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Feb 19 13 6:20 AM

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On Saturday you read Biff's post on creative nonfiction, since then we talked scene and summary, took a closer look at scene and today dialogue. Who is choosing to write creative nonfiction, what challenges are you facing? Anyone still struggling with this genre, it can be tricky, particularly in family history but very effective if you work at it. 

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#1 [url]

Feb 19 13 7:37 AM

I guess you are calling my writing "narrative" not creative nonfiction, but I still feel like I'm making so much up, and want to make sure I'm giving an accurate depiction of what happened. 
Here is an example.  I have the documents of my 5x grandfather indenturing his children, and we have the family story that his money was taken by a conman offering to help him secure ocean passage. 
Henry Mahle stood in line to see the Dido ship’s captain, his head hanging in shame and despair. The smell of fish overpowering that of the ship and circling gulls overhead were sure signs they’d finally reached the American harbor. in fact, he could see leaves starting to turn on the trees growing among the buildings in Philadelphia. This should be the greatest day of his families’ lives, he thought. Now, thanks to his poor judgment, he basically had sell his children into slavery. But the man who approached him on the streets of Amsterdam offering to arrange their ocean fare had seemed so helpful, he’d gratefully paid him in gold - almost all of their gold. He'd been devastated when he'd learned the man had been a con artist and had absconded with their gold. The fact that several other families were paying for their voyage by also indenturing his children did nothing to lift his spirits.1

Knowing this day was coming, the family had still decided to board the ship to America. Along with 107 other passengers for the past 58 days they had endured the inconvenience of seasickness, lack of food and closely packed barracks, with determination. The most important thing had been to get to America. Now here they were, but they were not allowed to leave the ship until financial arrangements had been made to pay for their voyage. With no other choice, Henry signed contracts which indentured five of his eleven children to pay the balance of their fare:

Immigrant Service Contract:
October 4, 1819: Wilhelmina Mohl, with the consent of her father, to go to Delaware to Samuel Canby, Jr. of Philadelphia, merchant, for seven years and ten months, to have six weeks of schooling for each year of the terms, and at the end thereof, two complete suits of clothes, one of which to be new. Consideration: $40.00.

October 4, 1819: Wilhelmina Mohl, at the same time, assigned to Margaret Marshall of Wilmington, Delaware, a widow, to serve her or assigns, the indenture above recorded. Consideration: $40.00.
Registered at the Port of Philadelphia, 1817-1831.2
In addition to Wilhelmina, Justus Mahle was indentured to a farmer for 7 years and 6 months. He was to have 6 weeks of schooling per year and 2 completes suits of clothing, 1 of which must be new for the consideration of $67.20. Maria Catarina was indentured to James Canby, a miller in Wilmington, Delaware for 3 years at the end of which she was to have 2 new sets of clothing, 1 of which must be new for $77.00. Hadwig Sophia Mahle was also indentured to James Canby for three years for the consideration of $77.00. Finally, Elisabeth Mahle to Samuel Canby, Jr. for 6 years and 6 months for the consideration of $55.00. Elisabeth was at the same time indentured to Jeremiah Woolston of Wilmington, Delaware to serve him for the consideration of $40.00.3

Hiring children out was not an uncommon practice at the time, but indenturing them for so long to total strangers, was another matter. That most of the children he’d indentured would be close to each other was no comfort to Henry. But trusting God to take care of his children when he couldn’t, Henry and the remainder of his family settled in York County, Pennsylvania.4 In York County Henry farmed and collecting the necessities for a more rugged home to the west.

Connie from WV stuck here in Florida

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#2 [url]

Feb 19 13 8:18 AM

I wanted to go with creative nonfiction, but I really can't.  I've tried, but I have too much truth to write, just like it was.  I am using some dialogue where I've had to use my own words while still keeping to the gist of what was said.  And then some dialogue I remember very clearly the statements made. 

Scenes are hard for me to write.  That's my biggest weakness.  My all-time favorite book is Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin'.  His talent for writing scenery that you feel you can reach out and touch is more than remarkable.  It's genius. I'm not sure how much of his writing is Creative Nonfiction, but I'm sure a lot of it is.  I'm going to re-read it for the third time to see if I get some influence.  

