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While reading Creative Nonfiction: A pact between writer and reader by Belen Chacon, I started to think about an argument my high school AP English teacher would tell us “Is nonfiction entirely true?” Belen Chacon makes great points, and I agree that when we read nonfiction we trust the author to its entirety on what he/she has written. Nonfiction can actually be more difficult to label because there is honesty in a story to an extent. Fiction is much less complicated because we know when a story is fantastical like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy or even Crime and Punishment. What I always tend to think is “there is fiction in nonfiction, and nonfiction in fiction.”

 

With nonfiction, whether it is newspapers, journals, or even textbooks, the author writes about what they know. For instance, in movies that say “Based on a True Story,” we tend to believe that what is happening in the film is true, even though some scenes probably did not happen in reality. Nonfiction can be seen in a similar way, but to what point can it be seen as truth or perception? Another example that there’s a couple who have been together for years and if they would describe their first date, both might have the same story, but are told differently. One might miss a few details while the other can describe it more vividly. One story can be told in a several ways, but the writer decides how to write the story, while the reader decides whether to believe the story or not. When I read Martin Luther during a Creative Writing class, he was very straightforward and would say that his translation of the Bible in German is his translation. If the reader did not like the translation, then the reader should become the writer and create their own translation. Writers are writing about their story and their perception.

 

According to Critical Reading, claims of alien abductions are perceived as nonfiction. Whether these claims are true or not is debatable, but we are able to make that choice. Some of us choose to believe these claims are true while others might not. Creative nonfiction can be seen as claims. We can choose to believe what we read. We can decide to believe a celebrity’s autobiography is real, or just a book of fantasies.

 

“We can take readers anywhere in any number of ways. Whether it’s our memories, imaginations, feelings et cetera, one thing writers can do to make sure the line between fact and fiction isn’t blurred is to be explicit with your reader and let him/her know that you are imagining a scene, or that you’re feeling a certain way, or that the details you are describing are in fact your memories. Your prose can be as creative as you like so as long as your reader is aware at all times, which will help keep the story grounded in the world as we know it.”− Chacon

 

Creative nonfiction is an emotional experience for the writer and the reader is able to identify how the author truly felt and if that moment truly happened in their minds. All readers have a choice whether to entrust the author and create that pact, or decide to think otherwise.

 

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You’re having dinner with friends at a restaurant. You’re laughing, you’re drinking, and you’re in the middle of telling your friends the story of how you fractured your knee when you were in the second grade. You use your hands, facial expressions, and maybe even attempt to do some exaggerative impressions of the people that were involved. You don’t remember every exact detail or everything you or anyone involved said in your story, but you work with you’ve got, and don’t mind embellishing the smaller details to keep your friends engaged.

 

Writing a creative nonfiction piece is like telling a non-fiction story to your friends. You use the tools and information available to you in order to amplify your story, but still keep the story grounded in reality. However, depending on the levels of creativity used to make a story more interesting, creative non-fiction can tend to blur the lines of fact, which can then make your story not as accurate or real as you portray it to be, and for some people, that can be a bit of a problem. But if non-fiction stories are supposed to be real and true, how exactly are these truths blurred and what can we do to make our readers feel like they’re not being lied to?

 

Earlier in July, Dennis Miller wrote an article titled, 16 Nonfiction Forms and How to Write Them, where the author points out that creative nonfiction “tends to focus on transformational events in the narrator’s or central character’s life,” and readers are often at the mercy of the narrator’s truths and overall experience as opposed to what may or may not have actually happened. Miller then adds that creative nonfiction also often sounds “crafted or poetic,” which further echoes the writer’s/narrator’s experience or desire to “showcase a certain brand of writing skills,” which again, leads readers to doubt the accuracy of some of the details in the piece.

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However, Miller fails to discuss one important thing when it comes to writing creative nonfiction. When we read nonfiction, we know we’re reading something from another person’s perspective. There’s a certain level of awareness a reader has when going into a story, and it’s the writer’s job to guide them properly so that readers aren’t misled. But how do we do that?

 

Whenever I attempt to write a creative nonfiction piece, I tend to look back at a book I used in one of my creative nonfiction courses at UC Riverside. One of the important things Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, brings to light is the “pact” the author makes with the reader. Just as I touched upon above, it is assumed by the reader that when he/she is reading creative nonfiction he/she is reading something known to be true, and because of that, the reader is trusting the writer that the details described in the story are, in fact, true. “Because of this assumption,” the authors write, “the reader needs to know he is in good hands…The reader needs to know he won’t be deceived along the way.”

 

The way you choose to tell your story can help show readers exactly what they’re dealing with when reading a work of nonfiction. For example, the authors of Tell It Slant, show that the first person ‘I’ narrative can give the audience some assurance because someone is speaking directly to them. Also, revealing personal, and true, details can make the reader feel like they are talking to a regular person. Once we know who our narrator is, we can decide which details to take seriously and which to glaze over. “If we know we are in the hands of a literary artist,” the authors write, “—one who won’t let us down with clichés or a weak infrastructure—then we’re usually willing to go wherever he or she leads.”

 

We can take readers anywhere in any number of ways. Whether it’s our memories, imaginations, feelings et cetera, one thing writers can do to make sure the line between fact and fiction isn’t blurred is to be explicit with your reader and let him/her know that you are imagining a scene, or that you’re feeling a certain way, or that the details you are describing are in fact your memories. Your prose can be as creative as you like so as long as your reader is aware at all times, which will help keep the story grounded in the world as we know it. 

 

 

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He fell to His Knees by Sean Hisaka

He fell to his knees

Not with the violent force of a quake,

Nor the explosiveness of a building quickly crumbling.

It was silent,

In the hallway,

Face diving into his hands

Like a swallow to the sea.

He begged,

Like a man praying to God,

But his plea was much more simple.

She stood,

Surrounded in the darkness by the feeling.

Not a single drop of salt rolled down her face.

This violence,

Motionless in the silence,

Was more profound than his voice.

She saw his placating shadow,

A silhouette on the wall,

Illuminated by the streetlamp,

Striated by the shutters.

There was no anger in her voice,

No sadness to accompany the orchestra

Of his breaking heart.

Out of his mouth and into the carpet,

A flood of unworldly proportions came.

Fish flopped around like fops frothing from the mouth,

Admonishing astonishing accusations of adultery,

Begging and beguiling his beauty to begin beckoning him to bed.

His words made no dent.

Caressing hands reached to hold-

Reached for her hair-

Coming up short every time.

Maybe it was his vision,

The darkness-

Banal apologies rushed to her like stampeding bulls.

No longer enamored with his voice

She turned to the door

Pivoting on the balls of her bare feet.

Forever she shall be chased

By the heart of man.

 

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