Monday, November 16, 2009

Maine Writers Conference - part 2

At the Maine Fellowship of Christian Writers conference that I attended in July in Belfast, Maine,  award-winning writer and editor, Elin Lee, presented "Oh, Dear! Fiction of Non-Fiction?"   She discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using fiction or non-fiction to show your story.  I really enjoyed this workshop and Elin's insights. 

In one of her handouts, Elin shared some "Characteristics of Creative Nonfiction".  Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry in her book The Art of Fact suggests four characteristics of the genre.

  1. Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to 'invented' from the writer's mind.
  2.  Exhaustive research which allows writers "novel perspecitves on their subjects" and "also permits them to extablish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references in their texts."
  3.  The scene, describing and revivifying the context of events in contrast to the typoical journalistic style of objective reportage.
  4.  Fine writing:  a literary prose style, revealing the "the goal all along has been literature." 

At some point I would like to tell my personal story.  Many have told me that it should be fiction because no one will believe it! It is truly His story and I do hope it will bless others. 
I am still giving thought to whether I should write it as creative non-fiction or autobiographical memoir. As a fiction writer, I think I would go with creative non-fiction, though at times I wonder if I should just stick with incorporating some of the things that I have learned along the way in my works of fiction ("write what  you know").  There is a lot to think about when choosing genre. Either way, I don't think I can escape using what I have gleaned through the years in whatever it is that I write.

One tip Elin gave us was to read a segment of the same subject matter aloud and listen to the difference.  You can use a tape recorder if you wish and evaluate the affect.   Here are some of the contrasts of writing fiction and non- fiction.

Can create more emotion
More personality is involved
You may add sensory detail
You may embellish the truth

Must stick to the facts
You may add sensory detail
It suspends disbelief

For an exercise, Elin, had us get into groups and took a nursery rhyme and wrote it in both formats.  Susan Page Davis was in my group of 4 writers.  It was fun "collaberating" with a published author!  First we interviewed Humpty Dumpty and then we wrote a story about him.  I tell you, these exercises were not easy.   But it was hysterical! 

Fiction: The Breakup

Humpty sat in the moonlight on the wall, bracing himself with one foot so he wouldn't roll off.  His lady love, Shelly White, approached along the lilac-shaded lane. 

She stood looking up at him, with her hands on her well-rounded hips. 

"Hump, I don't ever want to see you again!  You are such an egghead!"

Humpty's jaw dropped.  "But, Shelly, why"  Is there someone else?"

"I prefer the writer, Francis Bacon.  He's so intellectual, and he's not hardboiled like you."

"But - But" He waved his arms helplessly and fell off the wall backward.

"Humpty! My dear Humpty!"

Shelly ran to the castle and screamed for help.  All the King's horses and all the King's men hurried to the wall, but no trace of Humpty was ever found, except one shoe in the lilacs behind the wall.

Non-fiction: News article

LONDON -  Local celebrity Humpt E. Dumpty, age not known, fell to his death Monday from the wall surrounding his estate.  Mrs. Dumpty, when she saw the extent of her husband's injuries, called for help from the Royal Guard.  All the King's men responded, but they refused to go close to the site of the tragedy.  The Captain said the stench indicated that a hazmat team was needed.  The neighborhood was evacuated.

Here's my attempt at creative non-fiction (with the assumption that this Humpty Dumpty information was factual. LOL!)

One buckled shoe hidden in the lilac bushes. That was all that was found of my dear Humpty.

I remember that day like no other. The day I confessed my affection for another.

"Hump, I don't ever want to see you again! You are such an egghead!"

Why I was so harsh about it, I do not know. Perhaps that is the only way I could break away from the one I had grown to love through the years.

But I wanted more. To experience the love of another. His jaw dropped when he asked, "But, Shelly, why" Is there someone else?"

I blurted it right out. I had to. I'd have had no courage otherwise.

"I prefer the writer, Francis Bacon. He's so intellectual, and he's not hardboiled like you."

It was such a cruel way to break up with a man who had been so dear to me. I admit, he was hardheaded at times. But his strong resolve was what drew me to him in the first place. Later I mistook his porcelain shell for weakness. I never appreciated his steadfastness. The discipline it took for him to keep watch over the castle, sitting on that wall day after day. He was not one to be easily shaken. Until that day.

"But - But" He struggled to find the words.

When he fell off the wall. That wall. The wall of my discontent and fickle heart. I realized that I could never lose my Humpty.

I ran for all the King's horses and all the King's men. When we arrived back at the wall Humpty was gone without a trace, not even a cracked shell.

I turned to the lilac bushes in tears. And then I saw it, a shoe. Humpty's shoe. My dear sweet Humpty. He touched my soul in a way no other could. 

What genre do you prefer to write . . . or read?  What genre do you prefer to read memoirs in?  If you wrote a memoir, what genre would you choose?


  1. Wow, that is so insightful when you give an example like that. I definitely preferred the fictional Humpty Dumpty. So much more present and alive for me.

  2. Thanks Bumblebee!

    Eileen, yes, doesn't it give you a lot to think about?

  3. I love the examples. I was having a hard time grasping the concept of creative non-fiction until I read Humptys harrowing account from all three perspectives. LOL. I definitely prefer to write good old Fiction and that's my reading preference as well, though I think creative non-fiction might make for interesting reading.

  4. Fiction is my preference, too. But as you know, my creative non-fiction was really fiction. So that could be considered an example of fiction in first person POV. I'm more of a third person POV writer, but a story may dictate otherwise so I may venture there someday.


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