You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction -- from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction -- from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

by Lee Gutkind
You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction -- from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction -- from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

by Lee Gutkind


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From "the godfather behind creative nonfiction" (Vanity Fair) comes this indispensable how-to for nonfiction writers of all levels and genres, "reminiscent of Stephen King's fiction handbook On Writing" (Kirkus).

Whether you're writing a rags-to-riches tell-all memoir or literary journalism, telling true stories well is hard work. In You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, offers his unvarnished wisdom to help you craft the best writing possible.

Frank, to-the-point, and always entertaining, Gutkind describes and illustrates every aspect of the genre. Invaluable tools and exercises illuminate key steps, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of understanding the genre, this practical guidebook will help you thoroughly expand and stylize your work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780738215549
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 08/14/2012
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 126,760
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Lee Gutkind is the award-winning author of ten books, editor of ten anthologies, and founder of the first MFA creative nonfiction program at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: How to Read This Book xv

Part I What Is Creative Nonfiction?

The Birth of the Godfather 3

The Definition Debate 5

What Is It-Or Isn't It? 6

Who Coined the Term "Creative Nonfiction"? 7

The Fastest-Growing Genre 9

Subgenres 10

Crossing Genres 11

Poetry Is (Often) Creative Nonfiction 11

Flexibility, Freedom, and the Larger Truth 12

Truth or… 14

Hall of Fame of Fakers 15

Truth and Fact 18

Fact Checking 20

Fact Checking Sedaris 21

Have I Totally D'Agata-ed This? 22

Credibility-and Correctness 26

What About the BOTS? 27

Interesting Reading 29

Who Will Take Charge? 31

The Creative Nonfiction Police 32

The Objectivity Debate 33

Composites 34

Compression 35

Manufacturing Dialogue 36

Name Changing 37

Libel, Defamation-and Writing About the Dead 38

Interesting but Not So Amusing Fudging 39

Share Your Work with Your Subjects 40

Covering Yourself 41

Final Thoughts About Ethical, Legal, and Moral Boundaries 41

Schedules 44

Slave to Routine 45

Passion and Practice 47

The Rope Test 48

Fall Down Nine Times-Get Up Ten 51

A Final Word About Schedules 54

The Creative Nonfiction Pendulum: From Personal to Public 55

The Personal: That Kiss That Caused the Craze 55

The Memoir Craze 57

Between Memoir and Autobiography 58

Don't Get Tangled in Terminology 59

The Public or "Big Idea" 61

The Universal Chord: When Personal and Public Come Together 62

Widening the Pendulum's Swing 65

The Creative Nonfiction Way of Life 69

From Dream to Reality 71

Single-Subject Books 72

Through Immersion, a Writer Can See the Story As It Happens 72

Futures or "Idea" Book 76

Selecting Subjects to Write About 78

Parachuting 79

What Immersion Is Really About: People 80

More About Immersion 80

Literary Sports Note 81

The Bitter Better End 82

The Tribulations of the Writer at Work 83

Anxiety 83

Should You Be Part of the Action? 85

Documenting the Immersion 86

Shirt Boards and Fancy Duds 88

It's the Story, Stupid 89

Thomas and Linda and the Power of the Story 90

The Story Behind the Story 91

It's the Information, Stupid! 94

And Finally, a Gentle Reminder 96

Part II The Writing and Revising and Writing and Revising Part: How to Do It

Introduction to Part II 99

How to Read 100

Reading Over Your Reader's Shoulder 101

I Remember Mama 102

Reading with a Writer's Eye 104

The Building Blocks 105

The Yellow (Or Highlighting) Test 107

A Famous and Memorable Scene 109

To Highlight or Not to Highlight: That is the Question 114

Something Always Happens 114

Endings 119

Dialogue and Description 122

Intimate Details 124

A Famous Intimate Detail 128

More Examples of Intimate or Specific Detail 129

An Important Note About Interviewing 130

Does Absence of the Writer Mean Absence of Detail-Or a Weakness in the Story? 131

Inner Point of View 135

The Creative Nonfiction Dance 138

Reminder: Writing Is Revision 139

Now Let's Dance 140

"Difficult Decisions" by Lee Gutkind 140

Follow-up Commentary 149

"Three Spheres" by Lauren Slater 151

Highlighting "Three Spheres" and "Yellow Taxi" 167

"Yellow Taxi," by Eve Joseph 169

Reflection 183

Dealing with the Dead 185

Recreation or "Reconstruction"? 186

How Did It Happen? 200

The Shocking Truth About the New York Times 201

The Narrative Line and the Hook 204

"Fixing Nemo" 206

Plunging the Reader into the Story 215

Background Means What It Says: In the Back 215

The Story Determines the Research Information-The Facts-You Gather and Provide 216

Framing: The Second Part of Structure (After Scenes) 218

As Part of the Frame, There's Something at Stake 220

Altering Chronology 220

Parallel Narratives 222

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep 223

Main Point of Focus 226

Frame Reflects Focus 227

Stories (Scenes) Are Elastic 227

First Lede/Real Lead: A Creative Nonfiction Experiment Precipitated by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald 230

Clarity and Question Marks 232

The Drawer Phase 234

Remember That Writing Is Revision 234

Now That I Know Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Creative Nonfiction, What Happens Next? 236

MFA in the USA 236

Publish or Perish 241

Don't Worry, Be Happy-and Smart 242

A Final Word: Read this Book Again 245

Appendix: Then and Now: Great (And Not So Great) Moments in Creative Nonfiction, 1993-2010 247

Bibliography 255

Permissions 260

Index 261

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