About Writing, Expository, Narrative

Creative Nonfiction

writingOne of the writing genres we teach in sixth grade is personal narrative. A narrative is a story, or fiction, but a personal narrative is based on a real event. The struggle is getting students to write good stories about an event in their lives.

Now personal essay, or memoir, is supposedly a different genre. It is defined as an actual memory or experience that is enhanced by imagination. Sounds the same to me.

When we remember something from our past, we tend to remember the important part, the climax, the culmination. For example, we remember opening a present and getting something we wanted, or falling off our bike, or swimming in Hawaii. In order to make that a good piece of writing, you need to add details. Who else was there? What was the weather? What happened before that led up to it? What happened afterward? What did you feel before and how did this event change it? What did people say? These details, however, are what is usually forgotten. You are left with a story like this: I went swimming in Hawaii. It was cool. Bad story.

To enhance the memory of the experience, you need to add details. If you don’t remember what the weather was like, it’s safe to assume it was warm and sunny since Hawaii is usually warm and sunny (and you’d remember swimming in the rain). If you were on vacation with your family, you can safely assume they were there with you, even if you have to make up dialogue on what they most likely said.

So where is the line between fiction (personal narrative) and nonfiction (personal essay or memoir)? Nonfiction stories serve up just the facts, like a newspaper article. And many novelists  do a lot of research into facts to help make a novel believable. Remember, too, that memories are colored by our age at the time, and they fuzz a bit over time. When I compare childhood memories with my brother, we are often amazed we are talking about the same event. Our brain already adds creativity.

You may ask, why is it important to know if the story is nonfiction or fiction if it’s a good story? One of an author’s duties is to give the reader what they expect. If a book is billed as memoir, the reader expects that everything in it actually happened. If it’s sold as fiction, the reader assumes it’s all made up. Some people are using the title ‘creative nonfiction’ to bridge this gap. In creative nonfiction, a reader can assume that historical facts are checked and still accept that some of the characters or events are made up. My own book, Under the Almond Trees, I call historical fiction because most of it is fictionalized based on very little information. What about you? Do you like your nonfiction to be factual, or are you a fan of creative nonfiction?



American Dream

American Dream

by Albert

Every person has a different version of the ‘American Dream.’ To some, it is finding their ‘soul mate.’ To others, it would be great wealth or power, maybe positions or ambitions. As I said, everyone differs. However, the general idea of the ‘American Dream’ remains the same – success.

Ever since America was created, the American Dream was the main viewpoint. For example, the group that traveled with Columbus to create America in itself had an ‘American Dream.’ For most, they wanted to start a new life, or have a free share of religion and personal thoughts. For others, they were compelled by greed, hoping of finding great wealth and/or power. But like I said, the general idea remains the same – They wish for success. Later on, many other people became pictures of the American Dream. The ideal version changed, as such with wealth, or the wish of freedom, or sometimes even the maddening of a ideal religion.

People may differ in their opinions whether or not the American Dream was beneficial for America itself. For example, it may ruin lives due to people searching and become greedy to become their picture perfect version of the American Dream. But it mostly was beneficial for America, because of the fair, kind people who worked their ways up and went to success, helping others among the way. Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. He compelled, and even with his backround, he aided the colored people and soon managed to secure freedom for the American Indians and Africans.

Whether or not your American Dream is to become wealthy, gain knowledge, or power in itself,  the American Dream is prominent in almost everyone. After all, beginning from Christopher Columbus’s beginning, the American Dream is what made our country prosper. What is your American Dream?

Expository, Narrative

Editing and Revising

Your written piece is not yet finished even when you place the period after the last sentence of your first draft.  Take a break, celebrate that you’ve completed a big chunk of it, then begin editing and revising.

REVISING is when you change the words to make the actual sentences sound better.  This can be very subjective, but there are a few basic rules I can give you.

