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Sometimes you can teach something over and over and finally it sinks in for you, the teacher.
This semester I’ve been hitting the “story” aspect of creative nonfiction pretty hard. In talking with other mass media/journalism professors, I get the sense that they don’t always like the word “story” because it’s often associated with fiction. And in today’s environment, we already have enough confusion regarding news, “fake” news, made-up “news,” etc. But when I’m trying to teach students to write captivating nonfiction (true) accounts, I want them to think in terms of story. This is helping me to see my own writing in a slightly different perspective.
When people teach creative nonfiction, they often say “borrow techniques from fiction.” This means characterization, plot, setting, narrative arc, among others.
But those techniques aren’t exclusive to fiction. They are techniques common in storytelling. You can tell an imaginary story, but you also can tell a true story.
I recently started to read Lee Martin’s Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative Nonfiction and the Writing Life. His first sentence is: “After years of writing both fiction and memoir, I’ve come to believe that the term storytelling best fits what I do.”
As I revise my current manuscript, I’ve been thinking a lot about what story I want to tell and what will be the best way to tell it. Rather than thinking of it exclusively as a biography, or a piece of narrative nonfiction, I’m going to start to think about it as a story. I hope this helps me make good decisions in the revision process.