Elements Of Nonfiction Essay

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The Creative Nonfiction (CNF) genre can be rather elusive.

Maybe this hesitancy explains my almost Golum-like obsession with craft books. I read to find that one piece of advice that will turn me into a real writer. by Sue Hertz (CQ Press, March 2015) is, as the title suggests, focused on nonfiction storytelling and is perfect for writers who are new to the genre. ”, and “Pulling it all Together”—that lead the reader chronologically through the process of writing a nonfiction piece.

This book would not be out of place in an intro to nonfiction course and, indeed, seems to be intended for use as a textbook. The chapters are broken down into smaller chunks, often ending with writing exercises to emphasize key ideas. In addition to clear organization and inspiring exercises, Hertz punctuates the lessons in each chapter with examples, both from her own experiences as a writer and teacher and from other well-known nonfiction writers, like John Mc Phee, Tracy Kidder, and Kate Bolick.

It is focused on story, meaning it has a narrative plot with an inciting moment, rising action, climax and denoument, just like fiction.

However, nonfiction only works if the story is based in truth, an accurate retelling of the author’s life experiences.

Hertz, a former journalist and associate professor of English and nonfiction writing at the University of New Hampshire, is a knowledgeable guide to the world of nonfiction. For example, in the chapter on content, Hertz encourages the reader to write a scene based on a day spent shadowing a person with an interesting job, while in the chapter on putting a piece together, Hertz offers a checklist for revision that included questions like, “Is the meaning/focus clear? It can be a little disconcerting reading part of an essay or article out of context, but the chapter-by-chapter references make it easy to track down and read the full piece, which is something I did frequently.

In the book’s preface, she notes that “emerging writers feel often overwhelmed” by “the seemingly infinite variety of ways to tell true stories” (xiii), so instead of focusing on types of nonfiction storytelling (essay, profile, memoir), Hertz frames as a “commonsense approach [to] the universal elements shared by all true stories told with a narrative arc” (xiv). Hertz also enhances the chapters with sections called “Challenging Choices,” where a writer describes how he or she decided to proceed at a particularly tough point in the writing process.

Histories, biographies, journalism, and essays are all considered nonfiction.

Usually, nonfiction has a higher standard to uphold than fiction.


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