of, getting out of there! I think she’s out to do battle.

I think it’s a pretty safe assumption, Mr Hugh, that once the pubs start closing down, Civilisation as we know it is doomed. Imagine all those Vic-kesque alcohol addled brains wandering the streets.
MAD MAX? BLADE RUNNER? Even George Romero’s, THE DAY OF THE DEAD. isn’t nudging disbelief, y know! :frowning: What are we to do, Mr Hugh…what to do? :confused: :frowning:

Perturbed Fluff.

My point here is simply that everything you include that doesn’t pass the “so what?” test dilutes and therefore weakens your ultimate message. I’m not saying you have to make your book as short as possible; I’m just saying make it as relevant as possible.

Hi Rebecca et al,

Maybe I can help. Let´s see:


  1. Research is only there to help prove your point. Who has written about your subject? That´s what you need to know so you don´t go about re-inventing the wheel on a given subject. As you haven´t told us what the subject is, I´m speaking (writing) from abstraction. However, ask yourself:
    a) why you have researched what you did,
    b) what stands out in all you have read,
    c) what is your position regarding the subject.

C) is what you should be writing about, not a) and b).
A) is what has moved you to look into the topic. So after reading it all, mulling it over, what is it that YOU want to say about it? What do YOU want to share with the rest … that hasn’t already been said? How is it different from what others have written? Why are they right? Why are they wrong?
B) are the things that have stood out, they are for using as part of your direct quotes, perhaps ad verbatim.
So much for your research.

As in fiction, non-fiction is another form of “story.” And story without conflict is not story. What is the conflict in what you have read? Is there conflict? If not, find it. Structure it dividing your material in three main sections:

  1. Thesis
  2. Antithesis
  3. Syntheses.
    Look each one up and figure out what, within your research, belongs to which section. Make three piles and set all your notes to the corresponding section. Browse over them and take not of the aspects that you wish to share. Make sure to keep notes of article, author, page number, location within the text, to find it all. Maybe use highlighting (three colors, choose what each one means) and highlight the parts you say “Jeeezzz, I would like to share THIS with the world! You can’t say you understand the world if you haven’t heard of THIS!” It must excite you. If it doesn’t, if may not excite others, either.

If you haven’t read about dramatic arcs, do so. Take a look at Syd Field’s book Screenplay, and Screenwriter’s Workbook (or something like that). You are not writing a screenplay, I know, but you are telling a story. What Syd’s book will give you is structure, dramatic structure. Then think of how long your book will be. How many pages will you need to tell your story? Check out Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT’s Beat Sheet to inspire you how to build up your subject matter. Non-fiction should be alive, full of conflict, ups and downs, highs and lows. If your book is 400 pages long (you think), then divide this by 4. 100 pages for the thesis, 200 pages for the antithesis, 100 pages for the syntheses. A rule of thumb. If you want it smaller, divide by four and do the same exercise. This is not a straightjacket but rather a guideline of volume of work and how soon you must wrap up a topic. Choose for each only the most outstanding facts, thoughts, considerations. 90% of your research will NOT be used, anyway. It’s part of the iceberg effect. It’s for your bibliography, so people can see and look further into the subject if they get as excited as you did when researching, writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting …

What’s at stake? What will happen if people do not read your book? What will the MISS OUT ON? This is very important for you to focus on your theme. Talking of which, consider what your theme is, what your premise is. Research is only there to prove YOUR point. What’s your point? If you don’t have one, don’t write. Move onto something else. BUT DO NOT BURN YOUR RESEARCH NOTES! @!@!@##$. One day perhaps years down the line they will come in handy. You will suddenly wake up at 2 AM cursing for not having seen it before. It can take years, even decades. Your subconscious is working on it all the time, believe me.

Each chapter should be about something. Duh! Obvious? Many writers forget this. They pile up fact after fact and soon bore us (or thrill us) with an overload of information we will probably forget as we finish the book. Facts are there to prove your point. What’s your point? Don’t make the chapters too long. Keep them between 10 and 20 pages long, and each chapter should have a similar thesis, antithesis, syntheses as the entire book. Each chapter should close up an issue but lead to the next. Each chapter should have a high stake issue you wish to share.

