This is a subject I find is often very misunderstood. People often think that because of the word ‘creative’ that the piece is not strictly true, that the author has allowed some creative narrative content into the piece. That they have made it up. Adjusted the story for their own means. This is not the case at all. Lee Gutkind, the father of the genre creative non-fiction defines it as “True stories told well.” I cannot define it better myself.
What is a true story? Anything which is not made up and that includes a whole spectrum of works ranging from memoir and autobiography to journalism and everything in between. The creative refers to the use of fictional techniques in order to make the narrative flow and allowing the story to be told compellingly. Gutkind describes the range of writings that fit this genre as being at one or other end of a pendulum.One side he classifies as stories which are private. Are owned by one individual and the other people that feature in it. They are personal stories. The other end he classifies as being public. Stories which are in the public domain that are available for anyone to research and write up. One good example of this is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. If you have not read this book I highly recommend you do. It is the story of Henrietta Lacks who died from cervical cancer. Cells which were taken from her became immortal in the medical laboratories and were invaluable for medical research and are still used today. It is a story of the treatment of an African American woman, the ethical issues of the case, the writer’s relationship with the family and the uncovering of what had occurred to Henrietta. It was a powerful book and a good example of creative non fiction that fitted at the public side of the creative non fiction pendulum. According to Gutkind the best creative non-fiction occurs when the pendulum swing comes closer to the point midway between the two extremes. That is when private information is added to public and in the private public information is added. By private it does not refer to personal diary type of information which should remain just that but rather personal events and memories that have occurred to the author that are suitable to be put into the public domain. Can I give an example – a memoir writer may for example include information on what was happening in the world arena at the time they were experiencing the portion of their life that they are writing. Conversely if someone was doing a piece on war torn Syria if they added information on how they felt whilst gathering the information this makes it become much more a personal story as well as being factual.
So what creative tools from fiction are used? That will be the topic of next weeks post.