By Beth Fowler, who recently won an award for a creative nonfiction story.
In 1959, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary, robbed and murdered Herb Clutter, Herb’s wife and their two children in their home, in cold blood.
Think of how straightforward and uncreative the Clutter’s newspaper obituary was compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Capote said, “I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” He wanted to produce creative nonfiction.
Capote compiled thousands of pages of researched notes upon which his groundbreaking nonfiction novel was based. He interviewed the murderers. Even so, some of the psychological dynamics between the ex-cons, for example, would have been supposed on Capote’s part.
Creative nonfiction writers use techniques associated with fiction. They shape events into stories. Characters, scenes, dialogue, suspense and plot help transform a person’s experience into one with universal appeal that touches readers. One small event for a person: One great read for people…that’s creative nonfiction.
Most of us won’t be writing about massacres, so what can we write about? Take the advice Capote gave another writer: “You have to be willing to use everything. Everything that’s interesting.”
Creative nonfiction strikes a universal chord. Any aspect of the human experience can be the focus of creative nonfiction. Unforgettable encounters, life’s milestones, disasters, work relationships, marriage, homelessness, substance abuse, parental abandonment …
For insights on molding your experience into a salable work, dig into Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Nancy Davidoff’s Writing from Personal Experience: How to Turn Your Life into Salable Prose Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories.
“Creative Nonfiction Journal” offers online classes. The web site says, “Writers at every level can use guidance when it comes to shaping and refining their work. The Creative Nonfiction Mentoring Program pairs you with one of our seasoned, professional editors and writers who will design a program around your writing needs.” Visit Gotham Writers Workshop at www.write.org and Writers on the Net at www.writers.com to find writing classes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a non-credit online Creative Nonfiction class. Also, visit http://writing.shawguides.com where you’ll find The Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops, a free, online directory of programs worldwide.
Publications that print creative nonfiction include:
New Letters Magazine (www.newletters.org)
Memoir (and) (www.memoirjournal.net)
Glimmer Train (www.glimmertrain.com)
The Sun (www.thesunmagazine.org)
Creative Nonfiction Journal (www.creativenonfiction.org)
Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com),
Chicken Soup for the Soul (www.chickensoup.com)
Five Points (www.fivepoints.gsu.edu)
The Pinch (www.thepinchjournal.com).
Stay tuned for Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 2
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