Which narrative structure should the writer use? Some stories work well with a story framed chronologically. Others work well using a collage or braided narrative structure. Often the writer discovers the best narrative structure through experimentation and revision. Next, I will discuss a few miscellaneous topics on creative nonfiction in general and memoir in particular, including point of focus, subjectivity and objectivity, educating the reader, and point of view. I was happy when I read the description of parallel narrative.
I needed to understand the concept and this nailed it on the head. Great info here about story structure. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Blog at WordPress. Find Your Creative Muse Learn how to write poetry, fiction, personal essays, and more.
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Join other followers. The writer can use any of the following frames: Chronological frame. The writer narrates the story from beginning to end, from the inciting incident to its resolution. Manipulating time. The writer can tell the story by compressing time, using flashbacks, or by beginning in the middle, and so forth. Circular Construction. The story ends where it begins. For instance, the writer can repeat a key phrase from the beginning of the story at the end.
Parallel narrative. The writer tells two separate narratives that converge into a single narrative. These stories are used to highlight some significance or deeper meaning. Be decisive, and you will be successful. To begin this process, decide what you really want this memoir or personal essay to reflect. Are you writing about a difficult time in your life? A big lesson learned the hard way?
Organize your thoughts around a central theme, and from there it becomes easy to determine what stays or goes. You never know when those parts will become useful for your next project! Likewise, your story only has room for so many characters.
They have to serve the plot in a meaningful way. You might feel inclined to give Aunt Lila some space in your story, but unless she was a real catalyst for change or obstacle to success, she has to go. There is no hard-and-fast rule on how many characters to include in your story.
Just be sure those you include are vital to the plot. Once you know the scope of events and the cast of characters, you must return to the idea that creative nonfiction succeeds by evoking emotion. Memoir is not autobiography. Emotional investment is achieved through great narrative, exquisite prose, and deep, unselfconscious examination of the theme you set out to explore. Those who enjoy memoir and personal essay want to be transported, just as they would when reading a work of fiction.
The major difference in creative nonfiction is that your story actually happened. Once you have worked out your cleaning and organizing, decorate with abandon. Write your heart out, make it beautiful, and take your reader with you on an emotional journey.
Use the devices found in fiction writing to create a setting for your real-life experience. Lastly, leave your reader with a sense of longing that stays with them beyond the final page. Like handsome decorations in an ordinary home, transformative prose can turn a humble story into an irresistible escape. Belynda C. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University, and has extensive experience in writing fiction, literary non-fiction, and freelance writing for clients.
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Indeed, its opposite of academic and pedagogic non-fiction only really became a significant sector in publishing with the rise in scientific method during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I also feel that it is unhelpful to try to claim narrative non-fiction as a genre or even special type of literature. There is a continuum, from imaginative works of pure fiction, through a very popular field of what is often termed historical fiction, to accurate fact presented in narrative form, and formal chronological history.
It is relatively easy to distinguish narrative, but often harder to determine how fictional is its content. Inevitably, narrative non-fiction, as with all forms of narrative, has a multi-layered and sometimes even fractal structure.
The top layer is what actually happens — the narrative. One scene must follow another in a logical progression or pattern. That pattern, a story in itself, is called a frame. It is a bigger and more general story, whereas scenes are smaller and more specific stories. It is that top-level structure which was the concern of my previous article. Using its terminology, narrative non-fiction is the primary instance of the sequence and order type, chronology subtype.
This is not mandatory, though: narrative can be built from a sequence of locations, and sometimes using different structures detailed in my previous article. Whether this meets your concept or definition of narrative is, of course, determined by that definition. Consider a narrative in which a series of events occurs each summer, between the years and , with a crisis building during the summer of , which forms the crux of its storyline.
This could be a series of experiments in a seabird colony or particle collider, seasons of plein air painting on the coast, or pure fiction. The most common structure derived from that is simple synchrony. That is by no means universal, though. You can jump around the arc in any number of ways, using flashbacks or flash-forwards.
Your plot, in other words, need not follow the narrative arc. More general forms of asynchrony are also common. Movies often employ more complex asynchrony, such as cross-cutting between two or more simultaneous narrative threads. This is good. The more tension and suspense, the more likely it is the reader will keep reading. In a long-form essay, there can be three or four narratives going on at the same time. This structure works rather better in movies, with their highly explicit visual and sound cues.
Text narrative, heavily reliant on the implicit, tends to depart relatively little from synchrony, even more so in non-fiction. All three books on writing narrative non-fiction stress the importance of structure and planning in writing. Putting together the diagrams above using Storyspace or, if you prefer, Tinderbox is an excellent lesson in how readily they can be used to develop the structure of plain text writing.
