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In Part One of my Creative Nonfiction (CN) tips, I defined the different types of writing, including fiction, nonfiction, and more specifically CN. I covered the importance of capturing truth while utilising fiction writing techniques. Then I outlined a few things to be aware of when writing or considering writing CN and listed some superb reading material to get you started. This post will expand on those tips.
Believe it or not, creative nonﬁction (CN) has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities. These days the biggest publishers, such as HarperCollins, Random House, Norton, and others seek CN titles more enthusiastically than literary ﬁction and poetry. Even small and academic (university) presses that beforehand would publish only books of local interest, or poetry and criticism, now keenly seek out CN titles. This genre has also become increasingly the go-to genre in academic communities. For this reason, I felt it worth another post on the subject was acceptable.
The label (CN) is liberally applied to travel, memoir, food, personal essay, and other crossbred forms of writing. As I said in Part One, the defining trait of CN is the use of literary techniques, and the artful use of language and character development to push the narrative beyond the simple retelling of events. CN tends to emphasis transformational events in the narrator’s or central character’s life.
*Essentially, it should get closer to the truth of the narrator’s experience than pure nonfiction does.
However, as with anything, there is a skill in getting the balance right. One which all writers of this genre strive for with each project. When writing CN we must be careful that it does not ends up sounding too crafted, so that the reader finds it difficult to accept it is the truth and not a dramatic narrative ‘based loosely’ on the truth.
We need the truth, so far as memory and research allows, but we need it dressed in telling details to place the reader within the experience, just as we would when writing fiction.
For example: The following extract is taken from my memoir, from a passage where I explain the aftermath of a car accident.
From this extract, you can (hopefully) see that I relay as much as possible an experience where I’m being cut out of my mom’s car. It was terrifying and painful, but I couldn’t just say that. Similarly, if I waxed lyrical about the experience I would lose the respect of the reader. Sprinkling of telling details, like spice, over the truth allow the reader to grasp my terror and pain without my having to ‘over-write’ the hell out of it.
However, remembering the details of experiences can take time and great effort, and memories can be painful, uncomfortable, and even liberating to recall. We may also need to research intricate aspects of what happened because of gaps in memory or research, or a simple lack of technical knowledge.
For example, for the sentence: “Men used chocks and bracing for stabilisation and the Jaws of Life, like a Great White shark devouring carrion, to slice through the car roof” I had to investigate what was used to get me out of the car and the procedure they used.
This meant asking the other victims of the accident, which is another difficult aspect. Only a few family members could take part in my memoir (well, it’s my brother’s memoir but I’m in it, of course). Ideally, all who were involved would participate, but it’s a great burden to impose of those less able or willing to face difficult memories or truths head-on.
It’s important to clarify that the content of CN doesn’t need to come from the writer. For instance, the writer may use literary techniques to create a portrait of a person interview. The writer may choose to write a portrait of the interviewee through an omniscient perspective, meaning the writer would not feature in the work. Alternatively, CN writers may focus of writing other people’s memoirs for publishers or privately. Why bother? Remember, tone of the most lucrative and fastest-growing area of writing.
Do you have any specific queries about writing creative nonfiction? If so, ask your questions in the comments. Next month I’ll focus of those queries or, if there are none, I’ll move on to 21st Century Poetry 🙂 Whichever genre you write, the following quote is equally pertinent.