1.  Eliminate repeated beginnings of sentences and paragraphs.  If all the paragraphs in your essay/story begin with ‘the’ it’s going to be boring for your reader.  Make sure two sentences in a row don’t start with the same word, and try to start all sentences within the paragraph differently.  Try rearranging the sentence to start with a different word (The dog chased his ball down the street becomes Chasing his ball, the dog ran down the street.)  You might also try adding a prepositional phrase to the beginning of the sentence.  Don’t forget a comma after the phrase!  (The dog chased his ball down the street becomes In the morning, the dog chased his ball down the street.)

2. Make better word choices.  Look at the nouns and verbs.  Can you choose one great word to take the place of an adverb and a plain verb?  (ran quickly becomes scampered)  or to replace a couple of adjectives? (very red becomes scarlet)  HINT: There are a ton of fabulous color words.  Learn a handful and use them!

3.  Add sensory details.  The setting is easy for you to imagine.  After all, it’s in YOUR head.  The reader, however, needs words on the page to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch what your characters do.  Add a prepositional phrase or a carefully selected adjective to your sentence.  (With gale force, the frigid wind rattled the window.)  Do NOT overdo the adjectives!  (With supersonic gale force, the frigid strong howling wind rattled the glass paned window.)

EDITING happens after your revision is complete.  Go through your piece and look for C.U.P.S. (capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling)  This can be very tricky because if you are good at these things you wouldn’t have made any errors in them in the first place, right?  Have a classmate, a parent, or a brother or sister read over it if you can.  Sometimes, if you ask for help, your teacher will read it before grading it.  Learn to use the spell-check on your computer for those pieces that you type.  Remember the spell-check will not catch words that are spelled correctly but used wrongly. (Eye sea ewe half too pales of water instead of I see you have two pails of water.)  Have a dictionary close by, and a reference guide for those pesky commas.  Remember, if you can’t find a rule, don’t put a comma there!

Any other good tips out there for revising and editing?  Please share!

On my Kindle: The Help by Kathryn Stockett


Elaboration, Evidence, Explanation

Usually when you communicate you do not want to make a statement and let it sit there without further explanation.  If someone were talking, for example, and they said, “I saw a cool movie,” you would want more information.  If the speaker doesn’t provide it, you get annoyed.  Writing is the same way.  You wouldn’t want to read a news story like this: Sam was arrested for murder last night. That’s incomplete.  You want to know more!  Even one sentence can add a great deal of clarifying information: Sam was arrested for murder last night.  When police arrived, he was standing over the body with a gun in his hand saying, “I didn’t mean to kill her.”

Student writing generally suffers from those explaining details.  While it is flattering that students seem to think teachers can read their minds, we can’t.  It’s true.  (Shhhhh, don’t tell anybody)  Like all your readers, teachers must have the details spelled out for them.  While there is no specific format for details, it may help to think of them as elaboration, evidence, or explanation.

ELABORATION is a fancy word that means I like it, tell me more! Be careful when elaborating to make sure you are indeed giving more information and not just restating the same information in the first sentence.  Here’s an example of restating: The Labrador retriever loves to play and go for walks.  There’s nothing a Lab likes better than walking and playing. Do you see that the second sentence says exactly the same thing as the first sentence, just using different words?  That is restating, not elaboration.  Here’s an example of elaboration:  The Labrador retriever loves to play and go for walks. A perfect activity for you and your Lab would be a walk to the park where you can play fetch with a tennis ball. See?  MORE information on the same subject.

EVIDENCE is used to prove a point you are making to your reader.  This is especially useful when you are writing book reports (or Response to Literature).  When you make a statement about a character’s motives, you state an opinion.  Now you need to use evidence from the book in order to show your reader why you formed that opinion.  Here’s an example:  At the beginning of the book, Susie was afraid to swim.  At the pool party, she claimed she didn’t have a swimsuit when she did, pretended she was too interested in her book to get in the water, and lied about her ability.

EXPLANATION is used when you write a statement that will cause readers to sit up and say, “What now?”  Don’t leave statements like this hanging (see example above about Sam and the murder).  Explain them.

It is not important whether you use elaboration, evidence, or explanation to give more depth to your writing.  What’s important is that your paragraphs are well-developed, and that means you have a lot of details!

You try it!  Here are some sentences.  Pick one, copy and paste it into your comment, and add a sentence that elaborates, adds evidence, or gives an explanation.

