Words to the Wise
Creative Nonfiction Revisited
How often have you heard the question asked in your critique
group, "Is this creative nonfiction? Is that what I've written
here?" Writers can be forgiven for not being sure, as the label
and the genre it represents are still fairly new. But one thing
is certain: creative nonfiction has become hugely popular and,
done well, can be among the most pleasurable of reads.
What distinguishes creative nonfiction from other forms of
nonfiction are the styles and elements of craft it employs.
Nonfiction focuses on ideas and facts and uses various forms of
explanation and exposition to bring information to readers.
Creative nonfiction, while solidly grounded in research and
issues, tells a story, using the elements of literature and
fiction. Nothing in the nature of storytelling or narration is
out of bounds. The unfolding of scene, the revelation of
character, the suspense of plot—even the devices of poetry and
screenwriting—can be part of bringing a piece of creative
nonfiction to life. Theme, imaginative research and precise
language are as central to it as to any form of storytelling.
But there is another, even more important, distinguishing
feature that sets creative nonfiction apart: the presence of the
author, the "I." In most forms of nonfiction, the author does
not enter in, or does so cautiously, careful to avoid being seen
as intruding on the purpose of the writing or the information
being communicated. In creative nonfiction, the author, either
implicitly or explicitly, is present in the work. Just think
about the more popular forms of creative nonfiction—memoir,
personal essay, travel writing, and journals or letters. These
usually feature the author, or if not the author, then real
people and real events the author knows intimately through
personal or some other connection. In some way, the piece is a
personal statement, and readers come away from it knowing the
author better. As one writer put it, the genre of creative
nonfiction evolved because "we [writers] like delivering the
knock on the door ourselves."
Creative nonfiction offers flexibility and freedom not common to
many other genres. Writers can be both poetic and journalistic,
while becoming part of the story or essay if they so choose.
"The Politics of Writing," 1990 (full publication information
me if you would like the article)
Lyon, A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction,
New York: Perigree,
Other Words to the Wise on creative
Creative Nonfiction? Isn't That an Oxymoron?
Creative Nonfiction: A Tricky Business
Taking the Risk—Writing About Those We Know
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