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How Fiction Helps You Write a Better Nonfiction Book [Fiction vs. Nonfiction]

I might surprise you today. It’s about fiction vs. nonfiction.

When you think of nonfiction books, you probably picture books like memoirs, personal development, how-to books, or academic/popular science books thick enough to use as a weapon.

🍦 Maybe a bit dry.

🍦 Possibly sometimes too dense.

🍦 Meant only to teach use or convince us of something.

On the other hand, when you think of fiction, you think of stories. Books built on interesting (or sometimes not-so-interesting) plots, characters you love or hate, plot twists and narration that carries the story or ruins it.

A bit more right-brained, you might say.

But what if I told you the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurrier than you think?

Fiction vs. nonfiction - Nonfiction = fiction, change my mind
Fiction vs. nonfiction – Nonfiction = fiction, change my mind

In my own writing, and in my coaching with other authors, I’ve noticed something interesting.

Nonfiction shares far more DNA with fiction than anyone ever talks about.

The most interesting books—both the kind that teach us and the kind that transport us somewhere else—blend them.

Check Out: Heroine’s Journey? It’ll Help You Write a Book that Readers Love

3 Overlaps Between Fiction and Nonfiction

1️⃣ They Set Someone Up for a Transformation

Fiction takes protagonists on life-changing journeys. But a compelling nonfiction book casts the reader up as the hero/heroine, and artfully guides them on an enlightening quest through the book to their destination: educated, motivated, inspired, excited.

2️⃣ Structure Creates the Journey

Fiction plot points build tension and momentum. But nonfiction also needs narrative flow – strategically placed concepts that resolve reader questions and advance ideas. I call these Purpose Points, and they are identifiable, reliable events and moments in good prescriptive nonfiction and memoir. In other words, you can plot nonfiction just as you can plot fiction.

3️⃣ Themes Add Meaning

Symbols, motifs and conceptual threads in fiction give a story resonance. But universal themes also give nonfiction books that coveted adjective of “stickiness”—a book’s ability to stay relevant and top-of-mind in our cultural zeitgeist (love that word). Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell for the word “stickiness”.


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Fiction vs. nonfiction isn’t as cut-and-dry “true” or “not”

So the storytelling tools we typically attribute to novels play a sadly under-represented role in writing nonfiction books that attain lasting relevance.

Incorporating fiction storytelling techniques into nonfiction writing not only captivates your audience but also deeply embeds your message into their memory. Here’s how you can use the art of narrative to enhance your nonfiction book:

Crafting Compelling Characters

Understand Your Audience as Your Protagonist

  • Identify the aspirations, challenges, and transformation your audience seeks.
  • Use this understanding to guide them through a journey of change, akin to a protagonist’s journey in fiction.

Building a Structured Plot

Adapt the Heroine’s Journey

  • Structure your book to mirror the Heroine’s Journey, leading your readers through Descent, Search, and Ascent phases, creating a transformation within them as they relate to the journey.
  • Descent: Highlight the initial struggles and the realization of the need for change.
  • Search: Describe the exploration for solutions, including the trials and errors encountered.
  • Ascent: Showcase the acquisition of wisdom, leading to a balanced adaptation and self-actualization.
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Utilizing Fiction Techniques

  • Show, Don’t Tell: Use vivid descriptions and anecdotes to show the impact of your advice, rather than just stating it.
  • Conflict and Resolution: Present real-life conflicts and how they were resolved, aligning with the structure of a compelling story.
  • Dialogue: Incorporate realistic dialogues from real-life scenarios or consultations to bring your points to life.

By treating your readers as the protagonist of their own story, you can guide them through a transformative experience, making your nonfiction work not just informative, but also deeply engaging and memorable.

So perhaps we need an updated term for nonfiction? I’ve come up with “storyformation” but my pun game is hit-or-miss. You can probably do better.

Regardless of what we call it, the debate over what makes something fiction vs. nonfiction goes beyond whether a book is “true” or not.

And in the future I see for our “information age,” there are books everywhere! (Because I’m a book nerd.) But they’re even more interesting, exciting, helpful, and lasting—because they were thoughtfully designed and written.

So what do you think? Do you agree nonfiction books are more like fiction than we’ve thought? I’d love to hear your thoughts on blending great storytelling with impactful messages. Hit reply and let me know.

Let’s change some lives,

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Holly

PS — 🩵 When it feels right, here are 3 ways I can help you turn the page:

  1. The Book Map. Imagine having a GPS for your book-writing journey, guiding you from “I think I have an idea!” all the way to “OMG, I did it! I wrote a book!” That’s what the Book Map can do for you. It’s a supercharged roadmap for your writing journey. It’s not just about outlining chapters; it’s about diving deep into what you want to say and the best way to say it, ensuring every word pulls its weight. You’re not just writing a book; you’re crafting a masterpiece that feels as if it almost writes itself. Ready to make your book dream a reality? Let’s Book Map it!
  2. One-to-One Book Coaching. I have a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching world-changers to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey. I see a future where we build trust in our words, worlds, and work with our books, and where the world becomes a better place because of the books we write. My commitment is to bring to life books—fiction and nonfiction—founded on integrity. I’ll bring the map, and you’ll take us on the journey. If you’re ready to change the world with your book, your quest awaits. Apply for a free discovery call here. It takes 3 minutes.
  3. Listen to the Podcast. The Book Coach Chronicles: A podcast for writers of books, people who want to be writers of books, and y’all in the back who’ve been thinking about it but don’t yet consider yourself a writer. Listen on AppleSpotify, or Everywhere Else.

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Holly Ostrout is a book coach with a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching big-idea entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers, and authors to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey.
Holly Ostrout

Hi I’m Holly. If you’re going to change the world with your book, fiction or nonfiction, I can help you do it.

I'm a book coach for high-achieving, creative coaches, consultants, service providers, speakers, and authors who want to build a sustainable business around their book—whether that’s fiction or nonfiction.

I help you share your wisdom, ideas, and gifts by writing & publishing a life-changing book that helps you streamline your business, bring in more money, and change more lives.

I believe books are the most important human invention. And yours can change the world.

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Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout
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Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Creator & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.