The job of the non-fiction writer is tough; besides getting the facts straight, we need to weave together a narrative that presents the facts in an interesting way for readers. Doing the research can sometimes be the easier of the two parts of the narrative non-fiction writer’s job. Finding the right voice and editing your story can take longer than finding the facts.
Where to start? Find an interesting subject for kids who has not been written about endlessly. If you are going to write about Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, what is the spin on your story that is different from the dozens of books already out there? There have been great new children’s bios in the past few years about Albert Einstein, Gordon Parks, even one about the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. All of these books relied on strong writing and beautiful illustration to drive forward story.
As a researcher I find my subjects by reading, reading, reading. Newspaper and magazine articles provide a great starting path to finding good subjects for non-fiction. I spend a lot of time in the American History and Biography sections of my library looking for new subjects to research. When I find a person who I think will be interesting to kids or who is an undiscovered hero, I am ready to begin my writing. It usually takes me a few weeks to get the facts, but a few months to write the main story and connect the dots on how to make a scientist’s or historian’s life relatable to kids today. I try to find facts about the person when they were a child and who or what inspired them when they were younger. Is there an important life event of your subject that can be the main plot line of your narrative children’s biography?
Last, but not least, after you have the narrative done, take a few weeks to let your manuscript rest. Read it over with fresh eyes and edit out all the extraneous words; the ands, the “thes” and too many hes, and shes . It’s amazing what a second, third or tenth look at your writing will find. Have some other readers’ opinions. A strong, respectful or poetic voice about your subject throughout your manuscript is key. If you love who or what you are writing about it will show.