By Natalie Bright
Real life stories seem to be everywhere, from reality television to magazines covering genuine people overcoming life’s obstacles. When you recount your life or if you have ever talked to someone about their life experiences, things are remembered in segments or scenes. Creative nonfiction takes those scenes, fills in the background, and introduces the characters in a narrative form.
“Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre,” says Lee Gutkind, award winning author and professor at the University of Pittsburgh and speaker at Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo.* He sites proof as evidenced by the decrease of fiction in popular magazines. “More and more publications have cut back straight fiction into stories based on real life experiences.” he says. “Five years ago the adventure nonfictions were popular. Today we are in the middle of an information explosion and readers want more serious topics such as science, technology, and economics.”
When crafting creative nonfiction, story must come first. The substance of the information is important, but the story has to come before the factual information. It is the people and the story that will hook the reader. Gutkind stresses that the writer must find the true scene. It’s got to be real and true with accurate information.
Once the real life story is uncovered, the first three paragraphs formulate your hook. “Your beginning must be fast, soon, now, best and strongest,” he says. “Sixty percent of the readers are lost at this point. Your goal is to engage the reader at the very beginning and keep them turning pages.”
Gutkind recommends crafting your creative nonfiction story around a frame and focus. The frame is the container or overall narrative structure of your story. Your narrative should be presented in an interesting and orderly manner, the simplest being the chronological beginning to end scenario.
The next essential part of your article or book is the focus, or overall theme. What is the primary point that ties the elements of your story together? Another way to determine the focus is to ask yourself why you are writing this particular story. As the author, what do you want to say about this topic? The focus will also help you to determine which facts are essential to the story and to identify details that may need to be excluded.
One cannot forget an important building block of the creative nonfiction story which is the story itself, or the facts. Gutkind explains, “The story determines the research the writer must do.”
As you work on the ending, always keep your overall story structure in mind or frame. “Guide your reader’s to what it is you want them to believe but use evidence,” explains Gutkind. He says don’t worry about endings, as the perfect ending may only come after completion of the entire book. “Lead the reader through your story. Don’t tell people what they want to know until you’re ready to dispense with them.”
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For more information, The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
*Frontiers in Writing is a summer writing program sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers. Mark your calendar and join us in Amarillo, June 29-30, 2012!