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Creative Nonfiction week 1

September 1, 2011

The Frey incident challenges ideas about what Creative Nonfiction is because readers’ trust in the truthfulness of a purported piece of nonfiction was broken with the revelation that the author made up his story. Readers should not have to wonder if an author of nonfiction was creative with the truth. Are there degrees of truth just like there are shades of gray? In the Oprah Winfrey interview account, “James Frey: Five Years Later, Part 1,” we learn that “James has had time to reflect on one question he asked himself the day of that fateful Oprah Show interview: How did he get here? ‘I wrote a book, and I published it as something that it wasn’t, and I was dishonest in promoting the book,’ he says … Why publish the book as a memoir? James says that this was not his idea at first.” The way I understand this quote is that Frey admits his dishonesty in the promotion of his book as a memoir, but someone else suggested he do it. I think that, ultimately, the responsibility for falsely promoting his fiction as a memoir is his. He admits to his lie, but then attempts to lessen the lack of ethics in his action.

 

Is it ever okay to put a “spin” on an account? Not in news reporting. Philip Gerard makes a similar statement in Creative Nonfiction when he writes that he does not call creative nonfiction “literary journalism” because while literature can include fiction, journalism cannot. Journalists and reporters must report the facts – that is nonfiction. When you read a newspaper, you assume that journalistic ethics are part of the reporting and that the reporter has not put a personal “spin” on the truth. Putting a spin on something usually arises from bias or dishonesty in an attempt to make something negative appear in a better light. Alicia Webber wrote in her post, “Writers do have a tendency to twist the arm of truth at points in order to get a good story even if it means leaving facts out, changing events around, and even creating an idea that once it takes hold of the reader leaves them wanting more of the story, even if it is not completely grounded in facts.” Journalistic integrity does not allow for bias or dishonesty in news reporting and this is attained through the use of fact checkers and editors.

 

Can writing be partly true and partly fiction? Yes; historical fiction fits that description. Usually these types of accounts are based on real events with fictional characters and/or additional events blended in. Have you read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut? World War II is the real event in the story, but many of the actions of the characters are made up. Another example of historical fiction is Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell which is a fictional story that takes place during the American Civil War. Morgan Brownlee wrote in her post, “I think that now-a-days people tend to lean towards books, stories and movies that are based on a true story. I think it gives the story more meaning and perhaps inspiration to the readers and viewers. So authors will write a story and slap the memoir tag on it just to get it published and/or boost sales and get positive reviews.” Sometimes movies and books are marketed as dramas based on true stories which may leave readers and viewers erroneously judging certain segments to be true when those segments are actually fiction. Historical fiction and dramas based on true stories are not the same as creative nonfiction.

 

What makes something fall into the creative nonfiction category? Gerard says there are five characteristics of creative nonfiction: “an apparent subject and a deeper subject,” “such nonfiction is released from the usual journalistic requirement of timeliness,” “creative nonfiction is narrative, it always tells a good story,” “creative nonfiction contains a sense of reflection on the part of the author,” and “such nonfiction shows serious attention to the craft of writing” (7-11). I think an example of creative nonfiction is a story told with its facts intact and undistorted, with underlying universal human interest. To give a more specific example, a police officer goes back to college part-time to get his master’s degree after 22 years on the force and is interviewed a few years after graduation. As part of his capstone project, he had created a program that clarifies the role of police in dealing with juveniles in distress. The writer needs to include the who, what, when, where, and why of the program, but can include creative components about a deeper subject, such as parenting juveniles with emotional disabilities. I think creative nonfiction is different than just reporting the facts. The facts don’t get distorted in creative nonfiction, but the presentation of the facts is where the creativity arises. What do you think creative nonfiction means?

+Every segment of http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/James-Frey-Five-Years-Later-Part-1

+Gerard, Creative Nonfiction, Chp. 1 “What is Creative Nonfiction Anyhow?”

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One Comment leave one →
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