Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Behind the Books: What the Heck Is Creative Nonfiction?

Lee Gutkind
The term "creative nonfiction" was first used by Lee Gutkind in the 1980s as a synonym for “narrative nonfiction.” Gutkind wished to convey the idea that nonfiction wasn’t always dry and utilitarian. By employing such elements as character, dialog, scene building, strong voice, innovative structure, point of view, and literary devices, writers could craft nonfiction that sings.  
 
Over the years, the term has come to be used more broadly, describing both expository and narrative nonfiction that makes use of elements originally considered as exclusive to fictional texts. And as result, most of the trade nonfiction titles currently published for children include a mix of these creative elements.

Biographies and history books generally feature a narrative writing style and include central characters, real dialog, and scene building. Science books often feature an expository writing style and employ strong voice, point of view, innovative structure, and carefully-crafted literary language that delights as well as informs.

Never, never, never does creative nonfiction refer to books that take creative liberties with the truth. Everything must be accurate and verified through fastidious research. Any kind of undocumented embellishment kicks a piece of writing out of the nonfiction realm.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you Melissa for posting this. I'm struggling with my non-fiction story about the world's four species of edible chestnuts, and trying to be creative with it. I wanted each nut to tell their story of how their diversity helped each other survive.. I have reread your "No Monkey's No Chocolate" so many times and 'love the worms'. I am rereading "Some Writer" til the day I have to return it to the library. Your backmatter: Author's Notes, Timeline,, Notes, and Selected Bibliography inspires me. Maybe that's where my 'facts' should be placed in my story, and let the nuts tell 'their story'. Thank you for your continual posts.

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  2. I'm so glad to hear that you like No Monkeys, No Chocolate. I haven't been able to read Some Writer by Melissa Sweet yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

    I had no idea that there were four different species of edible chestnuts. Sounds like there may be some non-edible ones too. The world is just such an amazing place.

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  3. Thanks for this very clear explanation, Melissa! The word "creative" seemed to muddy the waters with too many folks taking it to mean "invented." You set the record straight here!

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  4. I wish "narrative nonfiction" was the more commonly used term. I do think "creative nonfiction" suggests to some people that they can lean on the "creative" part harder than the "nonfiction."

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  5. I agree, Alexis and Gail. "Creative nonfiction" is potentially confusing. I think most experienced nonfiction writers prefer "narrative nonfiction." Perhaps "creative nonfiction" will eventually disappear.

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  6. I just came across the term "ficinformational". Have you heard it before? It's an interesting idea for another category that relates, I think...

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  7. Thanks for your comment, Anna. From what I understand "fic-informational" is a term being used primarily by agents. It seems to have the same meaning as "informational fiction," a term used by educators.

    If you scroll down, you'll see that I discussed that term last Wednesday. My feeling is that it's best to use the same terminology as educators--the people buying and using our books--whenever possible.

    If you scroll down further, you'll see that I've also been discussing the various ways "informational text/book" is used by various groups of educators and the potential problems associated with the various meanings.

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    1. Thanks Melissa -- there are lots of interesting questions in all of this. My debut PB is coming out in early 2017, and nobody has called it "information fiction" or "fic-informational", but that is what it is -- not so much b/c I set out to write that sort of book, but b/c that was the way the story and content evolved. I'm finding myself sort of backing in to thinking about these complexities, now...

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  8. I think these kids of books are becoming more and more common as authors search for innovative ways to engage children. But many questions remain. Where should these books be shelved in libraries and bookstores? How can we help students learn to identify which parts of a story are true and which are not?

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  9. Melissa - You wrote, "How can we help students learn to identify which parts of a story are true and which are not?" This is a very important issue. First, we need to work with teachers on this so that they understand the distinctions - and care about them, too.

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  10. I totally agree, Alexis. The teachers I talk to are just beginning to recognize that this problem exists and are beginning to look closely at author's notes, so that's a good place for us to start. Do you have other ideas?

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  11. I wonder how we can reach children's lit professors, district library directors, and others who are in contact with large numbers of teachers at a time?

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  12. I am in touch with a variety of children's literature professors via social media, and do discuss these issues with them as well as a variety of other educators. I think conferences like NCTE, ALA, and ILA are also a good way to reach out to educators of all kinds.

    The good news is that a growing number of educators are reading this blog. That's one of the reasons I discuss literary nomenclature as well as nonfiction craft. Other great blogs to follow include The Nonfiction Detectives (http://www.nonfictiondetectives.com) and Kidlit Frenzy (http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com), especially her Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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