3 Tips on How to Start Your Nonfiction Manuscript

It may have been a dark and stormy night but that doesn’t mean you need to start your manuscript with that line.
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I love writing nonfiction. I’ve written about archaeology (The Ancient Maya), American history (Hidden Computers and The Assassination of John F. Kennedy), science (Evolution of Reptiles and Evolution of Mammals), and even current events (The Dakota Access Pipeline and The Impeachment of Donald Trump).

No matter what type of nonfiction book I am given to write, I need to find an interesting way to hook my reader. Here are five tipes on how to start your nonfiction manuscript.

Create a Scene

Every one of the books listed above starts with a narrative nonfiction scene. This means that I create a scene nonfiction scene complete with a setting, tension and characters. Because this is nonfiction, every detail in my scene has to be based on research and fact.

Choose the right scene and you not only hook your reader but you also leave them wanting to know more. They turn the page and read on.

Beware the Question

Do you know something? It can be tempting to start with a question as I did in this paragraph. But that sort of start is hard to pull off. If your reader can answer “no,” they may very well stop reading. In this care, the risk is that the reader will simply think “I know lots of things” and that is the end of their reading experience at least with this paragraph.

Did you know . . . what about . . . and have you considered are other ill-advised story-starts.

You have to make your reader think or surprise them in some way to make a question work.

Beware Time and Temperature

It was a sunny 4th of July.

That’s nice, but it isn’t a very effective begining. Unless the time and weather are unique or surprising or set up a contrast, you can probably come up with a more effective beginning. What do I mean by contrast? Keep in mind that I’m making all of these examples up, but . . .

“In spite of the frigid temperatures, sweat ran down the faces of the crew . . .”

“The birds chirped and the sun shone on this beautiful spring day as the workers put the finishing touches on the gallow that was to be used later that day.”

“The streets were dark although it was dawn as everyone headed to work . . .”

You may discover several different ways to start your manuscript. The one that you ultimately select may depend on your themes, what you choose to emphasize, or how the story ends. This isn’t the first thing you need to figure out but it is something you need to consider before submitting your work to an agent or an editor.