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I haven't written anything serious in a while, but I would like to get back into writing non-fiction. In particular, I want to write about "big ideas" that interest me; however, I realize that writing that has nothing to do with people may not be as interesting as writing that involves people. (Of course this isn't an absolute, but I'd argue that in general, non-fiction that is a little more "personal" and people-focused is at least a little more compelling.)

I remember that some of my favorite non-fiction books were about ideas rather than people's lives, but they usually found a way to focus on people and their interaction with those ideas.

My question is: How does one go about involving people in a book that's secretly more or less about one or more ideas? For example, if I wanted to write a book about grammar, what are some ways to get readers interested in the book on a more personal level?

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Welcome to Writers.SE. Why do you think people aren't interested in writing that isn't about people? Doesn't practically any science text, for example, serve as a counter-example? –  Monica Cellio May 19 '13 at 3:44
    
Yeah, good point I guess. Perhaps I shouldn't have said "no one" would be interested. I'll edit the question. –  Philip White May 19 '13 at 16:09
    
I've found one nice approach: fabularize. Write a story where the idea is central to the story. I remember one book about grammar from my childhood - or precisely, about a little impish creature obsessed with good grammar, living with two teenage girls and battling bad grammar in common life together. Another example: Fourth part of Gulliver's Travels. Or the (in)famous "Atlas Shrugged". –  SF. May 22 '13 at 10:07
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My question is: How does one go about involving people in a book that's secretly more or less about one or more ideas? For example, if I wanted to write a book about grammar, what are some ways to get readers interested in the book on a more personal level

Why must the idea be a secret? I can think of several non-fiction books I've read and remembered that were idea books front-and-center. Two off the top of my head, Love by Leo Buscaglia, and An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.

To write an engaging non-fiction book, I'd want some combination of authority, passion, and novelty. Authority is important for non-fiction. People are more likely to be engaged by a book about technology if the author is an engineer or scientist, rather than a professional quarterback or a celebrity chef. Passion is arguably more important, since passion can make up for a deficit in authority to a certain extent, while all the authority in the world can't make up for a lack of passion in the idea. Finally, the idea has to tell people something they don't already know, or know but aren't fully aware of. If it's the same idea that has been rehashed a thousand times, who is going to care?

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Try thinking of your idea as the central character.

The 'typical' person-based story takes an individual who is flawed in some fashion. He (or she) has certain drives and desires, some of which conflict with others. Through the course of the story the character overcomes adversity until, at the end, he has grown and become more mature (or hasn't learned anything, or been eaten by zombies, or so on).

You can do the same thing with your idea. Take the reader back to an earlier incarnation of the idea, show how it has changed and developed in response to adversity, and the current state of the idea. Or project it forward by giving the current state, the challenges your idea faces, and where you think the idea is going.

That said, you might want to revisit your attitude that any story, even non-fiction, can possibly have nothing to do with people. All ideas are discovered, explored, and enhanced by people. Either it has been challenged by skeptics (which means it is interesting) or it has been simply accepted without debate (which means it is trivial and not worth writing about). Even the driest scientific text on the most esoteric of topics is premised on you, the author, taking us, the readers, on a journey of discovery through the dialog of the text.

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