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January, 2008

Fear Of Writing

The Truth Behind Creative Nonfiction
Just the flavourful facts
By  Judy L. Adourian

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t all began in 1965 with Truman Capote's four part serial for The New Yorker (later published as a book) titled In Cold Blood. This detailed account of the murder of the Clutter family, the criminals behind the deed, and the investigators who solved the crime, became the first nonfiction book to be written using fiction techniques. Truman Capote called his new genre the "nonfiction novel," and the combination of journalistic reporting and fiction-writing techniques engrossed readers nation wide.

Since then, the genre has been called "creative nonfiction." However, this too is a misnomer, for it leads many novice writers to believe that they can create or make-up facts, details, or dialogue. In truth, a more accurate term for this genre is "dramatic nonfiction." To produce a piece of dramatic nonfiction successfully, the writer must utilize dramatic writing techniques while also proving all information as fact. Such an undertaking is painstaking to say the least.

In the case of true crime stories, the author – when possible – interviews the victim, witnesses, culprits, investigators, and attorneys, while also reading a myriad of documents like court transcripts and witness testimonies to collaborate all the facts. No thought or feeling is added unless the author can confirm it with documented corroboration. The author must have proof that the subject wore a red dress, or that the weather was cloudy, along with every other detail stated in the piece.

In their 1991 book Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (New Horizon Press, Far Hills, NJ), Liz Greenbacker and Reverend Sherry Taylor contradict the commonly held belief that the minister's wife is perfect. Chapter 1 details the events of one minister's wife as she places a plastic bag over her head to commit suicide. Every detail - from her thought that seeking professional help for her depression would ruin her husband's reputation to the stale, warm air she breathed as the bag closed in around her mouth – is 100% accurate.

The authors extensively interviewed this woman, getting all the facts from the subject herself. How? Obviously, the suicide attempt failed. Had it been successful, Ms. Greenbacker and Reverend Taylor would not have been able to write this episode with such vivid clarity for they would not have been able to prove all the facts and details.

Not surprisingly, many writers delve into the genre of dramatic nonfiction by writing about events from his or her life. The research for such an essay or book is easier as the author often has all documentation readily available and can verify all facts through personal or family member diaries, photo albums, and interviews.

Then, the author brings those facts to life using fiction-writing techniques. Action verbs, verb tense, sentence structure variety, vocabulary choices, dialogue, and paragraph placement aid the dramatic nonfiction writer in creating tension, emotion, and drama.

The first-person dramatic nonfiction piece is similar to, but should not be confused with, the personal essay or memoir. In the personal essay, the author can take several true incidents and combine them into one moment in time while adding in details that may or may not be accurate but prove the premise. The personal essayist writing about feeling sad on her first day of school might mirror her mood by saying the weather was raining even if it had been sunny.

In a memoir, the writer pens experience the way it is remembered. This writer might remember rain on her first day of school, but her mother might remember it as a sunny day.

In a dramatic nonfiction piece, the author checks the weather account for that first day of school and relates it accurately.

To this day the power of Truman Capote's genre captivates readers of all ages. One need only walk into a bookstore or library and find the true crime section to witness the popularity of dramatic nonfiction.

With twenty-four hour news channels, thirty-second sound bites, and Internet sites like, today's readers are savvier and more demanding. The recent controversy over the accuracy of James Fey's book A Million Little Pieces further proves how the line between truth and fiction is becoming more and more blurred, and how today's writer must be ever more vigilant in following each genre's guidelines.

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Judy L. Adourian is the founder and owner of Writeyes, a teaching, critiquing, and support network for writers. She is the Executive Editor for NEWN, a quarterly magazine that publishes poetry, short stories, personal essays, and novel excerpts. She is also a member of the International Women's Writing Guild and is their Rhode Island regional representative. Currently, Ms. Adourian is co-editing a book titled Going Potty, a collection of humorous essays about the challenges of potty training and actively seeking submissions. She can be contacted through her website

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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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