Saturday, July 26, 2008

CREATIVE NONFICTION'S SECRET INGREDIENT

(photo by dhm.de)
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

~John F. Kennedy

Did the above quote send a little tingle across your skin. Did it make you take in a breath? If so, you were inspired.

Often times when some see the word "inspirational" they think the piece is religious. But as you can see by this example this isn't the case.

Creative nonfiction should always be written with the reader in mind with the goal to make that reader better for having read it. A great creative nonfiction piece should always inspire, have a simple, non-preachy lesson, moral of the story, or epiphany (ah-ha moment) at the end.

This can be accomplished in many ways. It can be reflective, serious, or humorous.
My creative nonfiction story, "My Culinary Epiphany" that is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Recipes for Busy Moms has a humorous ah-ha that gently reminds the reader to show gratitude for whoever cooks their Thanksgiving meal. The follow is an excerpt from that piece:

The kids were piled on their daddy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while I feverishly worked in the kitchen wearing that blasted rosy glow.
Finally, dinner was served. My husband said grace and then we proceeded to turn into Hoover-mouths. In less than twenty minutes we consumed one hundred dollars worth of food that took two days to prepare.
After dinner, Neal reclined in his chair and the kids ran outside. I was left in a kitchen that looked like Bourbon Street the morning after Mardi Gras.
So this is what my mother did every year? My hands were chapped. My fingers were cut and burned. Every muscle in my body begged for a glass of wine and a hot bubble bath.
As far as I was concerned, my Mom deserved sainthood.
Glancing out the window, I watched the children jump into a pile of leaves, just like I used to do when I was a child. My husband snored in his easy chair, just like Dad. And I began the arduous task of cleaning, just like Mom.
Indulging in a little self pity, I grumbled under my breath.
Sure, eat all you want and leave the rest to me. Just throw a thank-you over your shoulder before taking a nap. Nobody had a clue how hard it was cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Come to think of it, neither did I till now.
Getting off my self-righteous perch, I practiced the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I called my mother and said,


“Thank you for all your hard work. We are not worthy of you!”

A humorous, simple lesson on gratitude.

Look at your piece. What can your story give your reader? What is its "take away?"

This concludes the steps to great CNF. Now all your piece needs is some polish, and if you attend a critique group, a good read there. If you would like to send your piece to me, I'd be happy to read it and offer suggestions if any are needed.

My email is: lindacapple@gmail.com.












Wednesday, July 9, 2008

SAY WHAT?


Dialogue

This is left out of most nonficiton accounts because the writer can't remember EXACTLY what was said and fears that if he adds dialogue it will make the article untrue. Not so!

As I've said before, no one remembers word for word what has been said even an hour ago. Think about the ride home after an evening with friends and you are reviewing all that was said and the person you are with turns to you and says, "that's not what I heard."

Dialogue is what gives your piece dimension and the sense of reality. It makes it real. The important thing is that the dialogue doesn't change the integrity or truth of the piece. For instance, say you are writing about a picnic and Uncle Claude says, "This is a mighty fine picnic. Pass the mustard."

Uncle Claude may not have said the picnic was mighty fine. He may have said it was real nice, or fun. He may have asked for relish or ketchup. But the above dialogue doesn't change the integrity of the piece. It is better to add dialogue than to fret over mustard, relish, or ketchup.

TIP:

After adding dialogue, read it out loud. Does it sound like a real person speaking or stilted? Is it age appropriate?

For example:

Little five-year-old Elizabeth ran to me and said, "Mother, may I have glass of cold water to drink?"


What is wrong with the above sentence? Stilted? Yes. Age appropriate? No. What would a five-year-old say?


"Mommy, I wanna drink of water. I'm thirsty."


A great exercise in writing is to take a pad and pen with you the next time you sip lattes in your local bookstore and listen to the conversations around you. Write them down. Learn how different people talk and express themselves.


NEXT UP: THE EPIPHANY- What makes your piece inspirational!