Brining together Science and Personal experience about animals
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I have a nonfiction book - first draft, second draft, third draft, and I need help! The first chapter contains quite a bit of science, and also my experiences with animals. Part of it is voice, I know. But I don't know how to make it better.
  • Hi Jackie,


    I have to agree with some of the commenters' points. While I liked the opening quote, I almost wonder if it wouldn't make the chapter stronger to followup with a narrative nonfiction anecdote of sorts instead of launching into more 'straight' nonfiction facts?


    Who is the audience for this book? Animal lovers and pet parents, or philosophers and scientists? The two would necessitate quite a different style of writing. Also- are you trying to convince your audience of something, or are you taking a more illustrative tact?  If your focus is on folks who have animals in their lives, then it's a more 'preaching to the choir' vibe and you can focus on the warm-fuzzy-ness of it all (so to speak). But if you're trying to persuade folks, then your approach would be much more analytical and fact-based.


    Perhaps once you've answered some of the questions posed here, you'll know how to improve the chapter appropriately.

    Good luck.

  • Jackie, this is fascinating material to me as a fellow nonfiction writer.  I too am trying to wed science and personal experience in writing about nature!  You have lots of good stuff here.  I have two suggestions so far.  One is to think about your topic and title.  I saw in your chapter that you are trained as a lawyer and perhaps that is one reason you have set this up as a case to be argued using a variety of evidence, both personal and empirical.  I would find the book more inviting if you posed it as a question to ponder together with the reader.  For example, "What is the nature of animals and do they really differ in significant (such as spiritual) ways from humans?"  Or whatever you feel is the heart of your book.  Maybe something not so cut and dried as "Do animals have souls?  Yes or no."


     I see some human questions here as well, which you may or may not want to explore.  Some cultures are resistant to seeing animals as fellow beings.  Why is that?  (Indigenous cultures have long acknowledged our kinship with other creatures, as you know.)


    Which brings me to my second suggestion.  Whether you examine the complexities of our reactions to animals or not, I believe that readers need help understanding the ideas and experiences you describe.  That is what readers of my work told me when I wrote about listening to a tree.  The idea was so bizarre to some of them that they asked me to break it down for them and introduce them in a helpful way to such a "nonWestern" concept.  So that is what I am working on now.


    Do play around with your outline and how you want to lay out your ideas.  You've got good material; you just need to organize it in a way that brings readers on board with you.  That's my impression so far anyway.  Hope this helps!

  • Thank you Yvette and Laura. Your comments go to the heart of my problems with it, and I haven't yet found a way to reconcile the science and the experiential, or as Laura says narrative or straight non-fiction.
  • Hi Jackie,

    While I haven't completed reading the entire chapter, I am noticing a few things that you might want to keep in mind.


    1 - Have you decided whether this is going to be narrative non-fiction or straight non-fiction, or a hybrid of the two?  There is a huge difference.

    2-- In my experience non-fiction (at least the non-narrative kind) is very systematic in the way it approaches a group of topics.  The first chapter of the book is often a way to set the scene as it were- to describe the central thesis and how you will try and proof your thesis in later chapters.  That way the reader can prepare himself for what is coming next.  In this case the chapter seems to be a series of stories and musings mixed with supporting facts.  Although it is very interesting, it does give the impression of watching a documentary under a strobe light.

    3--While I absolutely adore your subject matter (life long dog lover here!), dealing with something like this is a pretty tough one.  Part of it is because the evidence available can be interpreted in so many different ways.  Most of the evidence is experiential in nature, not empirical.  Therefore, it might be easier to handle if it was more of a narrative style, showing your experiences that have led you to believe as you do, and then in following sections go into the details about the science, experiments, "expert opinions" as it were.  That way the reader can switch between your "real world" experience and the "world of science".   Having the two viewpoints- the "science" and "real world" intertwined together can get rather confusing to the reader.


    Like I said, that's just my first impression giving it a quick run through.  I'll try to go through it in more detail and send you some specific suggestions soon.


    And thank you for writing about this topic- it really is a fascinating subject!

    Laura Seeber


  • Dear Jackie,


    I enjoyed reading the chapter, but I know what you mean - it does need some help.  Usually, as soon as a person opens a book, s/he knows immediately what the book will be about.  The thesis is stated at the onset.  In your chapter, which honestly read more like an essay than a chapter, this reader found touches of ideas that then faded into others.  I could not get grounded as to what you were trying to show.  Not at first, and for many readers, that would be a turn-off.  See if you can begin differently, state your ideas with definitition and certainty.  Don't suggest - state it!


    The writing is fine, well constructed and well done.