book 21 of 24 books in 28 days: keep it real
Keep it Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Lee Gutkind (aka the godfather behind creative nonfiction and the founder and editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction), is a slim, practical guidebook as the title suggests. It covers a lot of ground that the other books I’ve discussed cover in greater breadth and depth, but it also, because of its brevity, makes some useful summations.
“The Five Rs:” worth keeping in mind, on a monitor Post-it if I can clear a space, the Five Rs of creative nonfiction:
- real-life aspect
- research or reportage
Gutkind and the contributors to this book are also aware of the difficulties of creative nonfiction and memory and facts: “Memoir presents its own challenges and, to some extenet, demands its own set of rules. In the absence of transcripts from interviews, memoirists must re-create scenes and conversations to the best of their abilities.”
They delve into the practical side of things, with chapters organized alphabetically on such topics as “Checkbook Journalism,” “Composite Characters,” “Defamation and Libel,” “Immersion,” Point of View,” and so on.
One of the most interesting sections to me is “Quotation Marks,” in which they write, “It’s hardly a secret that some writers, particularly when writing memoirs, accounts of past events they weren’t keeping records of, do the best they can at re-creating dialogue and place those re-creations within quotation marks.” This is a convention that has caused me some concern as I “quote” dialogue that is based on memory. They offer a solution I will explore in my next draft: “One of the most useful innovations may be dialogue without quotation marks. Frank McCourt used this approach in Angela’s Ashes, and Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm.” Great idea.
Finally, in a section called “Scenes,” they remind the writer of creative nonfiction to “use all the literary techniques available to fiction writers and dramatists. These techniques include dialogue, description, action, and suspense.” This may seem to go without saying, but it, like the 5 Rs, is a good reminder. With each draft, I should ask, do I have a narrative arc from scene to scene, from chapter to chapter? Do I have good description using all the senses at my disposal? Do I have action and suspense?
As with several of the other “overview” or “how-to” books I’ve blogged about, this one is worth a read mid-and late-project, not just early-project.