Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creative Nonfiction: Types, Examples, and Readings for Additional Study

One type of creative nonfiction is the personal essay,
which combines the claim of a thesis with personal observations
and a first person point of view.

All stories, all narratives, have narrators. Sometimes those narratives are fictional, and as readers we accept that the narrator, then, is also a fictional character who has knowledge of the events being told. At other times, narratives are the stories of real events from a writer's flesh-and-blood life. We call those types of narratives nonfiction. When a nonfiction story is told to readers by the author-as-narrator, and that author has told that true story in an artful manner, we call the genre of that piece of writing creative nonfiction

There are different forms creative nonfiction can take, and mostly we determine that form based on either the tension between truth and artfulness, or the scope of the subject or topic. Three types or kinds of creative nonfiction worthy of study, though a limited list, include memoir and personal essays, journals, and even some forms of journalism.

Memoir or Personal Essays

Janet Burroway, author of an oft-used creative writing text called Imaginative Writing, defines memoir as "a story retrieved from a writer's memory, with the writer as protagonist" (391). She defines memoir in relation to personal essays, and her definitions set up a sort of continuum. To the left sits memoir, with its topic narrowed to a story that clearly revolves around events from the writer's past and is an effort to better understand those events. To the right sits the personal essay, also told from the writer's point of view, but perhaps an "intellectual examination" or more likely an avenue for the writer to communicate ideas to a reader (227-228).  As with any continuum, there are many works that fall between the far left and the far right.

Examples of memoir are fairly easy to come by, and the popularity of memoir-based graphic novels (or "commix," as Art Spiegelman might say), makes that particular form particularly interesting. Fun Home, 100 Demons, Persepolis, Blankets, March, and Maus are all memoir-based graphic novels worthy of study, and there are more to choose from than those listed here.

Professional personal essays are more difficult to find, but are often assigned as a type of essay representative of the narrative mode of writing in composition courses. Many editorials can also be categorized as personal essays. Some contemporary writers worthy of study include John Leo, Sherman Alexie, and Marilynne Robinson.


In an article entitled "Journal as Genre and Published Text: Beat Avant-Garde Writing Practices," Jane Falk examines what she calls a “marginal genre,” the journals of several of the Beat writers. She looks specifically at “Kerouac's Book of Dreams, 1961; Snyder's 'Lookout's Journal' published in Caterpillar, 1968 (reprinted in Earth House Hold, 1969); Ginsberg's Indian Journals, 1970; and Kyger's Desecheo Notebook, 1971” (992).

Especially interesting, Falk offers a succinct overview of Kyger’s journal and its publication, making note that it lost something of its artistry by being published, but that the publisher found ways to retain its authenticity as a journal (998). The tug-of-war between truth and artfulness was clearly won by "truth" when helped along by the publication process. However, both truth and artfulness remained of vital importance: Kyger's work did retain its original line breaks and almost poetic forms while showing a "commitment to quotidian or commonplace events" (999).

The opposing view to this, of course, is the contemporary idea that journals are unfinished and unsuitable for publication; a way to express inner thoughts without the pressure to share what has been written. This, perhaps, has its cause in student concerns over privacy or polish, or a concern by publishers as to the relevance of journals in the age of blogging. Nonetheless, published journals that retain both artfulness and truth are excellent examples of creative nonfiction.


As with journals, journalism can also sometimes strike a balance between truth and artfulness. Like writers of personal essays, journalists also focus on communicating effectively with a reader. The New Journalists, specifically, also write autobiographically, much like writers of memoir.

One well-explained example of journalism as creative nonfiction comes from Jason Mosser in his text The Participatory Journalism of Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion: Creating New Reporting Styles. New Journalism is explored extensively in the text, but defined most simply by Mosser as "a hybrid of news writing and creative writing" (2). In his examination of Joan Didion, Mosser refers to her as "direct participant and narrator" (206), then succinctly analyzes a passage from Salvador, pointing out both her use of literary techniques and her reluctance to accept the certainly of any event without bearing witness (207). We see in Didion's work, as Mosser points out, the artfulness of literature combined with the autobiographical style of memoir. At the same time, Didion's intent to communicate her "intellectual examination" of a real event to her readers remains as fixed as her intent to communicate the real event. Her work comes to us as evidence of both participation and literary journalism.