Voice technique involves both the author's tone, or attitude and point of view, his distance from the subject. The voices authors use depend on the genres they are working with. In a personal essay, the author is very close to the events, requiring the use of first person, or the pronoun "I". In literary journalism, which profiles specific events and people, the author is outside the story, requiring third person, the use of "he" or "she.
Writing about actual experiences and events doesn't mean that you are required to portray everything exactly as it actually happened. There is a difference between making up a story and calling it nonfiction and molding certain aspects to enhance the narrative while retaining the event's core truth. For example, some authors combine similar people into one composite character to avoid having too many underdeveloped figures, or compress the time frame of the events to make the piece move more fluently.
Writers should sculpt their experience around the framework they create by blurring reality to fit their structure, while simultaneously maintaining the true story's integrity. Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.
Characteristics of Narrative Nonfiction. Elements of Style in Creative Nonfiction Writing. How to Create a Faction for a Fiction Story. Non-Fiction Narrative Techniques.
As themes prove inconvenient, you find some way to tuck them in. On tablets in Babylonia, most pieces were written that way, and nearly all pieces are written that way now. After ten years of it at Time and The New Yorker , I felt both rutted and frustrated by always knuckling under to the sweep of chronology, and I longed for a thematically dominated structure.
In , after spending a few weeks interviewing the art historian Thomas P. Hoving, who had recently been made director of the Metropolitan Museum, I found in going over my notes that his birth-to-present chronology was particularly unaccommodating to various themes. For example, he knew a whole lot about art forgery. Actually, they were forgeries turned out the previous day in Vienna. In later and wiser years, he could not help admiring Han van Meegeren, who created an entire fake early period for Vermeer.
Most of all, he came to appreciate the wit of a talented crook who copied a silver censer and then put his tool marks on the original. At one point, Hoving studied the use of scientific instruments that help detect forgery. He even practiced forgery so he could learn to recognize it. All this having to do with the theme of forgery was scattered all over the chronology of his life.
So what was I going to do to cover the theme of art and forgery? How was I going to handle, in this material, the many other examples of chronology versus theme? Same as always, chronology foremost? I threw up my hands and reversed direction.
Hoving had been, to put it mildly, an unpromising youth. For example, after slugging a teacher he had been expelled from Exeter. They meet in a section that consists of just two very long paragraphs. Paragraph 1 relates to the personal arm, Paragraph 2 relates to the professional arm, and Paragraph 2 answers the question. Or was meant to. Other pieces from that era were variously chronological, none more so than this one, where the clock runs left to right in both the main time line and the set pieces hanging from it Fig.
So the piece flashed back to its beginnings and then ran forward and eventually past the turtle and on through the remaining occurrences. As a nonfiction writer, you could not change the facts of the chronology, but with verb tenses and other forms of clear guidance to the reader you were free to do a flashback if you thought one made sense in presenting the story.
Each of those ancient structures was worked out after copying with a typewriter all notes from notebooks and transcribing the contents of microcassettes. I used an Underwood 5, which had once been a state-of-the-art office typewriter but by had been outclassed by the I. The note-typing could take many weeks, but it collected everything in one legible place, and it ran all the raw material in some concentration through the mind. The notes from one to the next frequently had little in common.
They jumped from topic to topic, and only in places were sequentially narrative. So I always rolled the platen and left blank space after each item to accommodate the scissors that were fundamental to my advanced methodology. After reading and rereading the typed notes and then developing the structure and then coding the notes accordingly in the margins and then photocopying the whole of it, I would go at the copied set with the scissors, cutting each sheet into slivers of varying size.
If the structure had, say, thirty parts, the slivers would end up in thirty piles that would be put into thirty manila folders. One after another, in the course of writing, I would spill out the sets of slivers, arrange them ladderlike on a card table, and refer to them as I manipulated the Underwood. If this sounds mechanical, its effect was absolutely the reverse. If the contents of the seventh folder were before me, the contents of twenty-nine other folders were out of sight.
Every organizational aspect was behind me. The procedure eliminated nearly all distraction and concentrated only the material I had to deal with in a given day or week. It painted me into a corner, yes, but in doing so it freed me to write.
Cumbersome aspects there may have been, but the scissors, the slivers, the manila folders, the three-by-five cards, and the Underwood 5 were my principal tools until , a year in which I was writing about a schoolteacher in Wyoming and quoting frequently from a journal she began in Into several late drafts of that piece, I laboriously typed and retyped those journal entries—another adventure in tedium.
