AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NARRATIVE FACT PIECE
In Christopher Buckley's explanatory piece "Creative Nonfiction" (the flagship reading for the Introduction to Creative Nonfiction Course, included in this course's reader in case you didn't take that course or don't recall the reading), he spends some time describing a certain kind of autobiographical writing: memoir-based pieces that involve little or no research. If you've taken a creative nonfiction course before, you certainly have experience with this kind of writing. Buckley goes on to discuss another prose sub-subgenre called the "fact piece": writing that is "based ... on whatever catches your interest" but that also incorporates "source materials immediately available - library, internet, periodicals, TV and radio reports" along with interviews with experts. In this advanced creative nonfiction course, your first assignment (and the main graded piece for the quarter) will fall into that latter camp, involving both autobiographical narrative and research.
The current assignment will resemble other pieces of creative nonfiction you've written and/or read. It will focus on an experience or a series of related experiences drawn from memory, and it may rely upon literary devices such as plotted scene development, dialogue, description of settings, shifting points of view, figurative language and poetic devices such as symbolism, metaphor, simile, and allusion. It may have a narrative form, linear-expository essay form, or a non-linear form that uses segments, flashbacks, and disjointed time frames. However, this piece will differ from previous pieces of creative nonfiction you've written (at least for me, if you've taken the introductory creative nonfiction course), in that it will incorporate quoted and/or paraphrased material from Web sites, journals, magazines, interviews and so forth ... and it will be graded as such.
The following are some prewriting stages that will help situate you within this assignment. Feel free to follow them to the letter, or to veer wildly from them, if you feel inspired to proceed in a different way.
1. Thinking about
2. Freewriting to select a subject
Do a bit of freewriting on the first of the topics you jotted down, considering the question(s): What is your experience with this topic? Why did you choose it? Write your answers in a sentence or several, and then note briefly the kinds of research you might bring to bear on this topic. Go through this freewriting process for each of the incidents you jotted down. This freewriting stage will probably begin to give you some sense about which topic you want to select. You will probably write more about one topic area, or you might simply feel more energy as you pursue a certain line of thought. Follow the energy - it will lead you to in the right direction!
a narrative vehicle
4. Doing some initial research
The final draft of this piece will ideally incorporate several outside sources. Take some time to begin searching the Web for material that might meet this requirement. The ideal piece would synthesize a range of materials: a quote from a book, some information from a journal, material from a Website, quotes from a newspaper, information from an interview with an on-campus expert, and so on. Much information can be found on the Web, using search engines such as Google and Altavista. Other credible information can be found by using InfoSurf, the UCSB Library's online Web interface, which contains databases for academic journals, popular magazines, newspapers local and nationwide, and books. If you're not familiar with the online library resources on this campus, come talk to me at the front of the lab, and I'll help you get started.
5. Starting the first draft
You now have a Lego
starter set of materials to help you begin assembling this piece: some
topic ideas, some personal experiences, and some initial research sources.
As you begin to assemble the first draft for this piece, I strongly suggest
that you begin with the narrative(s) you began to outline in Stage 3,
relating a first-person story (or stories) in chronological sequence.
Later on, you can break your narrative line into segments, if you decide
that's the best rhetorical approach, and you can use the research material
to explain or develop specific points that emerge as you set up the narrative.
If you want to read some models for this assignment, this reader contains
several, mostly toward the beginning; the later pages of the reader contain
more experimental, less research-based forms. However, please don't feel
constrained by these pieces; you have creative license and my blessing
to invent new and felicitous forms, as long as your "fact piece"
is written from a first-person perspective and contains the requisite