Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction it is important to occasionally surprise your reader. After all, you don’t want your writing to be predictable. Surprise endings and surprises at picture book page turns are two ways to do this. But the way that I’m most familiar with is to choose surprising facts for your nonfiction.
One way that I do this is to come up with surprising child-friendly comparisons. How much space does something take up? I calculate how many backpacks it would fill. I’ve also used school buses and dinner plates to compare size.
Then there are those facts that are just surprising. Take for example when you have a famous scientist who was hired because she had no background in science. Yes, she later acquired the background but at the start? No education, no experience. And that’s exactly why she got the job. Not that my editor was ready to believe it. She left me a note in the manuscript — “Is this true?” I’m always tempted to respond back “no, I just made it up to see how closely you were reading” but I don’t. I just take a screen clipping of the source and paste it into a comment of my own.
When you write nonfiction and use surprising facts, you can find yourself defending those facts with your editor. Why? Because they’re surprising, people are inclined to question them.
So be ready. Surprising facts hook and engage your reader but there will most likely be a lot of back-and-forth with your editor. Yes, that’s her name. Yes, that’s how this discovery was made. No, women are still not allowed on that golf course. Yes, he called her that even in this day and age. How could I make something like that up?