Preston put me in touch with Howard J. For a couple of decades, his contribution to my use of the computer in teaching, researching, and writing would be so extensive that—as I once wrote—if he were ever to leave Princeton I would pack up and follow him, even to Australia. He listened to the whole process from pocket notebooks to coded slices of paper, then mentioned a text editor called Kedit, citing its exceptional capabilities in sorting.
I have never used a word processor. Kedit did not paginate, italicize, approve of spelling, or screw around with headers, WYSIWYG s, thesauruses, dictionaries, footnotes, or Sanskrit fonts. Instead, Howard wrote programs to run with Kedit in imitation of the way I had gone about things for two and a half decades.
He wrote Structur. He wrote Alpha. He wrote mini-macros galore. In one form or another, some of these things have come along since, but this was and the future stopped there. Howard, who died in , was the polar opposite of Bill Gates—in outlook as well as income.
Howard thought the computer should be adapted to the individual and not the other way around. One size fits one. The programs he wrote for me were molded like clay to my requirements—an appealing approach to anything called an editor. Structur exploded my notes. It read the codes by which each note was given a destination or destinations including the dustbin.
It created and named as many new Kedit files as there were codes, and, of course, it preserved intact the original set. In my first I. My first computer cost five thousand dollars. I called it a five-thousand-dollar pair of scissors. I wrote my way sequentially from Kedit file to Kedit file from the beginning to the end of the piece. Some of those files created by Structur could be quite long. So each one in turn needed sorting on its own, and sometimes fell into largish parts that needed even more sorting.
In such phases, Structur would have been counterproductive. It would have multiplied the number of named files, choked the directory, and sent the writer back to the picnic table, and perhaps under it. So Howard wrote Alpha. Alpha implodes the notes it works on. It reads codes and then churns a file internally, organizing it in segments in the order in which they are meant to contribute to the writing. Alpha is the principal, workhorse program I run with Kedit.
Used again and again on an ever-concentrating quantity of notes, it works like nesting utensils. It sorts the whole business at the outset, and then, as I go along, it sorts chapter material and subchapter material, and it not infrequently arranges the components of a single paragraph.
It has completely served many pieces on its own. When I run it now, the action is instantaneous in a way that I—born in —find breathtaking. Alpha has completed 14 codes and paragraph segments were processed. Of those which show up more than once, All expunges all.
When Keditw came along—Kedit for Windows—Howard rewrote everything, and the task was not a short one. Sales have gradually slowed down over the years, and it now makes sense to gradually wind down. This is when I began to get a true sense of the tensile strength and long dimension of the limb I was out on.
I replied on the same day, asking the company how much time—after half a million words in twenty-three years—I could hope to continue using Kedit. In the back-and-forth that followed, there was much useful information, and this concluding remark:. Driving to Boston not long ago, I stopped in at Storrs, home of the University of Connecticut, to meet him and show him some of the things Howard Strauss had done.
In this Xanadu of basketball, I found Kearney and his wife, Sara, close to the campus in a totally kempt small red house previously occupied by a UConn basketball coach. From my perspective, they looked young enough and trim enough to be shooting hoops themselves, and that to me was especially reassuring.
He was wearing running shoes, a Metropolitan Museum T-shirt. He had an alert look and manner; short, graying dark hair; a clear gaze, no hint of guile—an appealing, trusting guy. Before long, Sara went off to an appointment, leaving us at the dining table with our laptops open like steamed clams.
I was awestruck to learn that he had bought his first personal computer only two years before I had, and I was bemused to contemplate the utterly disparate vectors that had carried us to the point of sale—me out of a dark cave of pure ignorance and Kearney off a mainframe computer. He grew up in New Haven and in nearby Madison, he told me, and at UConn majored in math, but he developed an even greater interest in computer science.
In those pre-P. By , he still did not own a personal computer and could not afford a five-thousand-dollar pair of anything. Apple II had been on the market since but did not interest him. The displays on I. His father helped him buy one. Five thousand dollars in translates to twelve thousand dollars now.
On the mainframe, everyone from undergraduates to programmers used an evolving variety of text editors, most notably Xedit, which was written at I. Kevin Kearney was so interested in Xedit that he bought forty manuals out of his own pocket and offered them to students and faculty. Then, after the new I. So Kearney, aged twenty-eight, cloned Xedit to accomplish that purpose. Writing the initial version of Kedit took him about four months, in late Like a newborn bear cub, it amounted to the first one per cent of what it would eventually become.
Each line is like one card. There was no hint that they objected. I asked Kearney how many users, nationally and globally, Kedit has now. Kedit did not catch on in a large way at Princeton. I used to know other Kedit users—a historian of science, a Jefferson scholar. Aware of this common software, we nodded conspiratorially. Today on the campus, the number of people using Kedit is roughly one. Not long ago, I asked Jay Barnes, an information technologist at Princeton, if he thought I was enfolded in a digital time warp.
