Creative…Nonfiction?


During class today, we learned about the genre of creative nonfiction while discussing Joan Didion’s “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” This was a totally foreign concept to me because, as I said in class, I immediately think of my biology textbook when nonfiction is mentioned. I thought nonfiction was always an extremely factual, cut and dry account of a specific topic. However, after talking about Didion’s short story, I learned this new genre allows facts to intermingle with an author’s opinions. Creative nonfiction can also be organized more organically. Because this genre is so new to me, I decided to research a bit more on the subject.

According to University of Vermont, “Creative nonfiction merges the boundaries between literary art (fiction, poetry) and research nonfiction (statistical, fact-filled, run of the mill journalism). It…employs the same literary devices as fiction such as setting, voice/tone, character development, etc.” This makes sense, considering most of our class did not realize that Didion’s story was based off of real events. She writes in a way that encompasses all of the necessary facts but has an organization that flows and reads like a narrative. Not only this, the subject matter is a clue that hints at creative fiction. The author’s style employs both creative and factual details, especially when she describes the San Bernardino Valley. Instead of simply and didactically writing it “lies only an hour east of Los Angeles,” Didion includes more lyrical sentences such as “It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows” as well (3). The short story also has Didion’s own sidebar comments and opinions throughout. For example, she mentions that Lucille and Arthwell’s affair “began to resemble instead the novels of James M. Cain, the movies of the late 1930’s, all the dreams in which violence and threats and blackmail are made to seem commonplaces of middle-class life” (15). By likening the affair to literature and historical cinema, Didion makes the piece more than a listing of facts. However, her tone in many places is direct and includes many accurate details, such as the addresses where the characters live and their testimonies. By weaving reality with creativity, the author has written an engaging story that is sure to keep readers of all genre preferences interested. Now that I know more about this genre, I plan to seek out more creative nonfiction.

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4 comments

  1. I really liked you post, Sam! Well said. I really liked the way you pulled in your personal thoughts and observations concerning this new, unfamiliar genre of “creative fiction”, and paired it alongside other outside sources so that all of us readers can understand the bigger picture of the genre. I agree with you, I had no idea that the details throughout the text were factual at ALL, and when Professor Norquest first mentioned the idea of “creative nonfiction”, I definitely thought, “What? That’s such an oxymoron, though!” However, I also loved how you were able to put to words the reason we as readers felt surprised that this text was nonfiction. I agree with your statement, “She writes in a way that encompasses all of the necessary facts but has an organization that flows and reads like a narrative”, and thought that you so eloquently explained it to us. In addition, I also appreciate how you comment on the author’s style and tone, and tie all these topics back into the umbrella of “creative fiction”. Overall, interesting post!

  2. Thank you for doing some extra research! I was just as confused and surprised as you were to learn that “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” by Joan Didion was a work of creative nonfiction. Your post has really cleared up a lot for me and very neatly describes what creative nonfiction actually is. I agree that her story is organized and flows as a narrative. It also certainly encompasses many facts that allude to the work being nonfiction. On page 4-5 there is a lengthy paragraph dedicated to explaining location, place names, and even signs found at these locations like “Sleep In a Wigwam- Get More for Your Wampum.” While these certainly could have all been made up as part of Didion’s creative writing, it is unlikely due to the amount of detail and length that goes in to describing all of the specifics. I hadn’t realized it before, but going back through the story after learning that it is a work of creative nonfiction, I noticed spots like the one above that indicate nonfiction aspects of the story.

    A final note on this topic is the influence of numbers in the work. There are many specific dates, times, and even the number of people that attended Gordon Miller’s funeral. One example on page 11, “At 1:30 that afternoon, Sergeant William Paterson and Detectives Charles Callahan and Joseph Karr of the Central Homicide Division arrived at 8488 Bella Vista.” There is a lot of detail just in this one sentence and Didion’s use of numbers is very prevalent. This is just one example and there are many more passages where this is found. Didion does a great job at taking a piece of nonfiction and making it a creative and intriguing narrative.

  3. I would agree with Bikera, well done Sam! I think it is really awesome that you did outside research on the subject of Creative Non-Fiction. Your information supplemented what we learned in class, so thank you for the extra information! I would also agree with your comment that, “By weaving reality with creativity, the author has written an engaging story that is sure to keep readers of all genre preferences interested.” I would agree with you that Didion does a fantastic job of presenting facts and an accurate storyline in a way that keeps readers entertained and interested, due to the fact that it reads like a fiction story. I am honestly so impressed that Didion was able to make this story so interesting. I am not a fan of nonfiction work, and I didn’t even know that this piece was nonfiction until class. I wanted to expand upon your post by offering a direct chunk of literature that I touched on during class that really made me feel as though it was fiction. I am choosing to explore the beginning of the last paragraph of the story. It reads, “Arthwell Hayton’s office is directly below Edward Foley’s. Some people around San Bernardino say that Arthwell Hayton suffered; others say that he did not suffer at all. Perhaps he did not, for time past is not believed to have any bearing upon time present or future, out I the golden land where every day the world is born anew.” After this, the story concludes with descriptions of Arthwell’s marriage to his children’s governess and their wedding, finishing the story with a “they lived happily every after” ending. I find this part to be the most indicative of fiction work. The way Didion describes Arthwell’s suffering as “some say” this and “others say” that makes it sound like a story or legend, as though his actual experience wasn’t real and didn’t happen. Then, with the fairy tale ending of a beautiful marriage and tying the story up nicely at then end made the story seem like a piece of fiction. This particular paragraph really struck me as a perfect example of creative non-fiction. Didion told the facts of the case in a way that enchanting and entertaining. I think that in the society we live in today, with so many things vying for our attention, we only focus on the things that bring us pleasure and keep us interested, such as fantasy, mystery, and fiction writing, more so than writings of numbers and data. Therefore, Didon’s ability to write such enthralling nonfiction is a very cool and interesting talent.

  4. I definitely agree with you. I thought that Joan Didion’s use of facts combined with fictional aspects made for an extremely engaging and thoughtful narrative. It was interesting how the readers actually feels some of the emotions that the people who live in this region must go through based on Didion’s vivid description. And once we learned that it was creative nonfiction, the story really struck home.
    However, I also disagree to a certain extent. I think that Didion’s description of the San Bernardino Valley is good, but to some extent it is too generalized. The way Didion describes the people who live there lends us to think that her description applies to every single person who lives there. However, I don’t think every person who lives in the valley is so sensational and novelistic. I’m sure there are normal people who live there, but Didion makes it feel as if everyone who lives there is the same. In some ways, her description is TOO good, TOO vivid.

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