~ Nonfiction ~

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Creative Nonfiction

Just saying it makes you want to doodle some curly-cues doesn't it? Maybe put on a tuxedo shirt when you sit down to think story, plot, and setting. Or, maybe throw a boa around your neck as you place your hands on the key-board to--yes--write! I have one writer friend who does the boa thing. I prefer tap shoes so when my legs cramp from sitting so long, I can step outside and fake a soft shoe.

There are times the muse doesn't show up on time. Some days you may have so many ideas trying to pop out you can't figure out how to corral all of them back in the barn so they can be arranged, filed away in their little stalls, until each one can be given it's neighing due. Sometimes writing is so gut-wrenching painful you'd just rather suck on a green persimmon and give up the ghost.

Some days writing nonfiction is so much easier than writing fiction. "Truth is stranger than fiction" is how the old adage goes, isn't it? Some of it's so strange you can't pass it off as truth because no one would believe it. All you have to do is just capture the moment you're living, at any given time.

Creative nonfiction is when you tell the truth, but instead of writing from a journalistic viewpoint--just the facts ma'am, nothing but the facts--you add more than facts to make it sound like phosphorescent prose rather than dungeon-dark police reports. I'm not talking about fabricating anything to embellish the truth. I'm talking about how gun-gray metal the .45 was when a mountain of a man, Colonel Mustard, found it in the walnut paneled study after he'd whisked away quiche crumbs dusted across the lapel of his navy pin-striped Italian suit. And that was all before said Mr. Mustard managed a stolen kiss from Mrs. Peacock who he'd been eying earlier from the top of the walnut banistered balcony gracing the black marble foyer as his mind pondered deeper things--like an innocent tryst.

Okay. That was a bit wordy. But you're getting the point by now. You want to describe how the light fell on the silvery side of the leaves as the gentle wind blew from the north side of the moss covered pin oak. Okay. I'll stop.

If you really would like help in describing scenes you might try The Describer's Dictionary by David Grambs. In his book you will discover tools that help word a scene differently.

Listen to how I've revised the previous sentence:

"And that was all before Colonel Buff managed a stolen kiss from Mrs. Pavonine who'd he'd been eying earlier from the summit of the walnut bannistered balcony gracing the tunnel-black marble foyer as his mind pondered cavernous things--like a scandalous tryst."

Not to overlook the meandering sentence, but who had a clue that a peacock was a "pavonine" and mustard could be labeled "buff," another shade of yellow if you like your mustard on the spicy Grey Poupon side. Now the Colonel is sounding hot! Colonel Mustard, all of a sudden, turns into macho Manly with a six-pack and bulging pectorals. And, Mrs. Peacock morphs into a woman who could possibly give the night howling wolverines a run for their moon madness.

Here's another example.

"Ehud drew a knife from beneath his coat and thrust it into the king's huge belly."

Now listen:

"Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it."

What a visual! The second scene is more descriptive. Straight out of the Book of Judges, it's believed by some Bible scholars to have been written by Samuel who was inspired by God. By the blade being strapped to Ehud's right thigh, we can surmise Ehud was adept at using his left hand even if Samuel hadn't already told us in an earlier verse that he was left-handed. Most of the time readers are smart enough to grasp a concept like this but evidently, God wanted to make this perfectly clear and had Samuel include it. Also, the king wouldn't have been on guard with Ehud reaching into his garment with the left hand, since most people are right-handed, the king would have been on guard if Ehud had reached with his right hand. Have I rammed that point home about Ehud having some pretty slick moves? God was a little more subtle.

There are great stories in the Bible. It's been called, "The greatest Book ever written." There are tantalizing stories with many different themes--romance, betrayal, adultery, war and peace. And God doesn't mind if you plagiarize as long as you give Him credit, we can quote to our hearts content. Some of the most successful writers usually refer to the Bible. Remember "Jesus Takes The Wheel," a hit by Carrie Underwood?

I now have a good start at writing, though I still struggle with following these examples. I hope I've thrown out some helpful hints for you. The trick is revising stories until they leap from the page with hallelujah creativity.

