Guest Post by Moira Rose Donohue
Sometimes it can be hard for students to read nonfiction—and even harder to write it. But nonfiction can be fun to both read and write if the author strives for the “superstar moment.”
I have written a number of educational biographies and two books for National Geographic that tell amazing but true animal stories. And I have learned a simple, but helpful, lesson. After I finish my research, I identify the rock star moment. Then I draft a general outline, making sure that somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way through the book, I will hit that big moment.
For example, if I am writing about Vasco Núñez de Balboa, I need to make sure that his superstar moment—being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the New World—is the climax of the story. Likewise, if I am writing about a kangaroo that rescues his injured owner, that has to happen towards the end of the story. And if I am telling you about my summer vacation, I need to build up to the best part of it—the day I learned to swim alone.
This may sound a bit simplistic, but it’s a rule that gets easily forgotten when pencil hits paper. Why? Most nonfiction writers have learned a tremendous amount about the subject of their report or book. They want to share it, so they cram in all kinds of data and lose the sense of story and climax that holds the reader’s interest. That means that bits of information, even really fun ones like a dramatic fight with another explorer over a girl, have to be jettisoned if they don’t advance the story towards the superstar moment.
Next time you assign a biography writing project, or even a “What I Did This Summer” essay, remind your young writers to identify the “superstar moment” and edit their stories so that they take the reader up the mountain to superstardom. Hopefully that will put them on the road to superstar writing.
BIO: Moira Rose Donohue is the author of Parrot Genius from National Geographic; 13 biographies from State Standards Publishing; and Alfie the Apostrophe and Penny and the Punctuation Bee from Albert Whitman. Coming soon-- another explorer biography (de Soto) and Kangaroo to the Rescue from National Geographic in Spring, 2015!