Thursday, February 20, 2014

Guest Post: Nikolas Baron on Writing Non-Fiction

How to Inject Personality into Non-Fiction Writing

Many find the taste of medicine unpalatable.  Though injections pinch, the medicine enters the bloodstream immediately for immediate use by the body..   Non-fiction has its fans, but some people view it as an ill-tasting genre.  If they need some information, they would rather watch a video than read “boring” non-fiction. This problem calls for preventative medicine.  Here I will discuss four easy ways to give non-fiction a better taste.  Of course, it would be boring if I just told you!   I challenge you to use these facts about barn owls as clues!  At the end, you can check to see if you decoded all four suggestions.

A Barn Owl Stands About 10-20 Inches High  
If a friend said, “Hurry, look!  There is a barn owl outside sitting on the fence.”  I would run outside to get a look at the cute, feathery visitor. After I took a gander, I would go back inside.  My life would continue.  If my friend returned from the library with a book about owls, I would think it was curious.  If my friend read the book from cover to cover, I would be impressed.  If he checked out several more books on his next library visit, I would suspect an obsession.  What do you learn about non-fiction writing from the height of the average screech owl?
Owl eat anything” - Chiclet, the Hobby Owl
Pardon Chiclet’s pun, but an owl will eat virtually any creature small enough to catch and kill. Therefore, an owl’s diet varies according to its local ecosystem.  In the grasslands, termites and crickets are on the buffet.  In swampy areas, toads are not safe.  By way of contrast, owls do not prey on animals to large or strong to subdue. Did you guess what Chiclet is trying to teach you?

“Barn Owls Recognize Their Siblings’ Calls”
This BBC Nature article explains how owlets use vocal calls to compete for food.  Rather than resort to fisticuffs, the owls vocalize.  The hungrier they are, the more they urgently they call.  Their nestmates listen, and eventually “less hungry siblings ...withdraw from the contest.”  When you think about the calls of baby owls, of which non-fiction writing strategy are you reminded?

A Baby is a Baby
Babies of numerous species share a need to sleep.  Human babies sleep for some sixteen hours a day.  Baby owls sleep a lot, experiencing REM sleep phases as do humans.  Similarly, owlets and humans need less sleep as they grow older.   Adult owls spend this extra time hunting, mating, and caring for young.  What balance, similar to the one between sleep and essential activities, must a non-fiction writer establish?

The Answers

#1: Choose what facts you share.  Owls have three eyelids.  One could describe all there is to know about each one.  However, when one considers the audience, one may decide to omit items that would be of low interest to the target reader.  If you are as obsessed as my hypothetical owl-spotting friend, learn more about those eyelids here.

#2: Chiclet wants you to write about that you fully understand.  You may misstate information, and confuse your reader, if the research material was too technical for your comprehension.  I followed Chiclet’s advice, choosing to write about barn owls rather than reverse transcriptase PCR amplification of environmental RNA.
#3 Remember that writing is communication.  In general, non-fiction is to inform.  Write in such a way that your readers get the main point.  Write at the reading level of the target audience.
#4 Balance is necessary.  Sharing information or communicating a message will take a lot of your time as a writer.  Yet, one should not neglect other essentials. Use online proofreading to make sure that your writing is free of grammar errors.  Give attention to your title, your formatting, and your writing style.

Congratulations, you now know more than the average amount about barn owls.  Hopefully, you also realize how to give your non-fiction writing a shot of personality.  If so, your writers will find your writing as delectable as a screech owl finds a fresh, juicy rat.

By Nikolas Baron
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading

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