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Narrative Nonfiction

Just give me the facts and none of the creative writing crap, you punk. Source:

Just give me the facts and none of the creative writing crap, you punk. Source:

One of the struggles of writing Emmett’s book has been about how the story will come out; i.e., straightforward biography a la Sergeant Joe Friday? Or, something more akin to my personal style of writing, which is close to a narrative nonfiction style?

I’ve gone back and forth with this for a few weeks. My angst is tied closely to the fact that I respect Emmett’s life, and wish to handle his story (and the facts telling his story) with care and accuracy. Also, as a former reporter, strict journalism standards — fact-based writing only –are hard for me to set aside, or, to think I’m setting them aside for a more creative writing style.

The other day I was bitching about how frustrating it is to write this story. Thing is, I thought I’d figured out how to approach Emmett’s story, but I am faced with some holes in his story. Bottom line, the holes are not likely ones that will be filled (I might as well face that truth now), so I need to decide how to work with them and not bitch about them.

An approach I’ve wanted to take with Emmett’s story is narrative nonfiction. It is based in research, and is not about playing fast and easy with the facts. It does, however, involve my voice in the story, which solves the problem I’ve been worried about (Emmett’s voice versus my voice telling the story). He’s asked me to tell his story, so why can’t we do it in tandem?

Tense? Me? Source:

Tense? Me? Source:

It definitely makes the writing easier, in my view, because it won’t be a stiff, tense, Joe Friday kind of delivery.

The narrative nonfiction genre requires me to stick to the facts; i.e., the writer can’t make up scenes or dialog, yet it will allow me to share thoughts and feelings about Emmett, his family, and the issues they were facing at various times in their lives (for example, the death of Emmett’s mother when he was eight years old). The narrative and reflective pieces will add texture and great context; something Emmett’s story needs in order to make it readable.

This may be a good solution on many levels. I think this approach will make the writing process seem less frustrating.

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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