Creative nonfiction is a nonfiction story that is told with fiction elements: dialogue, setting details, scenes, characterization (of real people), and so on.That's where the creative part is supposed to come in--not in the facts--but in HOW the facts are revealed.
Part one of Lee's book would be interesting to anyone who loves to read and discuss what they read. The author writes about some of the most infamous cases of writers who claimed to write a true, nonfiction account of their lives; when in all actuality, it was false—sometimes the entire story made up.
The account most people know about is James Frey and his book, A Million Little Pieces, since Oprah chose it as one of her book club selections. Because of her recommendation, two million copies of his book sold, and Frey became a household name. Then it was discovered that most of his story was completely untrue. He did more than make up some dialogue or create a composite character for simplicity sake--Frey lied.
This is one of the extreme examples that Gutkind discusses in his book during the ethics section; but there are actually more writers (more than I realized!) that fudge the truth just a bit. But still, they claim that they write creative nonfiction. For example, David Sedaris admits that because he writes humor based on his life, that sometimes he must exaggerate or make up dialogue to get a laugh. Some of the funny lines in Naked? Completely fabricated!
John Berendt made up dialogue and rearranged the story chronology in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil! Several people from Frank McCourt's home town claim that he didn't exactly tell the whole truth in Angela's Ashes, and they state they've found over 100 discrepancies.
|A good example|
It’s a crucial decision for writers to make if they are going to tackle the genre: are they going to tell the truth without embellishments?
Personally, I was disappointed when reading this section of Lee's book--so many writers don't stick to the 100 percent truth. But then I thought: maybe it's really difficult to do this--I don't write much in this genre, so maybe I don't know. I have written some essays, and I have included dialogue, and I think I have the dialogue right; but it's as I remember it--so who knows for sure?
How do you feel about this issue? How much of a creative nonfiction piece is it okay to "make up"? If you write memoir or creative nonfiction, do you create dialogue or make up characters, etc, to smooth transitions? As a reader, how do you trust the writer?
I started thinking that perhaps books should say on the cover: Based On a True Story--just like many movies do. . .
Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, and she edits, blogs, writes, and teaches for WOW! Women On Writing. To view her upcoming classes in spring and summer (writing for children/teens, writing short fiction, writing a children's/YA novel), please visit the WOW! classroom: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html