Narrative Matters

A West Virginia RebelThis is a guest post by Matthew A. Perry, author of “A West Virginia Rebel”.

Matthew Perry is a middle school history teacher and girls basketball coach from West Virginia. Matt obtained his undergraduate degree from Marshall University and his Masters degree in history from the American Military University. He has written two books about the Civil War in West Virginia and is currently in the editing stages on his third. His passion is bringing history to life both in the classroom and through his literary work.

Matthew A. Perry


As a nonfiction writer and teacher, I find that the most common mistakes in nonfiction is being bogged down by facts. While facts are the lifeblood of our work, historians and historical writers must remember that the reader does not want a textbook. I am a massive history nerd, but I have absolutely no desire to read dry, tactical based tomes that just list the facts of the event. I write about the Civil War which can bog the writer and the reader down in just strategic or tactical discussions. The key to writing an engaging passage in non-fiction is to bring the event to life for the reader. Tell us about the individuals and what they did on the battlefield, take me to the front. Instead of writing about where an Army was stationed on the battlefield, take us to the eyes of the soldier. Tell me what they would have seen, smelled or heard. History is alive all around us, don’t bog the reader down with just the facts, take them back in time and let them truly see history for what it was.

As a middle school history teacher, I have found through the years that people are not attracted to history classes and history texts. There are many reasons for this, but the most common complaint is the dryness of the information and the way in which it is delivered. Nobody wants to read a textbook, many writers fall into this trap because these writers are in love with the material and they don’t need the added narrative to enjoy the story. Writers must always remember that they are not writing for their own enjoyment, we are writing to give people information from the past and, at least in my opinion, to help people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the past. I am not perfect, I have caught myself many times writing way too much in a bullet point formation. First this happened, then this…. Things like that. This will very quickly alienate the common reader and make your writing quite bland.

My chosen area of study is the Civil War, which lends itself nicely to narrative because there are so many personal stories to be told. I thought I would include a passage out of my next book about the battle of Antietam.

Example of narrative in non-fiction text

I am currently working on a passage about the battle of Antietam. Instead of just talking about an attack that took place, try to put some narrative and bring color into your writing. Here is an example of historical narrative depicting the attack on the Sunken Road of Antietam.

The afternoon sun was oppressive as it beat down on the soldiers of the Irish Brigade. The Irishmen stood in a woodcut watching the remnants of the II Corps, battered and beaten, retreat back to the safety behind the lines. Just as these men were reaching the woodcut, the gallant Irishman, General Meagher, screamed out to his men, “Forward March!” With that, the Irish Brigade was on the move, ahead was the Sunken Road and their date with immortality.

Copyright Matthew A. Perry

I sincerely hope this blog post sparks the inspiration to write non-fiction in a more flowing and narrative style. Keep writing about what you love and the words will come!

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