Oh! But it's so hard to keep the fanny in the chair to crank out that first rough draft. Revision? Yes! No! Yes! Yes!

Revision! Revision! Revision!

And remember, standout titles catch the eye and hold the gaze. In Knit Together Debbie Macomber says she "...began paying attention to best-selling lists." Her name wasn't on the list. Her goal was to have it there. "Each book on the list shared a commonality - a strong title." Debbie's been on the best-seller list nineteen times and has sold more than sixty million copies of her books. She's written over one hundred and fifty novels. Did I mention she was dyslexic or that she now has movie options?

Giving a story a good title will have potential readers throwing the pages back trying to figure out why in the name of Shorty you titled something--"A Good Man's Hard To Find" - by Flannery O'Connor. After you've pondered and pontificated a New York minute, doesn't that title make you want to turn the page to see what in the world a pavonine-raising Southern woman--who claimed she'd been called by God to help bring people to the Lord through her writing and wrote a novel titled Wise Blood, though she never married--have to say about the subject of "A Good Man's Hard To Find?" How did she know about adultery, betrayal, angst? Did she know a liar-liar-pants-on-fire man who needed a real good killin'? Did she read about it or hear about it from the pulpit? If you're like me, I can see you running out trying to lay your hands on a copy of that little short story but, just remember--curiosity killed the cat.

Which reminds me. Go easy on the cliches. In fact, try to start some new cliches of your own. Instead of saying "curiosity killed the cat," you might change it to "intrigue door-knob-dead-ended the panther." All right--that's my original cliche and I know everyone will start using it now. The rule of thumb is, if I don't use it in a story within two months, you get to "borrow" it. I won't mind as long as you tell everybody who's website you borrowed it from.

Which brings to mind something else. Be careful about ending a sentence with a preposition. We all do it in normal speech. Of course, I'm from the South assuming others do it too, every now and then. We at least can get away with saying ain't in dialogue. For example:

"Loudella Mae done helped herself to the last serving of vinegar pie," said Bessie Lorell through lips drawn as tight as the rubber band around her thin pony-tail. She whined. "Didn't even get a spoon lick. Now it's about to all be gone." Sister Clemmie Nell dried rub-board hands on her thin flower-sack dress. She shrugged her pinched face into the shoulder part of her sweat stained bodice as she reached for the fly swat. With a pack-a-day voice she drawled, "Naw it ain't."

Rule of thumb is, as long as you know the rules, you're allowed to break them, as soon as you've sold as many books as the guy who wrote Moby Dick. Think Melville's up in heaven upset about all the high school kids reading Cliff notes, skipping over all of those pages about tying knots? That question is an example of borrowing from another writer who throws something out during a writing workshop but doesn't publish it within two months. To be polite, I checked with the author who asked the question and she emailed back, "To tell the truth I don't even remember saying this. Go ahead." And I thought her pondering brilliant!

But back to the rule of thumb about breaking rules. By the time you've sold as many books as Melville, you'll be pushing up peonies and your descendants will be royalty-raking and the world will have converted to a universal dollar that will be worthless along with the retirement account you thought you had before somebody named Mad-dog tornado-trysted through life with your money. And none of it will matter. Do you like the way I worked in alliteration in a couple of places? Did I overdo? Might as well break a few rules now. At least eat a corn dog every now and then to boot. You can slather it with buff condiments and not worry about high cholesterol because global warming is going to take us all out right before heart attacks anyway. Even if it doesn't exist. Go for it. Just remember to drink plenty of green tea with antioxidants.

It's here I'd like to point out that you need to throw in some short sentences every now and then to give your paragraphs cadence and rhythm. "Jesus wept" has been overused. Though it's the most profound sentence I've ever read. I'm as serious as a colonoscopy here. No disrespect intended. I feel like our Lord had a sense of humor since He created humans, however, stand-up comics are even using this short sentence in their routines. Use it only if it's appropriate. Try to be innovative.

