New Feature: Ask the Editor

Ask the Editor is a new resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.

First up is a great question that ponders, just what is creative nonfiction writing, anyway?

Q:  I’m new to writing and submitting my work. The story I sent you is non-fiction in that it actually happened to me. I was the little girl. But I consider it fiction in that it is radically embellished.  Am I confused about genres?

A:  If you are confused about genres, you are not alone. Creative Nonfiction is a relatively new genre, at least in terms of a single definition. Within the literary community there is debate about its nature, about its highest and best form. Some people even refuse to acknowledge creative nonfiction as a legitimate genre, and hold that the subject matter of writing is either true (nonfiction) or not true (fiction).

Increasingly, though, there is awareness that our existence and experience are non-binary things. I won’t attempt to go into all of that here, but I subscribe to a couple of ideas about this complexity that guide Longridge Review.

1) We can never recall exactly what happened but still need to write about what we do remember to find the truth in that experience.

There is some science that says every time we recall something, we change it.

(Let yourself sit with that for a minute or two.)

2) The key is to not deliberately and strategically write something that is, as you say, “radically embellished,” and then try to pass it off as anything other than fiction.

It sounds like what you have is a piece of fiction that is inspired by personal experience. Some might say that personal experience is THE launch pad for fiction, at least to some degree. Even if the story is about a murder, say, or an alien invasion (things hopefully of limited personal experience), the writer has to have some experience with the core elements of the story in order to make it work. Maybe she worked at a newspaper and covered the crime beat. Maybe he loved the planetarium as a child and has a keen awareness of planets and systems in space.

I hope this is helpful. While creative nonfiction can cover forms like poetry, Longridge Review focuses on the essay form.

For more on the genre, we recommend this by Lee Gutkind: What is Creative Nonfiction?

The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.

“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

5 Comments

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  1. Reblogged this on Esse Diem and commented:

    “Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!” – Lee Gutkind

  2. Wonderful feature! True and fascinating: “There is some science that says every time we recall something, we change it.” Annie Dillard said of writing our memories: “After you’ve written, you can no longer remember anything but the writing.”

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