Thoughts about Creative Nonfiction

Writing creative nonfiction is giving significance and meaning to our life and presenting it in a pleasurable way. It is found somewhere between rigid fact and wild creativity, vibrating with all the tension resulting from bringing two opposites together.

The psychological disorder called apophenia makes people see patterns in random data. In severe cases, they see the likeness of Jesus in ordinary objects. I think all creative nonfiction writers need a form of apophenia. I need to give significance to the moments of my livfe — I need to see the face of Jesus in the dredges at the bottom of a teapot.

Creative nonfiction is literature, however it differs significantly from other genres. It is very similar to poetry. Poetry is not necessarily fictitious: Some poems can be very autobiographical. It also shares features with fiction: Creative nonfiction and fiction share the same aesthetic forms and techniques (while they differ on content). “… [Scene] will draw on the same techniques as fiction — dialogue, description, point of view, specificity, concrete detail” (Miller and Paola 10).

In Tell It Slant, Brenda Miller wrote: “I love the way writing creative nonfiction allows me to straddle a kind of borderland, one that allows me to discover new aspects of myself and the world, to forge surprising metaphors, to create artistic order out of life’s chaos” (Miller and Paola 2).

Creative nonfiction requires the writer to imbue memory with meaning. In his book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser said, “… Memoir writers must manufacture a text, imposing narrative order on a jumble of half-remembered events.” It is the same with creative nonfiction.

As a Christian writer, I believe the world has order and meaning to it. However, this meaning or significance is not always clear to me. There was meaning in the death of my grandmother — even if I don’t see it. I don’t know how the broken pieces fit together, however my belief in significance influences my writing. Creative nonfiction makes sense to me because I believe meaning exists.

As a disciple of Christ, truth is foundational to my writing. I have a sacred trust to protect my readers from falsehood. But memory is faulty. In “If My Brother Asked …,” I wrote: “Is memory like the back of a CD? Something that will amass scratches and stutter and skip as I watch it?”

Obviously, it’s impossible to ensure that memories are reported truthfully down to every detail. Memory is fluid, but this doesn’t excuse blatant fabrication. I’ll tell my reader if I can’t remember what happened … but I’m probably also tell them what I imagine happened.

A newcomer to creative nonfiction might think you are limited to your experiences. This is false. In my Short “Houdini’s Assistant,” I wrote some scenes with me and Harry Houdini, and the legendary magician was dead long before I was born. You are limited by your imagination.

Creative nonfiction is fundamentally tied to scene. “… The widespread notion that nonfiction consists of the writer’s thoughts presented in expository or summarizing way has done little but produce quantities of unreadable nonfiction” (Miller and Paola 10). The goal of a creative nonfiction writer is capturing a moment and drawing it in the reader’s mind. I love story, narrative, and scene, and I love writing creative nonfiction for those reasons. The favorite Shorts I wrote are mostly scene: “Igneous,” “Promenade,” and “Black and Mild.”

When I write creative nonfiction, it’s not all about me — I’m not interesting enough to write an autobiography. For me, creative nonfiction is about the people I know and love: my girlfriend, my father, my brothers. I try to paint a scene in my reader’s mind with words — and then I push the moment to speak beyond itself and touch the eternal.

Works Cited

Miller, Brenda and Susanna Paola. Tell It Slant. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.

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