One of my favourite books at home is Lee Gutkind’s, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. The cover claims that the book is ‘The complete guide to writing creative nonfiction from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between,’ which is a pretty big boast, but one I can live with. There is a lot of great information in Lee’s book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any up and coming creative nonfiction scribe.
By way of an example of the books contents, here is a small slice explaining a nice way of structuring your nonfiction writing.
As I’ve said, creative non-fiction is an amalgam of style and substance, information and story. Whether it’s personal information, as in memoir, or public information as in immersion, you’re using building blocks, scenes, and/or little stories to communicate ideas and information as compellingly as possible.
I’m not an artist, but I’m now attempting to show, visually, the classic structure of the creative nonfiction essay, chapter, or book. So here we have a rectangle with nine blocks. (Nine is arbitrary, it could be five or fifteen – or any number.)
The first block represents story or action because it’s usually best to start with a scene to draw readers in and get them involved. After you’ve captured your readers, you can provide any information you want or need to tell them. But you don’t want to provide too much information all at once because you’ll only bore them or they’ll lose the thread of the story. So that third block continues the scene or story or starts another story. That’s the rhythm, what I call the creative nonfiction dance. Information and story – back and forth – repeatedly.
The objective of the dance is to embed information inside the scene or story so that the movement between blocks is seamless. Each scene or little story should simultaneously excite with action and teach with precision. In the perfect world, information will also be embedded inside each scene. As you can see, that is happening here.
Let me say a little more about the structure of the creative nonfiction essay – or book. Creative nonfiction, as I have pointed out, is an amalgam of style and substance. The scene and story, the characters and the inherent suspense get people interested and involved, allowing the writer to communicate the information – or the nonfiction part of the genre – and keep readers interested. This is especially the case for readers who might not have an inherent interest in the subject.
So here’s the dance that is diagrammed. The scene gets the reader interested and involved, so you can then provide information, nonfiction, to the reader. But sooner or later, a reader will get distracted or overloaded with information, and you will lose him. But before you allow that to happen you go back to the scene – or introduce a new scene – and reengage. And it is really terrific when you can embed information inside a scene. This, as you can see in the diagram, allows you to go from scene to scene – without a break.
You can read some more about Lee at his website HERE.