Prepared by: Patricia L. Johnson and Gary Presley
Posted on: March 21, 2004
Reposted on: April 4, 2005
Many literary journals and magazine
publications accept works of
nonfiction. Some of the definitions vary depending on the editor and
publication, but in general it involves relating events (via essay,
narrative journalism) using the techniques of fiction (scene,
dialogue, foreshadowing, parallels, point of view, etc.) to send
readers on a
journey of discovery of the human condition and the world around them.
Often the subjects are considered
important and may include
family relations, politics, economics, art and science. It brings new
dimensions to writing by incorporating aspects of reporting, novel
like the ones mentioned in the first paragraph, poetic wordplay, and
techniques. Creative nonfiction is as old as storytelling itself.
Gay Talese (in his profiles of Frank
Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio) is
the father of narrative journalism. Tom Wolfe (in his early work for
is someone whose early essays got tagged as "creative nonfiction."
course, there are heavy-hitters like Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey, John
Lewis Thomas, and (Gary's favorite) Richard Selzer.
In 400 words write about an event or
encounter that taught a life
revealed a personality to you. Be sure to write the truth in a style
that is as
accurate and informative as reportage yet also as personally
dramatic as fiction. When giving critiques mention specific examples
manage to blend facts with fiction techniques.
Learn more about creative nonfiction at
the following sites.
For a list of several creative nonfiction
definitions and a
comprehensive reading list visit these URLs:
Patricia L. Johnson and Gary Presley's
Posted on: April 6, 2004
I've come to believe creative nonfiction
should teach or expose.
rendering something small into something universal. Expose, by
something common to the human experience, but which in turn must teach.
Some of the submissions accomplish that.
But many of the others are
or confessional in a way that allows a reader to feel some empathy, but
Conversely, I do have friends who are
accomplished and experienced
One says to expect an epiphany puts us in peril of missing the story. I
understand that. That is the point of all writing: the story. And that
means we want basic information about the latest political scandal or
to delve into the mystical depths of the human spirit. We want "The
That friend, coincidentally, thinks
"creative nonfiction" is a
trendy label for
an old craft. Need an example? Follow this link to a report from the
lines of World War II, written by the marvelous Ernie Pyle.
THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN WASKOW
by Ernie Pyle http://www.kwanah.com/txmilmus/36division/archives/waskow/appenda.htm
The creative nonfiction exercise inspired
lots of submissions, which
is encouraging. There were many different themes, most were
family-centered. Some were tragic, others were slices of life. Only a
few used humor.
There were several stories that used
literary story telling
techniques together with reportage to successfully write creative
nonfiction. These stories had clarity, were honest and real. They
managed to keep enough distance to allow the reader's emotions without
being too sentimental. They allowed reader interpretation without over
telling. They also used showing more than telling. The narrator's voice
was strong and consistent. Characters were well developed and
believable despite the exercise's short length.
Many crits mentioned a need for more
details, exclusion of
unnecessary details, and a need to add setting in place and time to
give the writing clarity.
Many submissions did not fit the creative
nonfiction exercise for
several reasons. Often a life lesson was not apparent, and/or reportage
was missing. Some story accounts were unclear or lacked cohesiveness
from beginning to end. Others were didactic. These are things to
improve upon next time.
Thanks to each of you for all your
submissions and critiques.
Remember you can use this exercise in a free-for-all.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.