In my last post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I wanted to write about creative nonfiction next (and also provided a brief example in the form of a pseudo-epic narrative poem about recent events of my life). So, without further ado, here’s a bit more on the topic of creative nonfiction:
I started getting seriously into creative nonfiction about three years ago. My school was offering a class on it as a summer elective, and, having already taken classes on creative fiction and poetry, I figured I’d give this genre a shot. In that class, we learned about how creative nonfiction has been gaining a lot more recognition and popularity in recent years, in the forms of biographies and memoirs and blogs about one’s own life. We sampled some prominent authors who have
the autobiographical works of Tim O’Brien and even Tina Fey. Also, as part of the requirements for the class, we began our own blogs and had to post in them on a regular basis. That was when I began my personal WordPress blog about the many adventures of my own life, and I’ve kept up with it ever since. In fact, for these past few years, even when I’ve been too busy to devote much time to the larger fiction stories that I’ve wanted to work on, I’ve still kept up with a good amount of creative nonfiction through blogging and other outlets.
Of course, if you’re new to this genre or you haven’t dealt much in creative nonfiction before, then you may have a few questions. The main questions I anticipate at this point are, “What exactly is creative nonfiction?” and “Why are you writing about nonfiction on a blog about writing fiction?” Those are great questions, and I’m glad you asked. I think I can answer both of them at once. I’ve touched on this already, but creative nonfiction (at least in the context that I’ll be speaking of it) is the art of writing about real-life topics, often one’s own life experiences, in a creative and entertaining way. It can range from celebrities writing their autobiographies to amateur bloggers writing about their last vacation. It’s writing and telling stories that just happen to be true. That’s why I think creative nonfiction can still be relevant and helpful to writing fiction, because they’re both forms of storytelling. They both involve characters, plot, narrative style, and other aspects and techniques that each writer has to hone and figure out as they go along. The main difference between the two genres is simply that the content of one of them happens to be true.
Or, at least, stories in creative nonfiction are as true as the writer’s memory can get them. There is an ongoing discussion in the genre (that we had to consider when I took the class as well) about how much embellishment is allowed in creative nonfiction, about whether details have to be exactly true in order to be truly called “nonfiction” or if a little leeway is allowed in the name of artistic license. That’s a big discussion, and I won’t get into all of it in this post, but for now let’s suffice it to say that stories told through creative nonfiction are more or less true—and, as the name suggests, they are told with creativity, with artistic style and authorial voice and good narrative techniques.
And that’s the sort of thing I try to do on my blog too. I write about things I’ve experienced or lessons I’ve learned in life, but it’s not just a bland, factual, objective report. I write funny anecdotes about friends or relationships or dating, and I use humor to highlight the funniest parts, or I try to play up the portrayal of myself as the awkward-but-endearing everyman underdog hero of the tale. Or I’ll write about a great achievement in my life and make myself out to be some grand epic hero—but usually still with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor and self-awareness about how melodramatically I’m portraying my otherwise mundane circumstances. There’s a lot you can do with a nonfiction story—with the story of your own life—if you’re creative with it and you figure out how exactly you want to present the story to your readers. Maybe I’ll elaborate on my own techniques and style in a future post if there seems to be enough interest or material for it, but for now I’ll just say that the possibilities are endless for writers who are willing to explore them.
So now that you have the basics down, you should at least be able to start on writing creative nonfiction of your own (and, as with any genre, you can learn and improve more with practice over time). Next time you have writers’ block when it comes to fiction and you can’t think of anything original to write, stay in practice by trying some creative nonfiction. Write about your own life, whatever is on your mind or whatever interesting thing has happened to you that week. But do it creatively. Write about your own life just as if you were writing about characters in a story and crafting their adventures in the most skillful and artistic way you know how. Try it and see what you come up with!