One Writer’s Journey

September 10, 2014

Narrative Nonfiction with Steve Sheinkin

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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narrative nonfictionOne of the highlights of the Missouri SCBWI conference for me was getting to hear author Steve Sheinkin speak not once, but twice.  Twice!   He delivered a key note on research and a breakout session on how he writes such moving narrative nonfiction.  Here are some of the pointers that I gleaned from him from the two sessions combined.

As a writer, read good books.  If you are a nonfiction writer, read fiction as well.  This will help you understand how to create atmosphere, introduce characters, and more.

Narrative nonfiction tells exciting stories.  This is your chance to write about all of the exciting bits of history that never make it into the text books (Sheinkin wrote text books and has very firm opinions about why they are the way they are . . . ie boring).

When you start researching, just read.  Read whatever books you can find on the topic and start taking notes.  This is how you find your story.  This is how he started researching Bomb.  At that point, he knew more or less what he wanted to write about but now who the individual players would be.

Have you found the title of a book that you might need for your project?  To find the closest library to you that actually owns a copy, use Google Books.  Search for the book by title and author.  Then, in the left hand column, click “find in a library.”  You may discover that a local college or university has two or three of the books that you need.

Narrative nonfiction is nonfiction.  This means that even your dialogue has to be something that you found during the research process.*  This means that all of the quotes in his Benedict Arnold book came from letters, journals, memoire and other sources.

*I know, I know.  Elizabeth Bird and Marc Aaronson have just come down on the side of “it is okay to fictionalize as long as you admit you’ve done it.”  Fine.  But its not nonfiction.  You can shelve it under a lable that says “books about real people” but if you’re making it up, it isn’t nonfiction.




  1. Tomorrow Steve actually is beginning a new series on my blog. Nonfiction related, in a way. But no invented dialogue, so there you go.

    Comment by Fuse #8 — September 10, 2014 @ 1:37 am | Reply

    • Ha!

      I always enjoy reading your blog. I’ll be sure to come on by and check out the new posts with SS.

      Comment by suebe — September 10, 2014 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  2. I so agree with the NO invented dialogue. Inventing dialogue promotes false ideas of character and actions. Let history speak for itself.

    Comment by stephaniebearce — September 11, 2014 @ 1:58 am | Reply

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