From The Elements of Style (4th Edition) page 67: “All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation — it is the true Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”
We first became acquainted with The Elements of Style as an undergraduate. Over Christmas, I read it again for the first time in probably twenty years and I made some discoveries during that re-reading. Some of them have to do with the concept of writing as a creative event, which we’ll discuss in this post. The applications for blogging, a medium that virtually demands creative content to be effective, will be in the next post.
There is much ado about creative writing, which has traditionally referred to novels, short stories, plays and poetry, all works of fiction. Now there is another term, identifying a newer genre — creative nonfiction.
I first heard the term when an acquaintance referenced Tilar Mazzeo, a professor at Colby College, whose lectures on the topic are available through The Great Courses. With further exploration, we discovered a publication dedicated to the genre. So what’s this have to do with blogging? Here’s our take.
The key is contained in the quotation opening this post — creative writing is communication through revelation. Nowhere does Strunk or White qualify creative works as fiction or nonfiction. Of course, when The Little Book was published there was no social media. In fact, the only reference to technology is a passing one about using a “word processor” (p.72).
But our point is that whatever name is slapped on a genre, the process of writing is communication through revelation. The writer feels compelled to reveal something new to the reader. Is it somehow less creative because it is based upon a writer’s view of a real not an imagined world? We think not.
Here are a couple of definitions from the founder and editor of the site dedicated to creative nonfiction.
“Scenes and stories are the building blocks of creative nonfiction, the foundation and anchoring elements of what we do. …The idea of scenes as building blocks is an easy concept to understand, but it’s not easy to put into practice.
The stories or scenes not only have to be factual and true … they have to make a point or communicate information … and they have to ﬁt into the overall structure of the essay or chapter or book.
Writing in scenes represents the difference between showing and telling. The lazy, uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality, vividly, memorably—and in action. In scenes.”
A couple of examples from a couple of genres.
James Joyce’s The Dubliners contains short stories. Fiction. But it’s fiction based upon a place he knew well (Dublin, Ireland) and in each story Joyce sets a scene and moves his characters in and out of the scene or scenes until the protagonist experiences an epiphany (Joyce’s term). Fiction based upon a real place and, we would argue, observations based on real people.
John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is the author’s personal account of the Mount Everest disaster. Like Joyce, Krakauer sets scenes, populates those scenes with characters, who happen to be real people, and relates the movement of those characters up to the point of their own epiphany, or climax to use a literary term, or revelation to use Strunk and White’s.
The people have paid for the opportunity to join this guided trip to summit Mount Everest. They are also warned that at 2:00 pm whether or not they have reached the summit, they must start their descent or they will be in grave danger. Hours later many of them are still waiting in line to step to the summit. When they try to descend, disaster strikes.
We suggest that Into Thin Air is but one example of creative nonfiction. William Least Heat Moon writes creative nonfiction. Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell is a harrowing example of creative nonfiction. Read Lone Survivor and the scenes where the author/protagonist is trapped on a mountainside while the Taliban search in hopes of finding and assassinating him. Real scenes, real people, real story. Creative? Yep! Nonfiction? Yep!
We believe that people who blog with a purpose — and we humbly include ourselves in that category — believe they have something to say that must be said. All of us have something we feel needs revealing and in so doing the true Self escapes into the open. In the next post, we’ll suggest techniques to help your nonfiction blog become more creative.
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