If you get a chance, take a look at Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, another excellent book to jumpstart the flow of your creative juices. But first, go to the freezer and grab a carton of Ben and Jerry's before continuing with the next paragraph. It will make the exercise I'm about to give you more sensuous after that corn dog's been pressing on your liver.


The whoosh of polar air from the freezer singed her eyebrows as effectively as a Friday night Kum-ba-yah going away party bon fire …

Now that you're back with a soup spoon and digging in, I'd especially love sharing Ackerman's line on page 106 in my copy:

"I once knew a songwriter with a lovely sherbety voice…"

Those who know me know I also write songs. When I read that line I couldn't help but think, "Would she be talking about lime, orange, or rainbow sherbety voices? Perhaps she was referencing MPD--multiple personality disorder." Now, before you get brain freeze from thinking about it-- because if you're like me you're eating your ice cream too fast--I decided it had to be rainbow sherbety. That gal must have harbored a voice that could roam the range, scaling so high she hit the multi-colored arc. Surely that's what Diane was talking about.

It sounded wonderful though, because every reader was offered a tiny diamond--a chance to interpret that line any multi-faceted way they wanted to cut the chunk of rock. I could choose an emerald, princess, or marquis. I could bevel out a cushion cut to my heart's desire.

Whatever Diane meant, I'm sure it was sweet and good and delicious and so cool-rich because it made my toes curl and my spirit yearn for more and it sure could cleanse the palette. Stir me up to rush on to the next course that would make me even crave cooked spinach. Better yet, poke salad with red-eye gravy and a dash of vinegar for sweetin'! I couldn't wait to read what Diane was going to serve me next. I would have followed her to the kitchen to scrub cast iron skillets for more home-cooking like that even if it did come straight from the Frigidaire ice-box.

Then, Diane went on to explain how mouth-kissing began, describing, "Our lips are deliciously soft and responsive. Their touch sensations are represented by a large part of the brain, and what a boon that is to kissing." Who knew! I could not put that little book down even while taking a hot soaky-tub bath before lights were out.

After my brain thawed, I tried to figure out how I would describe my voice when crooning my little ditties. I decided a good description would be more like Mayfield's "Moose Tracks" ice cream. Every now and then I hit a clump of dark chocolate--a long way to arc before reaching sherbety.

However, brain freeze and all, the writing road sure is deliciously lovely. Some days the hodos is orange, some days--lime. I just have to keep thinking green. Global warming may get me, but at least I know God promised he'd never take me out again by a world flood. I'm gonna keep on singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" while watching out for flying monkeys and trying to keep my palette clean. And if I've flip-flopped back and forth between first, second, and third person, please forgive me, it's just the way I talk. However, try to take care of that before sending your work to a slush pile. Know this, if you're stating a truth, you can switch from past tense to present and get away with it.

Now, you and I need to keep our fannies in the chair and crank out the next big Moby Dick masterpiece. I'll go ahead and give you the same bit of encouragement a good friend of mine named Ferd gave me: "You won't become famous as a writer until you're dead." I'm sure you're wondering why I would treasure the friendship of one who has such a positive outlook on life. He's a gynecologist. Hails from the "show me state." He's usually an encourager and I thought this nonfiction statement hilarious. It's mostly true when it comes to literary writing. This is where I'd like to clear the air. I'm not worried about the fame. It's all of that money I'm raking in while trying to dodge houses and flying monkeys.

Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about the money. There is none. Well, very little. At least not until the intrigue door-knob-dead-ends the panther. Or, you become the next C. S. Lewis and can think up great dialogue between a demon nephew being groomed for spiritual warfare by a demon uncle, blessed with such names as Screwtape and Wormwood. Then be wise as serpents about the movie rights because after a great title like "The Screwtape Letters," someone will come knocking. Forget about being harmless as doves in Hollywood. Vultures leave nothing behind but the feathers.

I'll see you and the other writing munchkins down the yellow brick road. Just follow the Moose Tracks!

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Email to....:vmoss@livingwaterfiction.com