How to Structure Your Non-Fiction Book
When I was starting to develop my six-week course on book writing I was surprised when my market research turned up the fact that a lot of people had a hard time figuring out how to start writing a book. I’m a career writer and by the time I began putting together my online course, I had started writing (and finished writing and publishing) five books. Starting my books had never been an issue for me. But when I realized this was such an issue of concern for other people, I decided to create a course on how to start writing a book and, voilà, The KickStart Book Writing Formula was born.
There is a lot involved in getting rolling with a book that people will read, but one of my favourite topics is structuring a book. You can start writing and impose a structure later (as “pantsers” do) or you can start with a structure that will guide your writing from start to finish.
What is a structure?:
A book structure is a framework for organizing your stories and your information so your readers can access your material, understand it, and resonate with it.
It is typically quite linear, but it doesn’t have to be.
It might include Parts – Part One, Part Two and Part Three, etc.
It might just include a list of chapters relating to aspects of your protagonist’s journey (if it’s a work of fiction) or problems your ideal reader struggles to solve (if it’s a non-fiction book).
You don’t always have to have your structure completely in place before you begin writing—my clients often find that their structure evolves as they write. But I feel that most people find it’s helpful to have a sense of where they’re going when they start.
For a non-fiction book, I recommend people do some market research and create a structure around the top challenges, frustrations, and fears identified by your interview subjects. This is especially valuable for a self-help book or a business-related book. You can add in some preliminary chapters around why the topic itself is important, some contextual information around the topic, and a conclusion, and you are good to go
If you are writing a memoir, start with an exciting or important moment in your life and then tell what happened earlier to lead up to that moment. A memoir still needs to cover the topics your readers care about that you are poised to address, but your memoir includes more of a chronology of your life than a standard self-help or business book might cover.
Although more challenging to work into a non-fiction book, there are two great story arcs that are compelling and pretty much guaranteed to keep readers turning pages. One of them is Joseph Campbell’s 12-step Hero’s Journey. The other is Kim Hudson’s Virgin’s Promise. Both are used in screenwriting – we can see a Hero’s Journey structure, for example, in movies such as Spiderman and the Harry Potter series, and the Virgin’s Promise storyline in Brokeback Mountain and The Wedding Crashers.
If you’re struggling with structure you might want to work more directly with me. We cover structure in both my six-week course and my 12-month mastermind group, and I provide a lot of direct information into helping my 1:1 clients find a structure that works for them and the story they are here to tell.
If structure is something you struggle with, it would probably help to get professional assistance with it —writing a book is a big project, and you don’t have to do it all alone!