Creative Nonfiction in Writing Courses
These resources discuss some terms and techniques that are useful to the beginning and intermediate creative nonfiction writer, and to instructors who are teaching creative nonfiction at these levels. The distinction between beginning and intermediate writing is provided for both students and instructors, and numerous sources are listed for more information about creative nonfiction tools and how to use them. A sample assignment sheet is also provided for instructors.
Last Edited: 2018-03-09 02:18:22
Creative nonfiction is a broad term and encompasses many different forms of writing. This resource focuses on the three basic forms of creative nonfiction: the personal essay, the memoir essay, and the literary journalism essay. A short section on the lyric essay is also discussed.
The Personal Essay
The personal essay is commonly taught in first-year composition courses because students find it relatively easy to pick a topic that interests them, and to follow their associative train of thoughts, with the freedom to digress and circle back.
The point to having students write personal essays is to help them become better writers, since part of becoming a better writer is the ability to express personal experiences, thoughts and opinions. Since academic writing may not allow for personal experiences and opinions, writing the personal essay is a good way to allow students further practice in writing.
The goal of the personal essay is to convey personal experiences in a convincing way to the reader, and in this way is related to rhetoric and composition, which is also persuasive. A good way to explain a personal essay assignment to a more goal-oriented student is simply to ask them to try to persuade the reader about the significance of a particular event.
Most high-school and first-year college students have plenty of experiences to draw from, and they are convinced about the importance of certain events over others in their lives. Often, students find their strongest conviction in the process of writing, and the personal essay is a good way to get students to start exploring these possibilities in writing.
A personal essay assignment can work well as a prelude to a research paper, because personal essays will help students understand their own convictions better, and will help prepare them to choose research topics that interest them.
An Example and Discussion of a Personal Essay
The following excerpt from Wole Soyinka's (Nigerian Nobel Laureate) Why Do I Fast? is an example of a personal essay. What follows is a short discussion of Soyinka's essay.
Why do I fast? I do not mean, why do I fast now? I have settled that in terms of continuing conflict. But why do I fast at all? Why have I, at any given time, suddenly decided---I must now do without food for some time? Perhaps I ought to settle that in my mind before I am trapped in a fatal demand of my own self-indulgence.
Yes, self-indulgence. A sensual self-indulgence. It is important to separate the area of will-power from the drugged immersion in rainbow-tinted ether. For I suspect that it is the truly sensual that take easily to fasting.
Soyinka begins with a question that fascinates him. He doesn’t feel required to immediately answer the question in the second paragraph. Rather, he takes time to consider his own inclination to believe that there is a connection between fasting and sensuality.
Soyinka follows the flowing associative arc of his thoughts, and he goes on to write about sunsets, and quotes from a poem that he wrote in his cell. The essay ends, not on a restatement of his thesis, but on yet another question that arises:
Were these new kingdoms which that sage hermit sought, the kingdoms of nothing? Or did he speak, as being replete in his own being, spurning all exterior augmentation.
This question remains unanswered. Soyinka is not interested in even attempting to answer it. The personal essay doesn’t necessarily seek to make sense out of life experiences; rather, personal essays tend to let go of that sense-making impulse to do something else, like nose around a bit in the wondering, uncertain space that lies between experience and the need to organize it in a logical manner.
However informal the personal essay may seem, it’s important to keep in mind that, as Dinty W. Moore says in The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, “the essay should always be motivated by the author’s genuine interest in wrestling with complex questions.”
Generating Ideas for Personal Essays
In The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, Moore goes on to explain an effective way to help students generate ideas for personal essays:
“Think about ten things you care about deeply: the environment, children in poverty, Alzheimer’s research (because your grandfather is a victim), hip-hop music, Saturday afternoon football games. Make your own list of ten important subjects, and then narrow the larger subject down to specific subjects you might write about. The environment? How about that bird sanctuary out on Township Line Road that might be torn down to make room for a megastore?..."
"...What is it like to be the food service worker who puts mustard on two thousand hot dogs every Saturday afternoon? Don’t just wonder about it - talk to the mustard spreader, spend an afternoon hanging out behind the counter, spread some mustard yourself. Transform your list of ten things into a longer list of possible story ideas. Don’t worry for now about whether these ideas would take a great amount of research, or might require special permission or access. Just write down a master list of possible stories related to your ideas and passions. Keep the list. You may use it later.”