For many years in my writing class, I drew structures on a blackboard with chalk. In the late nineteen-nineties, I fell off my bicycle, massively tore a rotator cuff, underwent surgery, spent months in physical therapy, and had to give up the chalk for alternative technologies.
I was sixty-eight. Briefly, I worked things out with acetates and overhead projection. Enduringly, I was once again helped beyond measure by Howard Strauss. With PowerPoint, he modernized my drawings of the structures of pieces written before I bought my first computer; and in , during the last months of his life, he was still taking my rough sketches and turning them into structural presentations, some of them complicated and assisted by the use of color.
How did you do that? There are structural alternatives, but for the story of a journey they can be unpromising and confusing when compared with a structure that is chronologically controlled. Et cetera, in an annual mantra about what I thought to be axiomatic: journeys demand chronological structures.
That was before , when I went from a truck stop in Georgia to a product delivery elsewhere in Georgia to an interior wash in South Carolina to a hazmat manufacturer in North Carolina and on across the country to the state of Washington in a sixty-five-foot chemical tanker owned and driven by a guy named Don Ainsworth. Think about it. Think how it appeared to the writer when it was still a mass of notes. Has any other writer ever done that? Has any other writer ever not done that? If you are starting a westbound piece in, say, Savannah, can you get past Biloxi without caffeinating the prose?
If Baltimore—who is going to care if you get through Cumberland Gap? New York? The Hackensack River. If you start in Boston, turn around. In a structural sense, I turned around—once again reversing a prejudice. In telling this story, the chronology of the trip would not only be awkward but would also be a liability.
Ainsworth and I started in Bankhead, Georgia, where I joined him, and, as it happened, met him, after five years of correspondence. I was to feel free to call it quits anytime, anywhere. I got out of his truck in Tacoma, having ridden three thousand one hundred and ninety miles with him. Just the fact of those three thousand one hundred and ninety miles, if mentioned in the past tense early in the piece, might open the way to a thematic structure.
The lead should be somewhere on the road in the West. The reader would see the span of the journey, the general itinerary. Where to start? In the state of Wyoming are four thousand square miles called the Great Divide Basin, where the Continental Divide itself divides, like separating strands of old rope, surrounding a vast landscape that does not drain to the Atlantic or the Pacific.
We went right through it in the chemical tanker, and I thought it might be an oddly interesting place in which to begin Fig. The lead would be chronological rolling westward , and after the random collection of themes the final segment would pick up where the first one left off and roll on through the last miles to the destination. Thus two chronological drawstrings—one at the beginning of the piece, the other at the end—would pull tight the sackful of themes.
From a slightly different angle than readers are used to, Hanson discusses teaching American literature—an essay by Native American writer Natanya Ann Pulley, in particular—in the creative writing classroom as a model for future writers. When I first began teaching introductory and intermediate nonfiction workshops, I learned to coax myself into not being overwhelmed by the numerous melodramatic personal essays my students submitted.
Of course writing about family and love has a place in creative nonfiction. I ask my students to interrogate those reasons — make lists, ponder them, live with them for an extended period in the case of a semester this may only be a week or two before they start writing. More specifically, my student became preoccupied with how time shapes pain and this became the focus of her essay.
She engaged in creative intellectual inquiry about mourning, and was able to both address her personal experiences with pain and step back from it to weave a narrative around broader concerns regarding different ways loss is experienced. Of course getting students to think about old subjects in new ways is one thing, getting those thoughts to the page as creative expression is an entirely different beast.
For example, I ask my students to read three distinctly different pieces, and to map out the framework of these texts: structure, tense, point of view, and so forth. I then ask them to identify and discuss the differences and similarities of these works, highlighting the specific complications in each.
Finally, I ask them to pick a structure from one of the three pieces to model one of their own works after. This allows students to conceive of creative possibilities for their writing within a learned structure, and thus they come to realize that a seemingly formulaic approach actually offers numerous possibilities for innovation. I love this essay, and I love teaching it. Fragmented structures are difficult to pull off well, and most young writers in my nonfiction classes have yet to experiment with the form.
That is, in the first half of the semester, structure is something they learn by emulating, once they begin to understand structure, they can start creating their own in the latter half of the term. Within the rock formations twenty feet north of the hogan are two stretches of slightly protruding rock. Two lips with a small gap between. My mom says this was her canoe when she was a child. She is not the chatty, two-world, Urban Navajo woman she is now, but a small thing, close to the ground.
When I saw the canoe for the first time, I saw female genitalia. I saw my mom birthed from the Arizona sands. She seems to arrive at her homeland with a clear head.