By Stu Leventhal
How creatively can nonfiction be written before it is disqualified from the nonfiction genre? That is the question every non-fictionist eventually ends up staring in the face! Nonfiction is supposed to be about facts and proven data which can be tough to write about entertainingly for long stretches without ad-libbing. But fabricating is not allowed! Guessing and supposing and filling in the grey areas that one is not sure of is a no go, against the rules!
You cannot make anything up if you wish your work to stay in the nonfiction category! Therefore, it should be easy for us all to agree that research is the key to great nonfiction writing.
The more research an author does the more material he or she has to work with. The goal is to show a complete representation of a specific time period; the ugliness and the beauty, the good and the bad, the boring and exciting.
The quest has always been to find more truth! Readers want to know why! Why did it happen? Could the bad and the hurt have been avoided? Can the beauty be duplicated, the blue print learned, the triumph bottled and distributed so we all can benefit or is mankind destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
Is truth the ultimate oxymoron? Is there ever really one complete undebatable version of the truth? I have said to my students often that when you find yourself working extremely hard to explain something you should stop and take a step back then reevaluate your idea or premise. The truth is not evasive and usually even young children can recognize it. Therefore it should not take a scholar or a professor or a genius to puzzle out the truth and then even more effort to point it out to the rest of us!
Nonfiction is always about history, things that have actually happened. Readers are seeking new ideas and new perspectives not old ideas that have been beaten to death and re-hatched many times already. So the challenge for writing successful creative nonfiction lies in the question; how can we write about happenings gone by and bring something new and worthwhile to the discussions?
Time marches on but history should not be forgotten. Humans shall evolve, mankind will progress; it is man’s legacy to continue to develop. Remembering where we came from is important if we are to move forward with confidence. The future is directly related to the past. Creative nonfiction is not meant to keep old irrelevant discussions alive! Creative nonfiction is here to help us understand the present and build a better future.
Our ancestors did not always answer life’s questions thoroughly and so many of those same questions still haunt us. Those who came before us did the best they could with what they had to work with and they generously made it their business to pass on to the next generation their best knowledge. Our job is to continue to pass this knowledge down the line adding what we can add.
We now know the earth is round instead of flat but that does not mean we laugh at our ancestors for believing the earth was flat or for believing in witches or for worshipping all the different Gods of Greek mythology; Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes, Aphrodite, Athena… We continue to tell their stories with awe and pleasure!
This is the purpose of great creative nonfiction writing! Make the tales of our past pertain to our present issues and future wellbeing and you will have readers eating out of your hand. Our ancestors struggled for our benefit; their stories deserve our utmost respect. History is exciting and interesting as is all human life and human endeavors. How can history not be relevant to today? Without history there would be no today or tomorrow!
Creative nonfiction is modern man’s means of showing respect and thanks for all the work everyone who came before us contributed to our state of affairs. Through creative nonfiction we pay homage to all the great deeds and sacrifices people made and are still making just by living and struggling. The key is to show a way of life as close as possible to the way it actually was. To accomplish writing of that quality, you start with a deep love for one’s fellow human being!
*Need some help sprucing up your nonfiction projects contact: email@example.com