By Liat Faver
Books that are written to instruct can be dull and repetitive. Becky Bradway and Doug Hesse are aware of this, and they have written a book about writing that piques creativity. Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology contains well-structured lessons followed by an anthology that houses a wealthy store of contemporary authors and interviews that keep the reader enthralled and amazed.
The section on craft discusses form, description, dialogue, style, and revision. We learn that we may separate creative nonfiction “into two rough piles: ‘information’ and ‘idea.’” And we may toy with these two piles in degrees of nuance and revelation to whatever effect we wish because “what writers do with an incident or memory is generally more important than the subject matter itself” (38). I placed markers in the chapter on form to highlight several paragraphs with suggestions for generating ideas, questions to address the specifics of what one is writing and why. I found myself feeling like I had entered a familiar classroom with a favorite professor. Bradway and Hesse’s direction is detailed and intricate, but gentle and encouraging in its delivery. I was inspired to return to stories of my own to apply what I was learning, to manipulate structures and time, and experiment with dialogue.
Bradway and Hesse find new ways to shed light on standard information. It is heartening to see oneself in missives about falling “in love with words . . . putting them together in unique ways . . . forced to define what had previously been overlooked” (78). It is liberating to note that “unconventional punctuation shows that we’ve moved from the realm of the conventional to the literary” (83). The authors don’t encourage us to blatantly ignore rules. They present examples and show us how best to choose our own unique styles without losing our readers in the process.
I am fond of the revision process. This does not mean that I don’t find it tedious and dull sometimes. Creating handles this subject meticulously, emphasizing the fact that while “the act of writing can seduce and beguile, causing us to love our worst lines” (98), we must realize the fatality of the flawed phrase, sentence, paragraph, or even chapter. How many times have I forced myself to remove something I thought enchanting? And how much information has been jettisoned because it was useless? How often have I noticed, after reading something more than ten times, that I’ve left out vital data, or punctuation, or that I’ve misspelled a word, or missed the boat entirely? It serves us as writers to be reminded that details must “develop the larger narrative pull and thematic concerns” (113).
Creating concludes its lessons with chapters on research, interviewing, and writing ideas. Although I tend to resist research, it is usually necessary to good writing. And I often find myself enjoying the process, despite my aversions, and Bradway and Hesse take me to task, calling writers detectives who don’t consider research “an odious, dreaded task but an adventure in finding an answer and getting a fuller picture” (120).
As a book on the craft of writing, Creating Nonfiction is one of the best I’ve read, and its anthology is wonderful, with numerous variations on style and form, and topics ranging from the operations of a candy factory, to the squalid conditions of abject poverty. As one who yearns to improve, I will continue to use this book. If I were teaching, it would be indispensable. I have touched on a fraction of what makes this book a must-have for aspiring writers. To wit, it is a gold mine.
Bradway, Becky and Doug Hesse. Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2009. Print.