July 16, 2019

Probe for Character Development in Nonfiction Books

meena thMeena Thiruvengadam offers insight into how three journalists turned their beats into books.

Of these, Kristen Grind story provides insight for non-journalists.

Grind covered Washington Mutual for about six months before it failed on September 25, 2008, when regulators seized assets. Her book, The Lost Bank, details the biggest bank failure in U.S. history.

Grind had little thought of writing a book, however. Her series of news articles led to an interview on National Public Radio, which led to an agent contacting her.

Grind found that she needed to do considerably more research into the characters for her book than for her series of articles about the collapse.

Grind said she courted the ex-wife of Washington Mutual’s then-CEO Kerry Killinger for two years before she agreed to tell her story on the record. “I just kept calling her and then I sort of invited myself to her house and never quoted her on the record for two years.” Seeing Grind’s stories in the Business Journal — and watching her keep her word — eventually convinced Linda Killinger to tell her story on the record by the time Grind began researching her book.

This additional research into the characters–and the extraordinary investment of time it represents–is something that nonfiction writers often need to contemplate when turning early researching into a book manuscript. Without it, readers only get a blur of facts with little depth into the main characters, what motivated them and why they sought to cover things up in the manner they chose.

Many times nonfiction authors benefit from reading good suspense (or other) fiction, not to crib phrases, but to see how characterization is developed.

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