Whether the continuum by which we gauge creative nonfiction is that what falls between art and truth or a focus on self examination versus an intellectual exploration explained to an intended audience, creative nonfiction is a prevalent and worthy genre; worthy of both analysis and attempts at craft.

Works Cited

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. 4th Edition. Pearson, 2015.

Falk, Jane E. "Journal as Genre and Published Text: Beat Avant-Garde Writing Practices." University of Toronto Quarterly, no. 4, 2004, p. 991.

Mosser, Jason. The Participatory Journalism of Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion: Creating New Reporting Styles. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2012.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Needle Felted Alpaca Kit Product Review

Make a Needle Felted Alpaca!

Needle felting has gained enough popularity in recent years to have encouraged craft supply companies to create easy-to-complete kits. Dimensions kits, available online and in craft supply stores, has several kits available, including kits for making animals in molds or without molds.

Included Needle Felting Supplies

The alpaca kit by Dimensions comes with everything a crafter needs to create a finished felted animal without a mold. I chose this kit because of its reasonable price and because the supplies were all included.  I was able to get started without worrying about whether or not I had purchased all the right supplies or the right amount of wool: The kit includes just the right amount of wool, a felting needle, a small piece of dense felting foam, an embroidery needle and floss, and basic instructions with measurements.

Basic Instructions Included

Needle Felting Measurements
As a complete beginner, I was able to successfully complete the project in about four hours.  I found the instructions sufficient for making the alpaca, but I did read a few "basics of needle felting" posts online after starting.  I recommend anyone starting any kit read ahead before beginning a sculpture. Some of the great tips I learned could have helped me ensure my centers were well felted and I was using my needle properly, pushing it into the sculpture far enough to use all of the barbs on the needle; slowly, but surely, wins the race when needle felting.

One excellent benefit of the instructional sheet was the included measurement charts. I was able to compare my shapes to the 1:1 shapes in the instructions to be sure I was on the right track.

Dimensions Needle Felting Kit Pitfalls

The most difficult part of the process was making and attaching the ears for the alpaca. A very small amount of wool has to be folded into shape and felted for quite some time.  Because the ears are flat and the foam is dense, I was not able to take advantage of all the barbs on the needle as was recommended. Honestly, the ears seemed to take forever, but I persevered . . . after a long break and some more online reading about how to make ears.

The Finished Felted Alpaca
Most importantly,  I only stabbed myself with the felting needle once.  However, because of the danger involved (I did bleed copiously), I would not recommend this project for a child unless the child wears finger protectors of some sort. As a matter of fact, because I enjoyed this project so much and plan to do more needle felting, my next order from Amazon will include a needle felting tool kit that includes finger protectors, a nicer felting mat, and additional felting needles of various sizes. Having these tools ahead of time may have made my project go a bit more smoothly, but I still had an excellent, successful afternoon with this kit, and in the end I made a brand new felted friend.

Want to read more about arts and crafts? Try

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sentence Diagramming - Diagramming Determiners

A determiner is a word or phrase that modifies a noun that cannot be counted.  In this post's first example, the interrogative sentence "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood," the determiner is "How much," and the noun it modifies is "wood." Although we may be able to count logs, which is another word for wood, we cannot count wood.  We can say "There are 3 logs," but we would not say "There are 3 woods."

Because "How much" modifies "wood" in the first clause of this sentence, it is diagrammed on a diagonal line under the word "wood," which is the first clause's direct object.

Would you like another example?

Another uncountable noun is "love." We may be able to count Valentine's Day cards, but we cannot count "love." "Endurance" is uncountable, too, just like "courage" and "fear." Could you diagram the determiner for "fear" in the following sentence?  "She had some fear about her new school, but she showed courage on the first day."

Don't let the length of the sentence throw you off.  Simply pick out the clauses and prepositional phrases, first, then diagram the subjects and predicates.  You can save the modifiers until last, which will include any determiners. In this case, the modifying word for "fear" is "some."

Can you think of any other non-count noun and determiner combinations you'd like to see in diagram form?  Let me know in the comments!

Want to read more about diagramming sentences? Try

Gypsy Daughter's Sentence Diagramming List
Gypsy Daughter's Sentence Diagramming Book