Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Creative Nonfiction?

Nonfiction reminds me of the old Dragnet TV show of many years ago. Sergeant Friday was famous for interviewing witnesses to a crime and saying "Just the facts, ma'm, just the facts." Or "Just the facts, sir, just the facts." That's what we get with pure nonfiction. Just the facts!

Creative nonfiction is still 100% factual but it uses fiction techniques to convey those facts to the reader. This style of writing true stories brings the facts to life through the use of dialogue, storytelling, and emotion. The stories in anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul or Not Your Mother's Book on... are creative nonfiction. Readers are able to relate to them because of the human side of the tale.

Last week, I read My German Christmas written by Ursula Turner who was born in Germany but has lived in the United States for many years. She wanted to write a book that let Americans see what a German Christmas was like. She could have written it as straight nonfiction but she chose to show readers the Christmas customs by writing a memoir piece about her childhood, her own family, and the customs they followed in Germany. I learned about more than just the traditions people in that country follow in the Christmas season. In addition, I was treated to a look at German family life and to the personality traits of a little girl named Ursula and her family. The author included poems, legends, true stories and even many of her own mother's recipes for special Christmas treats. It was a delightful read.

Why creative nonfiction? To me, it's a no brainer. I find that learning facts through this type of writing is painless and also far more interesting than the factual straight nonfiction which feels more like a textbook. I can be as entertained by creative nonfiction as I can when I read a novel or a fiction short story. I'm reading (or writing) a story that is truth but if done well, the reader will react emotionally. It's pretty doubtful any reader of straight nonfiction is going to get choked up, laugh or sigh when they read.

We classify personal essays and memoirs as creative nonfiction. A memoir that listed a person's life year by year using only events that occurred and omitting story techniques would probably be boring, not a bestseller and not recommended by readers. It's basically a report. Writing a memoir or personal essay as creative nonfiction makes the story live, allows the reader to get to know the characters and, I think, be more memorable.

NOTE:  Last Friday, I posted a picture for a writing exercise but told you nothing about it. You might like to know that it was taken in Cornwall, England in a place called The Lizard because the rugged coastline resembles that reptile. I'm curious to know what kind of stories you came up with when using the picture prompt.

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