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Thursday, November 6, 2008

What is Creative Nonfiction?

Here is an article I ran across that gives one of the best definitions of Narrative Nonfiction:

What is Creative Nonfiction?
The Difference Between Narrative Nonfiction and Journalism
© Sarah Turner
Jan 9, 2008

Creative nonfiction is a hard-to-define genre. Also known as narrative nonfiction, personal journalism, and memoir, it is increasingly popular and amazingly diverse.
Creative Nonfiction Reads Like Fiction
Straightforward journalism is a basic recounting of the facts. When reading a newspaper, you expect to read a balanced, objective reiteration: facts and dates, names and places. The same is true when you read, say, an auto manual or a cookbook. In a newspaper or magazine feature there's a difference. The names are more than just names – the people in the story seem like characters. And the places are more than just names - they are suspiciously like settings. And the story reads like, well, a story. A good story.
If a story is true, but it reads like fiction, that's creative nonfiction.
Creative Nonfiction Uses Literary Devices
In a piece of narrative nonfiction, the reader should be able to identify:
clear, well-developed characters
a narrative arc
tension and revelation
engaging dialogue, written out as opposed to direct quotations
story told using scenes rather than straight exposition
an identifiable theme
careful use of imagery, symbolism and metaphor
Creative Nonfiction Tells the Truth
Everyone remembers the James Frey case. His book “A Million Little Pieces” was marketed as a memoir, and when it was discovered that he'd made up large parts of the story readers were furious. Why? If it's a good story, who cares if it's true or made-up? Well, the readers do. They felt like they were being duped. Essentially, writers have a contract with their readers. If you say you're telling the truth, tell it.
True, But Not Objective
When reading creative nonfiction, the reader assumes they are reading a biased account – the writer's account – of the story being told. They do not believe they are reading something objective, or universally true. Just true as far as the writer's experience of it. Creative nonfiction is often written in the first person point of view.
If a writer is trying to recollect something from a long time ago, the recreation of those memories will require a certain amount of creativity. Still, the basic facts should remain true to life. Dates, names, people's actions: these are non-negotiable. The feelings and thoughts that accompany these events – whether fear, exhilaration or guilt – are personal to the writer and should come across in the writing.
History of Creative Nonfiction
The genre of creative nonfiction emerged out of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 70s, led by writers such as Tom Wolfe, Normal Mailer and Truman Capote. Capote's crime novel “In Cold Blood” is often seen as the originator of the genre.
For a detailed history of the genre, check out Creative Nonfiction, an online website and journal devoted exclusively to the genre. Editor Lee Gutkind credits himself with being the first to use the term in 1983, during a meeting of the National Endowment of the Arts.
The copyright of the article What is Creative Nonfiction? in Resources for Writers is owned by Sarah Turner. Permission to republish What is Creative Nonfiction? in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.
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