Writing Narrative Nonfiction: Art and Craft of Writing

October 31, 2007
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Art and Craft of Writing

by Lisa Dale Norton

November 2007

Lisa Dale Norton will be providing a one-hour interactive teleconference in the Authorlink Virtual Classroom November 15, 2007. Find details here.

"As a writer of memoir you have to get inside your experience
and come to terms with it. . ."

—Norton

When I teach Narrative Nonfiction I often refer to the art and craft of writing. It's important to understand those two aspects of the work we do as writers. This week I'll stir the pot a bit and get these two ideas spinning. Perhaps in my upcoming Virtual class (Nov. 15) you'll have questions based on some of these comments. (Or anything else that's been shared in this column so far.)

What do I mean when I talk about the art of writing Narrative Nonfiction? What does it mean to make art on the page, and how is that different than the craft of Narrative Nonfiction? Here's the way I use the two terms:

"Art: the holistic process of creating prose that moves the reader in ways
that can not be fully dissected . . . "

—Norton

Art: the holistic process of creating prose that moves the reader in ways that can not be fully dissected through some sort of literary analysis. The fullness of the experience of reading a story, the parts of which might be broken out and inspected, but which would not yield the total involvement the reader has while engaged with the writing. Writers achieve this end by understanding the craft (writing techniques) of their chosen genre so well that the writing itself becomes invisible. It operates in service of some higher goal. Art moves souls. When writing moves a soul it has achieved that alchemy we call Art.

"Craft: the writing techniques we use
to achieve Art, the nuts and bolts
of composition. . ."

—Norton

Craft: the writing techniques we use to achieve Art, the nuts and bolts of composition, first the basic stuff like punctuation and sentence structure that any serious writer must master, then the more sophisticated techniques that go into creating a story: voice, narrative arc, description, dialogue, setting, and the various ways a writer develops human complexity in a character so that character becomes more than just ink on a page, becomes so real the reader can't wait to get back to the story. All that is the craft of writing. Learning to use it as masterfully as a journeyman carpenter wields his tools will help you achieve the end I call Art.

Over the next weeks I'll be talking specifically about how you can use the art and craft of writing to create characters in Narrative Nonfiction.

   
About
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR, will be released by St. Martin 's Press in Spring '08. She is the author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin 's Press), a work combining memoir and nature writing. Lisa teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the power of story and the process of writing your own. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

 

 

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This post was written by Lisa Dale Norton