I read a lot of novels, and poetry, and even the occasional screenplay/drama. I enjoy them; I learn from them; I find them delicate, and robust, and powerful, and skillful and all the things that make good writing.
BUT when I want to really understand something, when I want to feel it in the center of my chest, when I want my cheeks to be rasped with the reality of life, I turn to creative nonfiction. There’s just something about the authenticity of the writer’s perspective there that makes me connect more fully.
I’ve been trying to articulate the difference in connection I feel between fiction and nonfiction ever since my friend @karriehiggins were talking about it on Twitter the other night. We were discussing ownership in writing – as in who “owns” their perspective more? Fiction writers, poets, screenplay writers, etc? I argued that creative nonfiction writers do. It just seems to me that people who write creative nonfiction (and yes, that is the genre I write, so maybe there’s some self-interest there) are more willing to personally step into the point of view – i.e. put their actual selves into that identity – than others are.* Perhaps this is just a requirement of the genre – in CNF, we need the writer’s perspective to give the writing life and carve a path of insight that we can follow.
For me, creative nonfiction makes me more readily willing to identify with the narrator. Because there is no overt construction of a world, a plot, or characters (although of course, all writing is in some form artifice), I can “get into” the narrative more easily. I’m more readily willing to sympathize and feel with the narrator and the other people in the story.
Perhaps that’s why when people like James Frey misrepresent their work as nonfiction when really much of it is fiction, I feel offended and disappointed and a little angry – because they have betrayed me. They have made me believe that they are making themselves profoundly vulnerable when, in fact, they are actually hiding the truth of their experience from me.
So that’s it, I think for me – I appreciate the point of view of creative nonfiction so much because it’s like a conversation for me. When I speak with someone, I treasure when they are vulnerable with me – it connects us profoundly and makes me feel open to them as well. I want that feeling from what I read as well. It’s like making a new friend, a friend I can trust.
What do you think? Which genre has the strongest point of view for you as a reader? As a writer? Do you think creative nonfiction writers are more vulnerable?
*That’s not to say writers in other genres aren’t profoundly honest and risky and vulnerable. They just don’t, in my opinion, often openly lay their personal identities as close to their narrator’s perspective as CNF writers do.
Note – I want to be clear and say that I’m not claiming CNF is BETTER than any other genre. (In fact, I might like to argue that we get rid of genre all together.) I find the power of writing to be in it’s variety – all forms – so please don’t misread me as creating some sort of hierarchy here.