Thursday, March 6, 2014

Creative Nonfiction - Not Your Mother's Essay

“Every story has a human face. Draw it well and put it on display, for to readers it is a magnet.”—Francis Flaherty, editor at The New York Times

How many of us remember the collective groan in English class the day we were assigned a themed five-paragraph essay? Having been both student and teacher, I have written and read my fair share of essays and reports and have concluded, regardless of topic, most had one thing in common—they were boring.

Why? Because most were structured on the Joe Friday approach to writing nonfiction: "Just the facts,ma'am. Just the facts." No personal "I," no story, no drama, no scene, dialogue or personal voice. 

But we are people of story as much as we are consumers of information, and we want to learn in a pleasurable way. Creative nonfiction, enlivening true stories with story elements, helps us do just that. It allows us to present truth by engaging both the head and heart, whether we are writing about food, travel, sports, spirituality or a memorable moment in our own life. 

According to Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, the genre of creative nonfiction has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities. And judging from the number of books on the New York Times bestseller list, it has found its place with readers. 

When I used to assign research papers, I'd stand in front of my class and say, "Don't be ..." (I'd put my finger alongside my nose and give it the sign language twist for boring.)Trouble was, I didn't know how to help my students write nonfiction otherwise. How to put a human face on something like orchids. 

Now, however, my shelves are heavy with books such as Gutkind's You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Flaherty's The Elements of Story, and Miller and Paola's Tell It Slant

I'm looking forward to sharing with you what these and other experts have to say. 

Join us at our Cross N Pens workshop as we deconstruct excerpts from bestsellers to news articles and explore the following:  

What is creative nonfiction? 
What are the special challenges of this genre? 
How do you weave the personal with the bigger, world-at-large ideas? 
How do you use scenes to build a nonfiction story? 
How do you write about you without navel-gazing? 
What are the markets and publishing opportunities? 

Come prepared to put hand to pen in mining your own stuff of life!

Saturday, April 12 from 9 a.m. - noon at the First Baptist Church in Simpsonville. 
Cost: $5 members; $20 non-members(includes membership fee)



  1. Sounds wonderful, Marcia. I look forward to it!

  2. Ellen, I hope it will be another nugget in your basket as you mine your own story.