Nonfiction Story Arc

If you are an SCBWI member, I hope you took the time to watch Melissa Manlove’s Digital Workshop. Manlove is an editor at Chronicle Books and among the things she discussed was the emotional arc, not for the story characters but for the reader.

Turning readers around in their thinking about Burmese pythons would create a strong emotional arc.
Photo by Tomu00e1u0161 Malu00edk on

Take a topic that readers find creepy or even frightening. Then immerse them in the topic and turn them around. By the end, if you’ve done your job right they will find the topic fascinating.

My son and I experienced this when he was home sick from school. PBS had a special about the Burmese pythons invading the Everglades and how they were virtually unbeatable predators. I have no qualms about admitting this – I have a problem with snakes. They fascinate me but they also freak me out. Under controlled circumstances I can hold them and have even had a massive python slither across my lap.

So it was easy for this documentary to start me off on the “snakes are terrifying and Burmese pythons are more terrifying than average.” I’m 3/4 of the way there all by myself. But then they brought in scientists who study the animals. These scientists spoke out heating sensing pits on the snakes’ faces, their rows of teeth, the speed of a strike, and more.

By the time the program was over, I knew all kinds of things about these massive snakes. They really are amazing.

So what kinds of subjects could you approach in this way?

Animal Predators

Animal predators are a rather obvious choice since we were discussing pythons. There is a lot to respect about the design of big cats, sharks, raptors and more.

Creepy Animals

What do I mean by creepy animals? Think of all the animals that aren’t really dangerous but people are still afraid of them. There are bats (which I adore), octopi, squid, spiders, and rats. None of these animals are especially dangerous but people are still afraid of them.

Natural Disasters

There is a reason that people are afraid of massive storms, earthquakes and volcanoes. But these are also powerful, and fascinating, natural wonders.

What other topics might allow you to use this kind of reader’s emotional arc?


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