Read up on POV. It is massively important. WHO is telling the story … presenting the facts … what effect do you want to have? POV is important.

a) First person singular in non-fiction, depending on the subject matter, can mean you are THE EXPERT and speak down to your readers. They don’t know nothing. Or you can tell how you found out about it and make into a story about how you discovered what you did. You were as ignorant as everyone else about the subject and suddenly, like in a road movie (look into “road movie”), you discovered something. Read up on first person POV. Do not use omniscient because you would have to be good.

b) Third person singular puts a distance between you and your readers, makes it more formal, more academic. Unless you are really adept with language, it could turn it into a dry read. Third person, when telling a story about someone else who discovered something, will perhaps blend in with second person (you, Mr. Scientist, will discover such and such a thing when reading this).

c) A not so very much explored POV for non-fiction is first person plural: WE. We are all in this together. It brings your readers closer and it keeps you from standing out as the guru and perhaps thus step on people’s toes (or egos).

In short, use all the elements we use for fiction to bring life to your non-fiction. State an issue and then bring examples from real life to illustrate them. Non-fiction is, after all, about real life and not about some abstract paper on the immortality of crabs (if that’s your thesis).

Who will read your book? Imagine an audience. Close your eyes and start talking about the subject your book is about. Who is in the audience? Grandmothers? Friends? Children? University professors? Who? When you write, imagine you are speaking to them. Why should THEY know about this? Don’t be preachy, rather make it an exciting adventure of discovery on how to share what you know in the simplest way possible.

I’m currently finishing a book on monetary engineering. Sounds heavy? Well, the target is for adults (and interested youngsters), for teachers and economists, virtually for everyone as we all use money … but few know what it is. A difficult subject to research (it took me 16 years), but it shouldn’t be difficult or boring to read. I mean, people kill for money and don’t know what the heck money is. They suffer or are happy due to money, ask them what is it and they will surely give you a blank look. 587 footnotes in 450 pages, over 100 books in the bibliography and “n” number of internet links, articles, etc. Try not to make your book for an elite readership as they are few and perhaps, usually, already think they know more than you do anyway. Unless, of course, you are doing a university thesis and have decided to get even with your teacher and bore him/her to hell as a good bye present.

Good luck and if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to write.



Mr Leonardo,
Welcome aboard this leaky old tub, The Pirate Ship, Scrivener. You probably regard signing on with L&L and becoming a member of Scriv’c crew, as a sound career move. Sadly, nothing could be farther from the truth.
The taint by association, will become a heavy burden to bear. The crew of Scrivener, one of the most despised and scurviest to be found afloat, anywhere upon the high seas, bear with absolute and utter indifference, the opprobrium of, La communauté littéraire, in particular, and the Public in general.

The most defamatory, derogatory and denigratory sobriquets, they wear as though badges of courage, with boastful pride.

Not only will your previous seafaring experience aboard, Friedtjof Nansen, not, stand you in good stead, aboard Scrivener, Mr Leonardo, it will stand you in no stead at all!.

We all make mistakes Mr Leonardo, unfortunately, some get the chance to learn from them, unlike us.
Bienvenido a bordo el Sr. Leonardo

Thanks for the welcoming tap, Fluff (et al),

Luckily, and as Louis L’Amour wrote in his Education of a Wandering Man, for a writer, everything is grist for the mill. So no matter which ports you raided and which ships you sailed on, which crew you shared the fiercest storms with or the most maddening doldrums, there’s a loaf of bread (and some) you get to carry away with each adventure. Go home and bake it well.

And so as to remain on-topic and escape the slippery slide of being chastised by the capt’n of the forum, writer’s block comes when you don’t realize that all is grist, and that the best and finest flour cannot be ground once (causing what writer’s might call first-draft-rough-seas-sickness), but rather must be ground over and over again until it becomes the finest of the fine. (If it’s black pepper what you’re grinding, then of course you may make everyone sneeze … which uncertain lore claims it’s good for stopping hiccup).

