Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: Writing Creative Nonfiction

I checked out Writing Creative Nonfiction from the library, because why not? Non-fiction is what I write most of the time (at least, intentionally), and I have a fondness for non-fiction. It's also a Great Courses program, which has established a great deal of credibility with me over the past year or so.

One of the most interesting things I learned about the genre is that Creative Nonfiction used to be called Literary Journalism, of the sort Ernest Hemingway practiced. It was only called Creative Nonfiction after people started using that technique in other contexts.

In any case, the course is mostly about writing of the generic sort, so the lecturer spends a lot of time covering basic writing. I found that very disappointing, because so much of what makes non-fiction hard, for instance, is that you can't just make up dialogue --- and if you've lived through it, you'll have to tape every conversation so you can reproduce it later. That's not even something she talks about!

Furthermore, some of the techniques seem really fishy to me. For instance, she's very fond of indirect discourse. It turns out that indirect discourse (especially the untagged kind) is ambiguous in English. It's unattributed, so it lets the author inject speech into a character's mouth without having to substantiate it with any kind of reference, since that indirect discourse is also the author speaking. That seems really really iffy to me, but it's apparently such a mainstay of fiction and non-fiction writing that it's widely accepted, and she encourages the use of it as a tool so you can make up dialogue or conversations without having to have recorded the actual words that were spoken in some form or another.

Ultimately, creative non fiction is the use of the novelist's toolbox to non-fiction or personal writing. It's interesting that (according to the lecturer anyhow) it's by far the best-selling genre today, leading to scandals like A Million Little Pieces, where a novel was essentially passed as non-fiction in order to generate awesome sales.

One interesting lecture in the series is "How not to have your friends and family hate you." It's a great lecture, and if you're planning to write a family history or memoir, is definitely worth the price of admission.

My biggest criticism of the lecture series is the lecturer herself. She loves to pepper her sentences with verbal diarrhea. For instance, "You wouldn't want your readers to be bored, would you?" If you added up all those extra two-words she tacks on at the end of every other sentence, I'm sure you could save at least half an hour of run-time on the entire series of lectures.

Is the course useful? I'll let you decide. I wrote many of the daily trip segments of this year's Tour of the Alps report "creative fiction" style, rather than my preferred Jobst-style. If you think that it was an improvement, then the course is recommended.

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