It is this flexibility of form in the personal essay that makes it easy for students who are majoring in engineering, nutrition, graphic design, finance, management, etc. to adapt, learn and practice. The essay can be a more worldly form of writing than poetry or fiction, so students from various backgrounds, majors, jobs and cultures can express interesting and powerful thoughts and feelings in them.
The essay is more worldly than poetry and fiction in another sense: it allows for more of the world and its languages, its arts and food, its sport and business, its travel and politics, its sciences and entertainment, to be present, valid and important.
For other uses, see Non-fiction (disambiguation).
Non-fiction or nonfiction is content (sometimes, in the form of a story) whose creator, in good faith, assumes responsibility for the truth or accuracy of the events, people, or information presented. In contrast, a story whose creator explicitly leaves open if and how the work refers to reality is usually classified as fiction. Nonfiction, which may be presented either objectively or subjectively, is traditionally one of the two main divisions of narratives (and, specifically, prose writing), the other traditional division being fiction, which contrasts with nonfiction by dealing in information, events, and characters expected to be partly or largely imaginary.
Nonfiction's specific factual assertions and descriptions may or may not be accurate, and can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question. However, authors of such accounts genuinely believe or claim them to be truthful at the time of their composition or, at least, pose them to a convinced audience as historically or empirically factual. Reporting the beliefs of others in a nonfiction format is not necessarily an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying it is true that people believe them (for such topics as mythology). Nonfiction can also be written about fiction, typically known as literary criticism, giving information and analysis on these other works. Nonfiction need not necessarily be written text, since pictures and film can also purport to present a factual account of a subject.
The numerous literary and creative devices used within fiction are generally thought inappropriate for use in nonfiction. They are still present particularly in older works but they are often muted so as not to overshadow the information within the work. Simplicity, clarity and directness are some of the most important considerations when producing nonfiction. Audience is important in any artistic or descriptive endeavor, but it is perhaps most important in nonfiction. In fiction, the writer believes that readers will make an effort to follow and interpret an indirectly or abstractly presented progression of theme, whereas the production of nonfiction has more to do with the direct provision of information. Understanding of the potential readers' use for the work and their existing knowledge of a subject are both fundamental for effective nonfiction. Despite the truth of nonfiction, it is often necessary to persuade the reader to agree with the ideas and so a balanced, coherent and informed argument is vital. However, the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction are continually blurred and argued upon, especially in the field of biography; as Virginia Woolf said: "if we think of truth as something of granite-like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one and that we need not wonder if biographers, for the most part failed to solve it."
Semi-fiction is fiction implementing a great deal of nonfiction, e.g. a fictional description based on a true story.
Common literary examples of nonfiction include expository, argumentative, functional, and opinion pieces; essays on art or literature; biographies; memoirs; journalism; and historical, scientific, technical, or economic writings (including electronic ones).
Journals, photographs, textbooks, travel books, blueprints, and diagrams are also often considered non-fictional. Including information that the author knows to be untrue within any of these works is usually regarded as dishonest. Other works can legitimately be either fiction or nonfiction, such as journals of self-expression, letters, magazine articles, and other expressions of imagination. Though they are mostly either one or the other, it is possible for there to be a blend of both. Some fiction may include nonfictional elements. Some nonfiction may include elements of unverified supposition, deduction, or imagination for the purpose of smoothing out a narrative, but the inclusion of open falsehoods would discredit it as a work of nonfiction. The publishing and bookselling business sometimes uses the phrase "literary nonfiction" to distinguish works with a more literary or intellectual bent, as opposed to the greater collection of nonfiction subjects.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nonfiction.|
|Look up non-fiction in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- ^ abFarner, Geir (2014). "Chapter 2: What is Literary Fiction?". Literary Fiction: The Ways We Read Narrative Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
- ^Culler, Jonathan (2000). Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 31.
- ^"Non-fiction". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, 2015.
- ^The Institute of Art and Ideas. "The Art of Life". IAI. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
- ^Woolf, Virginia (2010). Orlando. Aziloth Books. p. 134. ISBN 978-1907523687.
- ^The Role of Narrative Fiction and Semi-Fiction in Organizational Studies G. Whiteman. N. Phillips. 13 2006, 12
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