Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fact Meets Feeling: Melissa Manlove from Chronicle

Melissa Manlove is a senior editor at Chronicle Books. She focuses on picture books and nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction that involves, moves, entertains and inspires the reader. 
She gave a breakout session on writing narrative fiction that moves and informs readers. She's seeking nonfiction that's a pleasure to read, and recommends Sibert Award winners as a great resource for finding superb "informational" books. 

A lot of nonfiction writers run into trouble because they think facts should be communicated with clear eyes and logic. The problem is, readers care more about feelings. "We are, in fact, human." 

Humans decide what's important for them a lot more with their gut than with their brains, she said. A lot of time, we find facts disposable. Even when they're interesting in the moment, they don't stick in our minds because they don't really mean anything to us. 

Hydrogen and helium are different in many ways, for example. But the people who remember one key difference--that hydrogen is flammable--probably remember that because of the Hindenburg disaster. 

Writing makes you feel something: grief, hope, wonder, the thrill of discovery, the terror of your unknown. So how do you know what matters to the lives of many different readers? 

"As humans, we are all different in our facts. But we are very much like one another in our feelings."

A lot of nonfiction isn't about things that evoke primal feelings. 

Narrative arc is key. It's the journey from one state to another state. It's about transformation. 

Like this one: 

This is from the book NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS by Katherine Roy. The book takes a journey from the scariness of sharks to the fragility of the animals. It's an arc from one emotional state to the other, taking the reader from fear to wonder to sympathy. 

Another fine example of this is DROWNED CITY, which builds dread for Hurricane Katrina in a series of partial images of the devastating storm. 

JOSEPHINE shows the transformation of Josephine Baker from a child who witnessed the horrors of racism to a woman who became a brilliant, revolutionary performer. Patricia Hruby Powell gets readers to empathize with her character's reaction to devastating events, and then takes the response to the events in a way that is unique to Josephine Baker. The reader understands her and is fascinated.

"When we transform fear and hatred inside ourselves into protest, into fear, into pride, into joy—when we change ourselves—we change the world," Melissa said.  


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