As far as reading outside our normal genre, I'm currently reading Sol Stein on Writing: A Master Editor Shares His Craft, Techniques, and Strategies.  I haven't read an actual book on writing for quite a while.  I'm glad I picked this one.  I'd never read it.  Stein covers, in depth, all of the issues we're talking about in the challenge, including Creative Nonfiction.  Some of it's hard to grasp, so I have to re-read parts to really understand what he's saying.  Coincidentally, I'm reading about "Dialogue."  How'd that happen????

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#3 [url]

Feb 19 13 9:33 AM

I like the creative non-fiction. While that is what I am leaning towards, I am afraid that my story will end up being fiction based on a true story. I don't have a problem making up dialog based on what I know and from 1918 on, I have real documents to use. However, there are too many missing details in the early part of the family history. Besides, I really, really liked the books by Jeanette Walls. I was completely taken away by her style and it took days to shake her stories. The Glass Castle is her story but Half Broke Horses was based on what she knew about her mother's life. i will need to study inferring more to really make a stab at it. It is so much easier to make up the dialog.

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#5 [url]

Feb 21 13 5:16 AM

Jeanette Walls is definitely an inspiration, Glass Castle is her memoirs of her childhood while Half-Broke Horses is a work of fiction but based on her Grandmother. Walls writes very clearly in her intro that her work is taken from oral history and she did not aspire to historical accuracy. She did not have the words of Lily herself and names have been changed to protect people's privacy. I don't think it is any less a powerful or worthy of a story but certainly is not a family history in the true sense. But it speaks to the example that you don' t have to be tied to one genre just be clear to your reader what you are representing. 

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#6 [url]

Feb 27 13 4:39 AM

When I was struggling to write a story about a great-grandfather, a mentor/teacher recommended I read Ava's Man, by Rick Bragg. In it, Bragg tells the story of his grandfather's life, a man he never knew. He interviewed a lot of relatives and friends who had known his grandfather and he brought the man wonderfully to life, not only the man but also his wife Ava. After that, I read Bragg's book All Over But the Shoutin', which is his own story, with emphasis on his parents, especially his mother's struggles to raise her boys when her alcoholic husband was gone most of the time. It's about his relationship with his parents. Both are powerful stories. They are two of my favorite books, and I've read both of them at least three times.

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#8 [url]

Feb 27 13 9:32 AM

Zola, those are my best read books too!  I absolutely adore Rick Bragg's writing.  Talk about a master of writing metaphors!  Whenever anyone asks me what is my favorite book, it's always All Over but the Shoutin'.  I still read the first paragraph of that book over and over again simply to get inspiration on writing a scene. 

 "It was a place where gray mists hid the tops of low, deep-green mountains, where redbone and bluetick hounds dashed through the pines as they chased possums into the sacks of old men in frayed overalls, where old women in bonnets dipped Bruton snuff and hummed 'Faded Love and Winter Roses' as they shelled purple hulls, canned peaches and made biscuits too good for this world."

If only I could write like that!

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#10 [url]

Mar 6 13 8:36 PM

Hope folks are still here reading and posting.  I just have a quick question... when writing creative non-fiction is it necessary to use footnotes?  My thought is no, but I would like the experts here to weigh in with their thoughts.  Thanks guys. 


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#12 [url]

Mar 7 13 4:19 AM

@jarnspiger if you're writing creative nonfiction I would be more inclined to use endnotes or blind citations especially if you're looking at a commercial book. 

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#14 [url]

Mar 8 13 4:53 AM

I think I'm writing "creative nonfiction", but I'm not sure.  What I know is that my great grandfather lost his sister when he was 2, lost his brother when he was 4, lost his father when he was 5, lost his mother when he was 11 and lost his wife when she was 26.  When I think about this, it is difficult for me to hold back tears.  I imagine this life and I write about it.  The words come from my heart, and only my heart.

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#15 [url]

Mar 9 13 4:53 AM

Connie, Bettyann, and all, Don't be confused about creative nonfiction. The creative part doesn't mean making up things. Coming from an MFA in creative nonfiction, I have a few tidbits to offer. In The Art of Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind explains, "Information is the goal of the nonfiction writer--teaching or enlightening a reader is the unalterable mission of all nonfiction. . . . Creative nonfiction is as accurate as the most meticulous reportage--perhaps even more accurate because the creative nonfiction writer is expected to dig deeper into a subject, thereby presenting or unearthing a larger truth (p. 10-11). Connie, your passage about the Henry Mahle, you can add words to convey that you are imagining this happening. Slip them in here and there. You can start: "I imaging Henry Mahle standing in line. . . ." and then go on with your piece. You can add words such as, "He surely thought. . .." and so on. That way your reader knows you don't really know that's the way it was, but it true to the essence of life. That's the key in writing creative nonfiction--you don't make up facts, but your writing is true.

In Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, Brenda Miller and Susanne Paola write, "The task of the creative nonfiction writing [is to] tell the truth, yes, but to become more than a mere transcriber of life's factual experiences." Furthermore, they add, "Simply by choosing to write in this genre, you make an artistic statement. You're saying that the work is rooted in the 'real' world. Though the essay might contain some elements of fabrication, it is directly connected to you as the author behind the text. There is a truth to it that you want to claim as your own, a bond of trust between reader and writer. If you present a piece as fiction, you are saying that the work is rooted in the world of the imagination. Thought the story may contain autobiographical elements, the reader cannot assume that it has a direct bearing on the truth of the writer's life or experience. At some point, every writer needs to decide how she wants to place herself in the relationship to the reader; the choice of genre establishes that relationship and the rules of engagement."

In Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, Philip Gerard asserts, "The hardest part of writing creative nonfiction is that you're stuck with what really happened--you can't make it up. You can be as artful as you want in the presentation, draw profound meanings out of your subject matter, but you are still stuck with real people and real events. You're stuck with stories that don't always turn out the way you wish they had turned out." Gerard asks, "What in the world makes nonfiction creative?" He goes on to explain five characteristics of creative nonfiction: "First, it has an apparent subject and a deeper subject. The apparent subject may be spectacular or mundane. Unlike in a feature article, it is only part of what we are interested in. . . . Second, . . . long after an apparent subject ceases to be topical, the deeper subject and the art that expresses it remain vital. . . . Third, creative nonfiction is narrative, it always tells a good story. . . [so] it takes advantage of such fictional devices as character, plot and dialogue. . . . Fourth, creative nonfiction contains as sense of reflection on the part of the author The underlying subject has been percolating through the writer's imagination for some time, waiting for the right outlet. It is finished thought. . . . Fifth, such nonfiction shows serious attention to the craft of writing. . . with interesting turns of phrase, fresh metaphors, lively and often scenic presentation, a shunning of cliches and obvious endings, a sense of control over nuance, accurate use of words, and a governing aesthetic sensibility."

And Bettyann, Rick Bragg's book is creative nonfiction, not in part, but all. Don't confuse the word creative with making things up. It merely means the writer uses all the tools of fiction--description, voice, dialogue, pacing, etc.--to bring passion and excitement to the facts.

I encourage you to read any book I've mentioned. Other good reads on creative nonfiction are William Zinsser's On Writing Well, Stephen Minot's, Literary Nonfiction: The Fourth Genre. You can find others specific to writing family history, too, but I don't have a title at the moment.

Pardon me for this long spiel, but I am rather passionate about this subject. I love writing and reading creative nonfiction, and I want people to understand what it is.



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#19 [url]

Mar 10 13 7:45 AM

Hi Jo

A blind citation is a term that Sharon Carmack references in You Can Write Your Family History. She suggests that if you are writing a commercial style book or if you know your readers are going to be less inclined to read your book that is populated with footnotes then to use a blind citation. 

In the back of the book you can create a section called 'Notes', which is broken down by chapter. Here's an example that Sharon cites in her book.   

 Page 22. Elias Ball.....was born: Nan. S. Ball, Ball Family of Stoke-in-Teignhead, Devon, England, pamphlet (Charleston, S.C.: 1944) 

you could also use this format which she quotes from Thomas Keneally's family history, The Great Shame, just a slightly different format.

4  Hugh's marriage and children: Ship's Intent, Parmelias,AONSW; Returns of Applications, 1837-           43, 21 December 1841, 4/4492, MF reel 700, AONSW.....(Abbreviations are spelled out at the             beginnings of the notes section. 

I've also seen this done after each chapter as opposed to listing it all at the end of the book. 

Hope this helps Jo. 

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#20 [url]

Mar 10 13 11:17 AM

Thanks Lynn, I appreciate in reply.  That makes sense.  I think it is something I would want to include just so readers and future generations would know where the information came from.


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