During a recent workshop in one of my classes, my professor commented on the ending of a nonfiction piece I wrote for potential submission to a literary magazine.  Put bluntly, she said she didn’t like it, and then she asked me to rework it organically.  I admitted that the ending was embellished for the sake of the story—to tie together loose ends—and she said she knew that’s why she didn’t like it.  She also told me that the “creative” in creative nonfiction does not grant permission to the writer to “make” things up.  I actually challenged that notion, believing that it’s okay to fictionalize a piece for the sake of the story.  However, that is not what the “creative” in creative nonfiction stands for.

My professor went on to remind me that creative nonfiction gurus such as Dinty W. Moore, and Lee Gutkind, are of the mindset that all creative nonfiction is the truth as the author knows it.  According to Moore in his book The Truth of the Matter, when an author says his or her work is nonfiction, they are asking the reader to trust that they are telling the truth.  Add one or more elements to the facts of the story such as detail, description, imagery, characterization through dialogue and action, a voice and personal point of view, as well as some form of discovery, and that’s where the “creative” comes in.  The way I embellished the conclusion of my story was to act out how I wanted it to end, and then I wrote about it—definitely not a truly organic approach, and one that took a story with potential and conformed it to a typical Hollywood film ending. 

I walked away from class with an appreciation for my professor’s honesty and insight, and I do plan to go back and seek that raw and truthful ending to my story.  Soon, but not write now.  First, I need to make dinner—chopped chicken and colorful, sautéed vegetables spooned over a steaming bed of whole wheat pasta—and that’s the truth as I know it. ~ cs