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Melanie Mc Grath, whose book Silvertown, an account of her grandmother’s life, is "written in a novelist's idiom", writes in the follow-up, Hopping, that the known facts of her stories are "the canvas on to which I have embroidered.Some of the facts have slipped through the holes—we no longer know them nor have any means of verifying them—and in these cases I have reimagined scenes or reconstructed events in a way I believe reflects the essence of the scene or the event in the minds and hearts of the people who lived through it. To my mind this literary tinkering does not alter the more profound truth of the story." This concept of fact vs.
According to Vivian Gornick, "A memoir is a tale taken from life—that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences—related by a first-person narrator who is undeniably the writer.
Beyond these bare requirements it has the same responsibility as the novel or the short story: to shape a piece of experience so that it moves from a tale of private interest to one with meaning for the disinterested reader." Critic Chris Anderson really claims that the genre can be understood best by splitting it into two subcategories—the personal essay and the journalistic essay—but the genre is currently defined by its lack of established conventions.
Simple answer: the level of research you do depends on the type of essay you want to write, but there is also a baseline that I’d recommend to anchor your voice.
To figure out what that should be, let’s return to the difference between creative nonfiction and literary journalism.
A handful of the most widely recognized writers in the genre such as Robert Caro, Gay Talese, Joseph Mitchell, Tom Wolfe, John Mc Phee, Joan Didion, John Perkins, Ryszard Kapuściński, Helen Garner and Norman Mailer have seen some criticism on their more prominent works.
"Critics to date, however, have tended to focus on only one or two of each writer's works, to illustrate particular critical points.""If, these four features delimit an important art form of our time, a discourse grounded in fact but artful in execution that might be called literary nonfiction, what is needed is serious critical attention of all kinds to this work: formal criticism (both Russian formalism and New Criticism), historical, biographical, cultural, structuralist and deconstructionist, reader-response criticism and feminist (criticism).""Nonfiction is no longer the bastard child, the second class citizen; literature is no longer reified, mystified, unavailable."Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer's artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature." When book-length works of creative nonfiction follow a story-like arc, they are sometimes called narrative nonfiction.Other books, such as Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs, use elements of narrative momentum, rhythm, and poetry to convey a literary quality.For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique."Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction." Forms within this genre include biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, travel writing, food writing, literary journalism, chronicle, personal essays, and other hybridized essays.We continually—often unconsciously—renovate our memories, shaping them into stories that bring coherence to chaos.Memory has been called the ultimate 'mythmaker'..." as even one's firsthand accounts are unreliable.He and fact-checker Jim Fingal have an intense debate about the boundaries of creative nonfiction, or "literary nonfiction".There is very little published literary criticism of creative nonfiction works, despite the fact that the genre is often published in respected publications such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Harper's, and Esquire.So you’ve made the commitment to write a creative nonfiction essay.Maybe it’s for your blog or, if you’re lucky, someone is paying you to write about your experiences. Where do you draw the line between yourself and the research that you owe to your readers?