1.  Dogs are great pets.

2.  Writing is awesome!

3.  Summer is the most fabulous season of the year.

4.  Sleeping in wastes good vacation time.

5.  My parents love me.

In paperback: Cable Hornman, the Bard Begins by C. Lee Brown


Organizing Your Writing

She hits me with her paw.  When we leave the house, we leave Gracie inside.  My black Labrador, Gracie, is getting old now, but she’s still a troublemaker.  She refuses to go out and just wags her tail at him.  Gracie is a lot of company, but she’s basically an imp.  She noses the door as it closes and pretends to bite my hand.  Gracie barks at 9:00 a.m. on weekends to wake up my son.  I never let her have people food, but she still begs for it.

That’s quite a mess, isn’t it?  You can probably tell it’s a paragraph about my dog, but it is not very well ORGANIZED.  Sometimes when students write essays, their work suffers from the same malady of unorganizedness.  It doesn’t matter if you are writing for a teacher’s grade, or for a district or state test, the paper must be organized.  Usually, an organized essay will pass even if everyone disagrees about how good it is.  If it is not organized, it won’t pass.  So let’s redo Gracie’s paragraph.  Here it is, more organized.

My black Labrador, Gracie, is getting old now, but she’s still a troublemaker. Gracie barks at 9:00 a.m. on weekends to wake up my son. She refuses to go out and just wags her tail at him. When we leave the house, we leave Gracie inside. She noses the door as it closes and pretends to bite my hand. I never let her have people food, but she still begs for it. She hits me with her paw. Gracie is a lot of company, but she’s basically an imp.

Now that’s better!  The TOPIC SENTENCE starts it off and tells you what the paragraph will be about–Gracie being a troublemaker.  Everything that follows explains how Gracie causes trouble.  There is nothing in this paragraph about what she eats, or going for walks, or where she sleeps.  None of that fits in a paragraph about Gracie causing trouble.  After the topic sentence, there are three MAIN IDEAS: She barks to wake up my son, she doesn’t let us close her in when we are leaving, and she begs for scraps.  For each main idea, there is a DETAIL that explains the idea.  She barks, but she doesn’t have to go outside.  She doesn’t let us close the door, and she nips at our hand.  She begs for scraps by hitting us with her paw.  Tie the paragraph up by writing a CONCLUDING SENTENCE that restates your topic sentence.  Restating is an important skill here.  If you use the same words, the reader will be bored (and a bored teacher may give you an F).  If you don’t wrap up the paragraph nicely, the reader might forget what you are trying to say.  So write the topic again, in different words.  Gracie’s an imp.

The more time you invest in planning an essay, the easier it will be to actually write it.  If you don’t plan it, it won’t be organized and it won’t be your best work.  So get used to the idea–plan everything you write.  One easy way to write up an essay plan is to outline it.  Don’t put too many words into your outline.  Use phrases that will remind you what you want to put into sentences.  Here is my outline for Gracie’s paragraph:

Topic:  Gracie is a troublemaker

1.  barks, wakes up son

2.  wags tail, doesn’t go out

1.  leave her in house

2.  noses door, play bites

1.  begs for food

2.  hits leg with paw

Conclusion: Gracie is an imp.

Compare that outline to the final paragraph.  Each line of the outline becomes a sentence.  Some detail is added to make the sentences fuller, but all the basic information is in the outline.

YOU TRY IT Here’s an outline for a paragraph about school.  You should have enough information to write an awesome paragraph.  Try to put your own opinion (your VOICE) into it when you are composing your sentences.  Remember to make one sentence for each line of the outline.

TOPIC:  school is challenging

1.  Math is logical

2.  geometry and algebra

1.  Social Studies is hard

2.  lots of dates and place names

1.  Writing is fun

2.  create with words

CONCLUSION: classes are hard, but I learn a lot

NOTE:  Whatever you do, DON’T PUT ‘WRITING IS FUN’ AS A SENTENCE IN YOUR ESSAY!!!!  It should be a sentence that shows writing is fun but uses more words.  🙂

On my Kindle:  Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher