Deductive vs. big-bang book structures

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As you structure your book, deductive logic is leading you astray — especially if you are an academic. State big conclusions first, if you want readers to keep reading.

The logical, and wrong, way to structure a nonfiction book

Here is the logical way to structure a book:

  • State current conditions
  • Explain problem
  • Explore components of problem
  • Determine consequences of possible solutions
  • Explain what that reasoning leads you to
  • Ta-da: massive, unexpected conclusion

Very nice. Very easy to follow. Very boring.

When you write a book like this, you are expecting the reader to trust that you are leading up to something big. Few readers will trust you: they’ve read too many books like this didn’t pay off. They will give up partway through. And then not only will you have missed the opportunity to convince the reader, you’ll have missed the chance to get them telling others about it.

Even if you tease the reader by foreshadowing the big conclusion throughout the book, you are missing the chance to create bigger drama. And face it, after a few times, your foreshadowing will become annoying. Nobody likes a tease.

The big-bang book structure

Your big, surprising conclusion should appear about halfway through Chapter 1. And it should scare the crap out of the reader.

Your structure should look like this:

  • Explain problem, then minimal reasoning and massive, unexpected conclusion.
  • Explain components leading to conclusion.
  • Explain solution.
  • Explain skills or other elements needed for solution.
  • Explain consequences of solution
  • Explain really far-out and cool consequences of conclusion and solution

If you learned anything about logic, this violates all principles.

How can you just explain a solution without leading up to it? You have to reason towards it, right?

Wrong.

I’m not saying that readers will just accept your conclusion. But they will provisionally accept it, since it is so groundbreaking. And they’ll sit still long enough for you to justify it in the chapters that follow.

You will retain their attention because you blew their minds in Chapter 1, and they want to know how you got there and what it means.

Not only will they stick with you — they’ll also share your idea. Because all they have to remember is Chapter 1 and they can tell your story for you.

Do this because it works

Leaving deductive reasoning behind feels wrong. That’s because your teachers in college taught you to think that way. (Hell, I was actually trained as a logician. I love deductive reasoning.)

I’m not asking you to leave all logic behind. You’ll still need to reason your way to the conclusion. You’ll still need to justify it.

Just put the conclusion first, before you start reasoning.

Because it doesn’t matter how ironclad your logic is if the reader fell asleep in the middle of it.

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