On an anecdote of the Fritjof Nansen, you know how it is said that when some people get really seasick they feel like they are dying. Quite true. But then, if they don’t get any better, they will not only feel like they are dying, but actually wish to die. I saw it with my very own eyes on a stormy week in the North Sea in December, where the ship, battered by the seas and with a ton of milk having spilled down below because it hadn’t been secured properly, mixed with the smell or puke and bilge ablutions, a girl just over 15 did actually wish to die. She overcame her distress after three days of suffering, then became one of the strongest aboard, crossed the Atlantic twice, and who knows where she is now. Writing, perhaps?

Who knows. Best,


Welcome from me as well, Leonardo :smiley:

I think you will fit in just fine: You have a good sense of humor, which you are not afraid to use; and you can give good advice.

I hope to see you around the forum more :slight_smile:


Thank you very much, Lunarclipper. I haven’t been on the forum much because I must meet a deadline. Trying to finish the revision on a non-fiction book, which I was supposed to deliver at the end of June. But too many other obligations and monkey-wrenches have made my second deadline of July’s end be a struggle. Using scrivener has helped a lot, though, as I need to juggle with the Spanish version and changes I made to it after I’d done the English translation, footnotes (587 altogether), quotes, etc. etc. Writer’s Block is not exactly what I suffer from :wink: Anyway, getting the hang of scrivener and wondering how did I manage to do my work without it for all these years. Hmm. Talking of which, need to find some time to actually pay for it, as I’m still using the Try version. So what do you do, writing and otherwise?



(this is in response to the original post :slight_smile: )

Back when I was working on my thesis, what we used to say to each other on campus was:

The most important words in your vocabulary/thesis are: “but that is beyond the scope of this document”.

We all found that the most difficult, and important, part of the thesis is pruning. Prune ruthlessly, or it will grow like kudzu. The more you learn, the more you learn that there is to learn. It’s all inter-related, it’s all on topic, and it just continues to grow.

It will never stop growing. You will never come to the end. Unless you draw the boundaries yourself: firmly, ruthlessly.

Decide which aspects of your topic are the most important to you. I’ll say it again: be ruthless. It’s physically painful. You need to cut things that seemed absolutely essential-- because there is no end, unless you draw the line yourself.

You could spend your entire life studying this topic. If you do want to – great, but you still need to draw the line for this first book.

The rarely spotted on-topic post!

Welcome to the forum, LindaJeanne. And, good advice! I’ve read a few novels in my time that could have done with heeding your advice too!

Welcome to the good ship Scrivener, LJ.

EDIT, Grrrrrrrrrr Herr PigBoy You beat me to the ‘welcome’. I ought to //



pigfender & Floss – thanks :slight_smile:

I’m working on my first novel now, and I’m finding the lessons I learned about the dangers pf “scope creep” while working on my thesis are definitely helping. :laughing:

Hi LindaJeanne, I hadn’t heard of the term “scope creep” before and looked it up. Thanks for pointing it out to us. In Spanish we have a saying: “El que mucho abarca poco aprieta.” Basically, He who much embraces cannot squeeze much … or something along those lines. Looks like my life is in a perennial scope creep state.

Another great term I discovered through a friend not long ago was “Stigmergy.” Boy that can explain so much! From conspiracy theory syndrome to our own little darn destructive habits.

Best, Leonardo

I make airbags for a living, I dabble in writing fiction/fantasy and poetry (nothing special, just good old fashioned rhyming stuff), and I decided to teach myself Japanese. Why Japanese? Well, I wanted to learn something, I can’t afford college so I thought I would teach myself like i did with computers when DOS was all that, my son has been interested in Japan for a while and wants to visit there someday, and languages have always fascinated me (not just how people talk, but how they write and how their culture influences how they use their language)

So, how about you?

How is your project coming, Rebecca? I hope you have been able to use the advice here to your advantage. Good luck and best wishes for your writing :smiley:, Lunarclipper