Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life

Sometimes it pays to stick with a book even when it turns you off at the beginning.

The opening paragraph of Philip Gerard’s Creative Nonfiction concludes with a metaphor I found entirely self-indulgent, and as the first chapter continued I read many claims that seemed overly simplistic (“We’re limited by our point of view” — yes, and we’re also enabled by it), over the top (“The hardest part of writing creative nonfiction is that you’re stuck with what really happened” — reality is an opportunity, not a prison!), and just plain wrong (“when we label a piece of writing nonfiction, we are announcing our determination to rein in our impulse to lie” — anyone who struggles with the truth shouldn’t be writing anything other than political speeches). If I hadn’t purchased the book as part of an online class, I might very well have stopped reading after the first chapter.

Fortunately, subsequent chapters are less egregious, and Gerard has a number of insights into the craft of non-fiction which I found very helpful. I especially like his claim that every story has both an apparent subject (such as the sport of fencing) and a deeper, more meaningful subject (the impact that fencing has on the lives of its competitors). Gerard encourages writers to discover what is meaningful to them, and allow those passions to direct their choice in both apparent and deeper subjects. His advice on interviewing, research, and outlining are also valuable.

Journalists probably won’t like this book, as it contains numerous criticisms (most of which I found appropriate) of mainstream reporting. But writers who believe in the aesthetic qualities of non-fiction writing will appreciate this practical guide to the genre — despite its less than inspiring opening chapter.

One thought on “Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life

  1. Thank you for this review. The book indeed sounds interesting. Truth in fiction is where I personally am comfortable. Straight fact can prove boring (but interesting). Journalism when sticking strictly to the truth and FACT was the training I witnessed years ago. This has changed…..its as if in journalism an element of fiction is allowed free rein. Fact is fact….no one can change ie history. Keep writing you have a unique and different voice with still massive inroads of expression to explore. Cheers!

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