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Whenever I talk of my genre—the chosen field that I have dedicated my life to—my husband puts dangling air quotes around it. In fact, every semester I teach the essay—whether in a composition course, a creative writing one, or some delightful hybrid—I always have at least one student object vehemently during the introductory materials. I liked the freedom it gave, and the acknowledgment of perspective. Considering multiple events that have been condensed into one scene, for example, he tisk-tisks with distaste. The delight he finds is only matched by my own delight in his verbal head patting.

Thanks for coming up with this explanation and drawing it all out.

So What is the Truth? (Writing Geeky: Creative Nonfiction)

Thanks for trying to clarify a confusing but important issue. I always thought CNF was a more difficult genre to do well because all that was available to the writer were the facts and his or her own skill with words. There were no plot tricks or outrageous characters that could be brought in to make the story work how the writer wanted it. However, you really needed to acknowledge Larry Gonick; he was doing nonfiction comics long before Scott. When I mentioned Scott, I was thinking specifically of the cartoon lecture. Depends on the insect? If there were really a 6-year cicada, that would mean 6 years of darkness and sipping on tree roots before that one final month of sex and sunlight.

That still feels a little out of balance to me. What insect would you choose? He wants to slim down his 30 pages of CNF about a place he used to work, esp. Writing CNF takes far more courage than writing fiction. One can always hide behind the label of fiction, make characters do what they want, manipulate, create a perfect little world. In CNF there is no perfect world, only a moment to capture, a method for putting permanently down a story you would tell a friend, neighbor, colleague, spouse over tea— or shots, as the case may be.

(PDF) Crafting Truth: Short Studies in Creative Nonfiction | Bruce P Ballenger -

CNF inherently makes itself poignant. It takes more confidence as a writer.

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It requires more honesty, which Hemingway might have loved. It builds us as writers, and as readers even. In my case, my overarching attempt is not to make the work sound whiny or hyper-feminine. Instead this new writer is flexing her literary muscles. Nichole L. Thank you, Dave.

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Memoir is inherently going to be filled with perceived error; anyone with a sibling knows how that goes. Any of us who has ever told or heard a story on the front porch knows, and appreciates, that once a story begins, it begins to change. We make Uncle Bill a little taller, Auntie Mabel a little sterner, Dad a little more oddball, Mom a little more beautiful.

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  • But the point, always, is this: are you willfully lying? Frey was. Actually, the opposite is true. Fiction writers know this well, but they are also less committed than nonfiction writers to communicate certain meanings to readers. The trick is how much to explain. Tell too much and the narrative is overwhelmed by exposition, or tell too little and the story lacks weight.

    Most often, we think of these particulars as sensory details, and frequently these are the building blocks of scenes. But nonfiction writers should cast a wide net for material, and experience is just one source of concrete information. Research is another. Perhaps the school research paper is to blame, but frequently apprentice creative writers see research—reading and interviews—as irrele- vant to crafting stories. Yet, especially in nonfiction, research is a rich vein of material since stories are built from the data of real life, and these stories might include historical events with which readers are familiar.

    Literary jour- nalists know this, of course, but research can also be useful in memoirs and essays. This can lead writers in surprising directions. This, in turn, led to much richer and insightful reflection on my own impulse to tell certain stories about myself in certain ways. There is a less obvious value to mining particulars from research. Knowing that the solar eclipse I remembered from summer camp hap- pened on July 20, , and lasted for 1 minute and 39 seconds, helps bring it all back.

    That the darkness seemed to last longer in memory, and that it was blacker, helps me to understand more about how it felt that summer, and it provides new handholds for pulling myself deeper into the experiences I want to explore. Because they write about what is uncertain or even confusing, essayists look to particulars such as these to seize as they grope their way toward understanding. Creative nonfiction writers who use research extensively in their work may do it for other reasons.

    This research is an essential part of the stories these writers tell, and sometimes it is research that leads them to their subjects in the first place. The craft of using research in creative nonfiction is deciding, like any other source of information, whether the information is relevant to the story. Does it provide essential background?

