book lover, professional writer & blogger
You only have to set up a few choice Google Alerts to know that ‘Creative Nonfiction’ is massively popular right now: it currently beats fiction as the chosen specialism of modern writers. And, apparently, writing fiction in the present tense is also a growing trend.
Recently, I read that to qualify the piece has to be based on fact. Makes sense! If a writer decides to pen his/her life story, they cannot technically add in brand new themes or develop plot-lines that simply never happened. That would be classed as fiction straight away. Creative nonfiction is about looking at the facts and then presenting them in a creative way, using the language of fiction. That’s my interpretation anyway. The people who run creativenonfiction.org define it succinctly as: “true stories well told.”
In antagonistic style, I find myself bucking that trend and the present tense trend as I approach the finishing line of my latest, full-length fiction book, written mainly in the past tense in a completely fictional city about people who don’t exist. Of course, each character has certain traits and mannerisms I’ve observed in real people – sometimes people I know well – and that detail adds depth to the various personalities. However, there isn’t an individual in my book you’d recognise from my actual life story. So far, that’s the way I prefer it.
The first book I wrote, many years ago, blended total fiction with a distinct thread of autobiographical content. I went from the principle every writer hears and knows only too well: write what you know. It was a good test of my skills and excellent practice for what was to come. Writing about your personal life makes it easier to describe the detail before you go for full-on invention. It’s a lot simpler to start by describing attributes, landscapes and settings and so on if you experienced them in reality. You’re adding fictional material to fragments of memory.
Creative nonfiction is different to technical writing with good style. I’ve read science books that are as fascinating to sit through as any fiction book, with as much humour as a good comedy and as much pathos as a page-turner, but those titles don’t fall into the creative nonfiction category. They’re still considered technical works. It’s just one drawback of the way we classify everything we write.
I’d probably be considered as a candidate for starting a creative nonfiction book: I was a technical science writer for several years before moving into fiction. At the moment, even though trends show the fun side of nonfiction is catching on fast, I still revere the imagination and what it can provide for my stories.
What about you?
Are you writing creative nonfiction? What’s the experience like? Is it as challenging as people say it is?
Or are you with me, at the back of the modern class, still content with complete and utter made-up rubbish?
If you want to read some creative nonfiction, try this list of titles at: About.com
If you’re ready to take the nonfictional plunge yourself and start writing some, this article is from 2011, but still an informative read: Writing Forward’s tips for creating creative nonfic.