Monday, May 28, 2007

The Four Deadly Topics

I'm judging a contest. I won't say what contest or for whom because I don't want to influence it in any way or later be accused of inviting my friends to submit. But what I can say is that after looking through somewhere in the ballpark of 300 submissions--and the contest isn't closed yet!-- I've determined that there are really only four things that anybody writes about in the non-fiction form.

1. War

2. Disease (mostly cancer) and its impact on the person who has it
3. Traveling somewhere new (and assuming that because it is new to the traveler, it is exciting to other people)...
4. Government's injustice to those less fortunate (from children, to the mentally ill, to health care).

So if there are only five plots in all of fiction, I would like to suggest there are really only 4 essential topics for all non-fiction. I know, you thought for sure that "boy meets girl" would find its way in, but that one appears to be fiction's mainstay after all.

Non-fiction gets: Boy realizes girl was important to him only after he comes back from war, gets cancer, travels somewhere new with his remaining time, and then learns he can't get his health insurance to cover his necessary treatments.

Gosh. I sound jaded, huh?


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Ms. Theologian said...


Now as a former non-fiction editor, I also saw a lot of Loss of Virginity non-fiction, but didn't see too much war nonfiction.

I wonder if we can't identify those themes in our own work, because I certainly don't think *I* write non-fiction in those themes. What do you think?

At 12:16 PM, Blogger MyUtopia said...

LOL, I have been trying to come up with something to break your theory, but I can't! I just finished: Reading Lolita in Tehran as my non-fiction book of the month.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Stephanie: My tongue was firmly in cheek when I wrote this... However, the four topics hold true to the submissions I've read through. However, when I later reveal the kind of contest it is, it may make more sense :)

Myutopia: hmmm, maybe I'm smarter than I think :)

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Ms. Theologian said...

Oh, I get's pretty brilliant, Jordan. So perhaps it was a war-travel-cancer contest?

At 6:34 AM, Blogger gerry rosser said...

Re: diseases. Writing about their own health problems seems to be quite popular with those who are famous (as writers or otherwise). They usually have a complaisant publisher by that point in their careers, who allows these self-indulgent tomes to be foisted off on the public.
I'm sorry anyone is sick and hurting, I don't care a fig more than that about the famous.
I found your post to be quite funny!

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Gerry--glad you found it funny...that was the point!

And I think there's some truth to the whole writing about suffering point. I think handling that topic with pathos and humor is the only way to make it worth reading.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Steph: Yup, you nailed it! It was a contest about people who got cancer from the war they traveled to.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Travis Erwin said...

What about the how-to-get organized-for-the-disorganized, or the write-your-best seller-in twenty minutes, or making up non fiction books for fun and profit?

At 7:46 AM, Blogger SusanD said...

You don't sound jaded, you sound funny. You know, funny in the good way. Funny ha ha, not funny curious.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Mark Sloan said...

You've overlooked several thriving nonfiction genres:
a) Angry Christians
b) Angry atheists
c) Angry and/or misunderstood Muslims
d) Angry former Bush appointees
e) Rich people with lots of stuff
f) Rich people who cook
g) Rich people's dogs
h) Self-righteous healthy eaters
i) Rich, self-righteous healthy eaters
j) Formerly-addicted people with a strong need to talk (and a possibly fictitious story to tell)
k) The joys of aging
l) The woes of aging
m) Plastic surgery
n) Golf

I'm sure there are more...

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Well Mark, color me lucky that none of those topics turned up in my pile. Actually I forgot one:

Religious redemption...which is different from the angry christians category. I have a feeling all of those topics could be condensed into the "injustice" topic...:)


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