The pronounced divide between these has diminished. At its best, nonfiction sparkles because it incorporates characterization and drama, while writers like Jonathan Franzen, Margaret George, Daisy Godwin, David Liss, and Donna Tartt wow readers with facts they never knew they were dying to know. How do they do it?
Tip: At its best, fiction so cleverly disguises a little nonfiction that readers barely notice.
So what is this nonfiction that needs to be there, but needs to be disguised?
~ Background and backstory.
Every character lives somewhere and has a certain education, political slant, and life before the Inciting Incident. Readers might not need to know all that but certainly need to know some.
Much contemporary fiction derives its power by recreating Tudor England, the Italian Renaissance, or the Vietnam War; or by inventing new planets, species, or social systems.
~ General information.
Contemporary readers often enjoy leaving a novel knowing more about chromosomes, knitting, the transgender experience, hockey, or life on the tundra.
The good news is that you can “teach” a bit of what you’d like to—perhaps the original motive underlying the novel—by thinking about how, and when, you do that. No part of your novel should resemble a lengthy nonfiction lapse readers never signed on for. So try these:
*** Watch your sentence structure.
Basically, the more complex the information, then the greater the necessity of shortening and varying sentences. Work to divide concepts into accessible mouthfuls, so your readers don’t have to. Alternate sentence length. Your goal isn’t showing off what you know, but condensing and simplifying.
*** Be concrete.
Whether with literal details or symbolic comparisons, frequently introduce one or more of the five senses.What does an RNA strand resemble? How does a touchdown sound?
*** Check your organization.
That’s the beauty of computers. You can swiftly try a sentence in six different locations.
*** Provide something to hang on to.
Hang the abstract or strange on a rack that’s both familiar and substantial.
*** Balance edification with suspense and emotion.
A moment of high tension or heartbreaking loss is a great time for a fact or two. Just never let it feel like a “teachable moment.”
Do it with a plot.