Structure is the architecture of your book. It is the way you are going to organise your information in a way that is entertaining and logical for the reader. What kind of structure you are going to hang your story on? Here are some of the larger ones for non-fiction books.
All NON FICTION books fall into one of two categories
I want to share two of the biggest divisions in non-fiction books:
A how-to book
The key to this book is that you have done something / know something and you are going to share with readers how you did it… and how they can do it too. These can share your own personal story and then also reveal they a step by step process that teaches the reader how to do something.
You have to be an expert in SOMETHING. Which means you have to have done it yourself. (It helps if you are a professional expert in it.)
Your personal story interwoven with the process
Imagine…. A cookbook / diet book / sales book / tax law for small business / fitness / personal finance / workbook / e-course / being a loser / clear your clutter
A Big Idea Book
This book has one central blatant idea (or argument) that the writer usually tells a reader right upfront at the beginning hook of their book. The book is then walking the borders of this idea and exploring it until they reach their conclusion. You do not have to be an expert to write one of these. You do need an angle (big idea).
Fat in the Head: It’s not food it’s how you think. The Five Hour Work Week | The Tipping Point: How little things have big consequences | Layguide: How any guy can get laid
Memoirs will also fit into these above categories:
A memoir needs a big central idea... or it needs to tell the reader how to do something you did.
Please remember that actually all books need a big idea!
Here are some ideas of ways to structure a book:
A straight-up chapter-based non-fiction book
All non-fiction books are organised into chapters or content buckets. Chapter titles should contain clear breakdowns of what is in that chapter. Readers may not read all the chapters.
This attaches some higher / organizing concept to your structure. It can be a metaphor, poem, list
Eg 5 People You will meet in Heaven, 20 Years of Solitude, The Houses I have loved, My life with dogs. Seven Years in Tibet. Eat, Pray, Love.
Use a chronological structure
The most logical way of attacking a linear story is in this manner. Most memoirs are told in this manner. Here you pick a point to start your story. Then you follow a clear and logical order of events moving forward in time. Often in a non-fiction or memoir the reader already knows how your story ends.
A semi-chronological structure
You may want to include a scene where you remember something from your childhood and jump back to that time (for a single scene) or see-saw between time zones or places You may want to use this to build some drama or tension and you can jump to another moment when the stakes are high.
If you are jumping around a lot you may need to include a marker before each scene to locate the reader. Eg Alabama 1956. New York 2012
A photography-based book
Any book that includes strong visual material is in its own genre. Here the images are more important - or equally important - than the text. Writers submit both images and text.
Think cookbooks. travel books. design books.
This structure will mix personal story with actual exercises or things for readers to put into action. Many diet books or books written by 'experts' are workbooks
A blog or diary-style structure
You tell it as it happens, and you can go on other tangents. example So Close, Infertile but Addicted to Hope by Tertia Albertyn.
Postcards or letters (to yourself, someone else)
Carefully crafted letters between correspondents can tell a story and reveal slowly a plot
ASK YOURSELF? Are you an expert in something or a layman?
Expert (General): You can be a sales expert, business or life coach, yoga teacher, car mechanic, business shaman .…. But the difference here with a non-expert is important…. You are sharing your story but you are also sharing processes, techniques, recommendations or solutions to the ‘layman’. This can be a workbook or straight non-fiction
Glassmaking for Dummies, Tim Noakes’ Real Meal Revolution, The Dukan Diet, Clear your Clutter, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Heal Your Life.
Want to join a course or retreat? Find out all our dates here
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, agent and book editor. She is a structure fanatic and book whisperer and is here to help.