    Different Ways to Tell the Truth: A Primer on Creative Nonfiction Subgenres

    Might it help in constructing a scene? Can it be used as a springboard for thought? Integrating research into a memoir, essay, or work of literary journalism presents another dilemma: What effect will it have on the forward motion of the narrative?

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    Nonfiction writers solve this problem in a number of ways. They may deeply embed fact within the narrative, perhaps in a scene. They may, as John McPhee often does, use characters as a vehicle for exposition, allowing them to explain things through dialogue. Skilled writers also colonize what easily could be dry information with their own voices, finding their own way of saying things. Or they might use surprising comparisons. Finally, facts are simply another kind of detail, and some of the qualities that make sensory detail shimmer in a story are the qualities that make facts memorable, too.

    One of these is surprise. Who would have guessed, for example, that a housefly spends Of the many early published works of nonfiction—the treatise, the tract, the letter—it is the personal essay that may be said to have parented modern forms of creative nonfiction. The present is just as fertile in them as the time of Homer and Plato. Self-discovery was his motive, as was the belief that it is in the stuff of ordinary life that we can find the truth about ourselves, and in turn, about humankind. These are, of course, exactly the motives of contemporary essayists, and it is the Montaignian tradition that helps explain what drives Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, or Scott Sanders to the writing desk with its blank page or blank screen.

    Literary journalism also inherits much from the early essay. Some of the earliest forms of journalism were essays that coincided with the eighteenth- century rise of periodicals in England, published to entertain a growing middle class readership. To a greater or lesser extent, these works focus on a subject other than the author. The tradition of literary journalism, then, is rooted much more in the practices of reporting than memoir and essay. Therefore, literary journal- ists, like Kidder, Wolfe, or McPhee, are much more likely to be dogmatic on issues of truth-telling, insisting on accuracy whenever possible.

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    Tracy Kidder, for example, spent eight months hanging out with engineers at a computer company to write The Soul of a New Machine. Just inside the door, he stopped. The floor was torn up; a shallow trench filled with fat power cables tra- versed it. A technician, still installing the machine, West figured.

    Memoir (autobiography)

    Here Kidder achieves what many thought was possible only in fiction— third-person point of view—and it is the kind of innovation that wooed novelists like Wolfe and Capote to nonfiction. Literary journalism was not, Capote concluded, a form that he might resort to when his imagination failed but rather a form that might have the same narrative power as a novel, except the story is true.

    Using Crafting Truth How to Read for Craft Literature courses prepare us for a particular kind of reading that is certainly useful to creative writers. However, reading for craft is more concerned with how a text commu- nicates its meanings than what those meanings might be. Following is a list of the kinds of questions creative nonfiction writers might ask if they wished to explore how an essay, memoir, or article works.

    Is this different in fiction? In what ways is it influenced by purpose, audience, or situation? Reading excerpts rather than entire works has limitations for analysis of craft. The best you could say is that this scene has a cine- matic quality. Despite these drawbacks, Crafting Truth is dedicated to the idea that working closely with short passages from a wide range of writers and nonfiction genres will be enormously useful for inexperienced and experienced writers alike. It is the kind of study that is most likely to pro- vide insights into a variety of nonfiction techniques in the shortest possible time.

    A brief anthology in the back of the book introduces longer, often complete works by additional writers. Simply follow your utes after every reading. After the first reading, fastwrite meandering and awkward and even a narrative of thought, begin- unintelligent they might be. And then And The time you spend working then After the second reading, use book will pay off. And also. And, finally, this is a book devoted not just to writing about writing but getting the most important work started: crafting your own memoirs, essays, or articles.

    Some successful writers say that the act of creation is a mystery that cannot be analyzed. If this is so, then the study of craft is a waste of time. It is true that the best thing you can do to improve your work is the simplest—to simply write—but what happens when you do is really not very mysterious, though it is often rich with surprise. The more aware you are of the multiple choices you might make, the more control you will have over the possibili- ties of your story.

    Crafting Truth, I hope, will help with this. Creative writ- ing has as much to do with the heart as the head, and knowing what might be the right choice for a piece is something only you can know in your lonely encounters with the page. In those moments it will not be these voices you hear, but your own.