Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 6 of a Semester’s Reflections

*Please read Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections for an explanation of this series. This week’s post is a response to a reading from an insightful book on successfully publishing serious non-fiction. Below is the question prompt followed by my response.

In this week’s blog post, I want you to reflect on the research you gathered last week. With your sample chapter in mind, how might you foreground any key players or pivotal events to organize your material around a narrative thread? In other words, in examining your sources, can you formulate “a question with a curious mind at the center”? This is not to say that your sample chapter has to read like a story from start to finish, nor does it have to be totally character-driven. You’re just examining your research sources with narrative criteria in mind; try to identify some story elements that might draw on to help make readers feel more viscerally situated in your subject matter.

Rabiner said something early in the chapter that got me thinking this week: “Once you have your book’s major question and answer, you have key components of narrative: (a) a clear beginning and a clear ending; (b) a compelling reason to navigate your reader to that end; and (c) a clear sense of the key players or concepts who/that will come into the story, shaping how it can and should be told.”

Going back to my proposal, I have two large questions that seem to be driving my book. I have yet to condense them into one concise question, let alone derive the answer. If I were to do just that right now, my question would be as follows: how do we get Americans to start genuinely caring again about protecting the wolves, their habitat, and all the other creatures that take part in that symbiont relationship? The answer is another environmental awaking. We need to finish what we started in the 1960s. People are apathetic to sustainable living, and that’s far more dangerous than being adamantly against it. After all, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”—thanks, Edmund Burke. I think a lightbulb just went on in my head, too. I have been looking at this project with the wolves as my leading characters, and rightfully so because this book is about wolves. However, for the sake of narrative and the relational aspects of it, I think my leading characters should be men, not wolves. That is ultimately what drives this book and its main question. It’s what mankind has done to wolves and our world; it’s what we have done with this gift we never deserved in the first place. We’ve divided it up, sold, abused it, misused it, exploited it, and now it’s a mere shadow of the reciprocal paradise that once thrived.

The narrative story is man and his “colonize and conquer” mindset that destroys animals, nature, and humans alike. Much of my book is a history, so maybe it’s best narratively speaking to forecast the extremely detrimental periods where mankind exploited wolves and nature, and then show the events that led up to it, or the key players and mindsets behind the actions. It will be a lot of gloom and doom for about two-thirds of the book, so I’m hoping to use the last third to show people in a positive light; i.e. what they have down as of recent to better the wolves and the Earth, and then what we can do to prevent more damage from unfolding. What I’m telling is a story, and the beauty of it is that the story isn’t over. It’s still being written, and people need to realize the role they play in this life as the leading characters. As I continue to research, I will look closely at people throughout history that symbolize both sides of the environmental battle, and then use these ideologies to drive my narrative.


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