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If you didn’t read the books or see the movies, no doubt you’ve heard of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt or This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Both are examples of creative nonfiction.

Often called literary journalism, creative nonfiction encompasses the narration, characterization and language usage found in poetry and fiction to create an essay style story centered on an idea or message based on facts.  Creative nonfiction doesn’t have to be complex; it can be story about a day in the life, or an entry in your journal. The most important part of this forth genre, as it is often called, is to make the story clear, not obscure, and to tell a good (fact-based) story that your readers can take something from. Creative nonfiction is more than writing about yourself (as many people do); if you want your work published it must have a broader message.

Other examples of creative nonfiction include:

* Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

* James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

* Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

* Ian Frazier, The Great Plains

* Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face

* John Hersey, Hiroshima

* Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here

* Norman Mailer, Executioner’s Song

* Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

* George Plimpton, Paper Lion

* Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On

* Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell’s Angels

There are two excellent ways to come up with ideas for creative nonfiction stories. First, go through newspapers and magazines and find stories or issues that interest you, or more importantly, will interest readers. 

Secondly, keep a journal and write about life, people you meet, things you feel, and things you overhear. The famous poet Sylvia Plath kept a journal for many years which after her death was published as The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. In it she wrote, “Life was not to be sitting … idly writing or not-writing, as the spirit moved me. It was instead, running madly, in a crowded schedule … Working, living, dancing, dreaming, talking, kissing-singing, laughing, and learning.” By living this way she accumulated and recorded material in her journal in the form of letters, narratives, dialogue, sonnets, and personal journal entries in tones and moods through poetic use of language that ranged from the light-hearted humor of an eighteen-year old to the conflicted thoughts of a maturing woman. Her journal entries ranged from free style venting, or recording of funny situations, to full on scenes and dialogue.

When writing creative nonfiction be sure to

* Research, research, research

* Check facts, even if given to you in an interview.

* The words you choose are just as important as what you are saying. You will learn more about this towards the end of the course.

* If writing about people, be observant. What are their mannerisms? How do they act? What are they feeling? How and when does this change? In novels you write not only dialogue, but scene and movement. By observing the people you interview and the surroundings, you add this and create atmosphere in nonfiction.

* When writing about history, read manuscripts, books from that time period and letters, which you can find original copies of at museum libraries. This will help you relate the time and place to your readers.

* What are you trying to say and how will this affect people? Be clear about your message.  Your goal is to teach or touch the reader with a story, event, person or idea.