One Writer’s Journey

November 7, 2013

Creative Nonfiction: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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creativityWhen I tell people that I write creative nonfiction, they look puzzled.  How can it be creative and nonfiction?

First, you have to understand what creative nonfiction is.  The most straightforward definition I have ever seen comes from the banner of Creative Nonfiction, the magazine edited by Lee Gutkind.  “True stories, well told.”

Creative nonfiction tells a story.  It may be told through an essay, a memoir or a picture book, but you are telling a story.  It just happens to be nonfiction.  The House that George Built by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Rebecca Bond tells about the steps that were taken by Washington and others to erect what we now call the White House.

Each of these pieces tells a very specific story.  In each, the author chooses only the facts about this situation that tell this particular story.  This includes facts about the people (the characters) and the setting.

Creative comes into play not in the fact gathering process but in how the stories are told.  The House that George Built is told as s dual text.  Half of the text is simple and punchy, for younger readers.  It is a cummulative rhyme, ala the House that Jack Built.  Older readers can supplement this information with the prose spread found on the facing page.  Slade has given readers a fun, creative way to learn about Washington and the White House.

What she has not done is make anything up.  Creative nonfiction is nonfiction.  Everything you write is true.  This means that you cannot invent facts.  If you claim that Lincoln said, “Let them eat cake,” you better have the sources to prove it.  This means that Washington’s horse could not tell part of the story.  Nor could his hat unless, of course, Slade had found the documentation to back it up.

I realize that this is a rather old fashioned take on nonfiction, but I’m okay with that.  And, from all that I can tell, so is Gutkind.



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