Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Lee Gutkind

This is an excellent and succinct tool. It first offers some discussion of the parameters of creative nonfiction by a man “often referred to as ‘the godfather behind creative nonfiction,'” Lee Gutkind. It’s just what I was looking for. Gutkind’s introduction muses on the definition of the genre (difficult to pin down, of course, as these things always are), and addresses the concerns sometimes raised about the conflict between creativity and nonfiction. He also acknowledges some of the literary controversies (James Frey, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, etc.) that have hurt the genre’s credibility. And then the bulk of the book begins: writing advice. “The ABCs of Creative Nonfiction” move from “Acknowledgement of Sources” through “Writers’ Responsibility to Subjects” (the contributing writers apparently didn’t want to force the issue by contriving a Z, for which I respect them).

Each of these sections is concise – the whole book barely makes 150 pages – but packed with good advice. Legal and ethical issues receive more than a few pages, which I think is appropriate. Although the central recommendation there seems to be “when in doubt, get a lawyer,” there’s more to it than that: they cite legal precedent and explore the definition of libel, which I found useful and informative. There were also sections addressing interview techniques and the pros and cons of note-taking vs. tape recording (or other audio recordings). There are bits of creative-nonfiction-specific guidance, like how to get inside the heads of characters who are not you and still stick to the facts. And finally, certain chapters deliver straightforward writing advice: how to show, not tell; find a voice; structure a story; and set a scene.

This is not a book for a professional journalist, necessarily, although I could be wrong; maybe those professionals should read this book, too. It’s certainly brief and informative. But I get the impression that it is more geared towards people like me: laypersons without journalism backgrounds who are interested in writing creative nonfiction and want to know the basics. I found it a valuable piece of instruction at just my level; it gave me things to think about, books to put on my list, and actually inspired me to jot a few passages down towards my own project. I recommend it.

Rating: 7 pagesofjulia.

One Response

  1. […] of my own. I’m so glad I did. While Writing Down the Bones had some good writing tips, and Keep It Real provided good nuts and bolts, this was a great combination of writing tips, and nuts and bolts, and […]

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