Monday, July 20, 2015

What's Your Genre??

Sometimes I struggle with this question when evaluating just where exactly I should send a client’s work. I’ll read a story that was given to me as fiction and soon it becomes clear that it is a true story, not fiction, but the names have been changed. The client verifies this and then I must determine…is it creative nonfiction (CNF) or memoir or narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction or literary journalism?! I need to figure this out because some journals want memoir, some want personal essays, some want CNF and so on. The answer is Yes because as it turns out CNF is a broad category that encompasses many subcategories.

The leading literary journal for this genre is Creative Nonfiction. Their tagline seems to clear things up: “true stories well told.” But wait, there’s more: “Creative non´Čüction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.” I’m back to being confused. An essay? Isn’t that an argument for or against something? Lee Gutkind devotes an entire page to this question of CNF.

Further research leads me to author Barrie Jean Borich. Borich was the first creative nonfiction editor of Hamline University’s Water~Stone Review and is currently a member of the creative writing faculty of the English Department/MA in Writing & Publishing Program at Chicago’s DePaul University.

“As a devotee of this form I like to define the genre in as broad a way as possible. I describe it as memory-or-fact-based writing that makes use of the styles and elements of fiction, poetry, memoir, and essay. It is writing about and from a world that includes the author’s life and/or the author’s eye on the lives of others.”

My take-away is what she calls her touchstone: the word actual. “We begin a work of creative nonfiction not with the imaginary but with the actual.” She has written at length on this topic and if you are at all interested in furthering your understanding of this genre I encourage you to read the full article.

For those of you who are working towards publishing a book, choosing your genre is ever so important. And according to blogger Brooke Warner, don’t try to be all things to all people. Figure out where your work fits best, pick your genre and stick to it, as in just one, not cross-genre. And pay close attention to descriptive categories (mystery, romance, magic, nutrition, dogs, etc) that will help you with SEO. For that website you are going to create to promote your book, right?

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