The best writers combine technical competence and thoughtful writing. They manage to entertain at the same time they convey meaning. Paul Theroux, for example, uses techniques that keep readers turning pages - technical competence - and at the same time he puts thought and meaning into his work, which raises it to the level of literature. When you combine The Mosquito Coast technique with meaning, you've reached the height of craft. The Mosquito Coast illustrates how to make a story have both dramatic profluence - the quality of a plot moving forward - and significance, which modern readers get far too little of these days.

One of the ways Theroux, who began as a travel writer, manages to keep his story moving forward is to have his hero take his family from America to Honduras. Theroux then sends him deep into the jungle, into a wilderness both physical and metaphorical. There are other ways to keep a narrative moving forward which nonfiction writers can employ, such as following a character in a little anecdote or story, promising to discuss three elements and then following through, or explaining how to accomplish some task that the reader cares about.

Theroux adds a deeper dimension to his work by making his hero represent a universal quality, a quality we can all identify with: wanting to escape. When you give characters universal desires, your work will rise above the commonplace. In nonfiction you can achieve the same effect by writing about big issues, things that touch the lives of your readers, or by selecting subjects that have inherent meaning for your audience, such as the Civil War, love, or the ultimate meaning of life. You don't have to be a genius or a philosopher to be a crafty writer, but you do have to have technical competence and you will certainly need to make your readers think.