We wanted to get to know Jennia D’Lima (NAIWE’s Creative Nonfiction Expert) better, so last month we sat down with her. Here are some thoughts she shared with us.
How do historical details add depth and context to nonfiction manuscripts?
Just like in a work of fiction, details contribute to immersing the reader in the story. They can also be used to heighten the emotions at a given time. For example, a manuscript may be primarily focused on examining the life of a frontier family in depth. A surviving diary entry from one of the members of this family may state a child came down with a disease that would not seem worrisome to contemporary readers. Including statistics for the mortality rate by age, prevalent issues for those who survived the disease, and typical length and severity of the illness would give the reader a better understanding of how the parents may have reacted to this diagnosis. Without this information, an included diary entry along the lines of “Mary was stricken with a fever; we believe she has scarlet fever” may not be given its due significance.
In some cases, these details may also add credibility to the author and any stances taken in the manuscript. This is especially true when making a claim or speculation based on little-known facts. Essential historical background to back up these positions will help decrease the reader’s skepticism while also creating a richer narrative.
What type of historical details should be added to nonfiction manuscripts?
Only those details that are relevant or will add to the reader’s understanding should be included. It is vital to remember that, unless the manuscript is being marketed as a history textbook, there is no need to provide more than the basics. As will be discussed in the webinar, the key is learning how to identify those areas that will most benefit from these inclusions.
Are authors also adding historical details to nonfiction manuscripts to educate readers?
Some are, yes, but this depends upon the author’s original intentions and the larger scope of the work. With a memoir, the focus may not be on education so much as sharing and providing a unique viewpoint. It could be argued this alone is a form of education though it may not be from a historical perspective. However, there will often be ways history naturally and logically incorporates itself even when that isn’t the main goal. For instance, when explaining a medical procedure performed even a decade in the past, providing details may be necessary to give the reader the required information for understanding how it was performed, why it was considered risky or not, and so on. The reader’s knowledge base has now grown despite the author only including this information for clarity-related purposes.
Want to find out how historical details can add depth and context to your creative nonfiction manuscript? Apart from bringing credibility to your topic, these details have the benefit of helping your reader better understand the context surrounding your subject. This session shows how to sift through research and facts to find what will have the most impact and meaning as well as how to identify which areas of your manuscript would most benefit from these additions.
You can join in this conversation on February 27, at 7:00 pm eastern, when NAIWE will host a discussion on adding some history to your manuscript. The cost for NAIWE members is only $10! Nonmembers can join for $30. Register today!