Two-thirds of the way through my exploration of creative nonfiction books, I feel like I’ve learned more about crafting fiction than nonfiction. I guess that somehow, that was to be expected since creative nonfiction seems to be widely defined as nonfiction told through a dramatic method.
Writing Creative Nonfiction was actually the first book I wanted to read on creative nonfiction. I don’t remember how I stumbled onto it, but I remember reading a review of it and thinking that it sounded interesting. The review said that the book would help you craft better nonfiction writing, especially if you were writing instructional material. I can only assume the person read a very small section of the book, because nearly the entire book is one long discussion on dramatic vs summary method and how to weave them together. It even warns at one point that the techniques will be difficult to apply to an instructional or reporting situation.
All of that said, and knowing my goal is to craft the Dead Bunny works carefully and well, I plunged on and learned a lot about dramatic writing and summary writing. Again, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use this to help spice up and weave Dead Bunny articles into a coherent book, but you never know.
Let’s start with dramatic writing, which receives far more time than summary writing. Dramatic writing is generally considered the domain of fiction because it revolves around the scene. It contains the action, the motion in the piece. It pulls the reader close to the story, shows them details that might be missed in an overview. It contains thoughts, dialogue, actions. It gives us an idea of what is driving the people involved of the event without ever telling us what to think. Because it usually involves a lot of intimate details (mannerisms, inner thoughts), nonfiction writers feel they have to avoid this style of writing because it’s not necessarily objective, it evokes emotion from the reader, and it may require the writer to draw conclusions they can’t completely prove.
The summary method, on the other hand, is the narrative that holds these scenes together. It gives us the general overview when we really don’t need to know the small details. It contains more of the information that you wouldn’t glean from interacting with the people involved in the short period of time you know during the nonfiction piece, and it tends toward a more objective view on the situation, thereby making the story feel more familiar, more comfortable.
The book goes on at length about both methods, breaking them down into other types of writing. The book also includes sections on sharpening your writing, conducting research, and maintaining ethics in your nonfiction writing. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing my notes frequently, just because I came away with so much useful information.
It might even strengthen my fiction writing while helping me develop my nonfiction voice.