Research Methods

Although I've set aside this section to discuss research in the creative nonfiction writing process, it's not too different from research done for any good nonfiction writing. Readers today expect creative non-fiction writers, journalists especially, to provide not only a complete and objective treatment; they also expect some subjective treatment, which usually means treating the emotional content of the story. They want the complete picture, a picture that includes fully developed scenes, captured conversations, and even internal monologs (although they don't all agree on this technique). Through these, and other techniques discussed in earlier chapters, the creative non-fiction writer deliberately excites the reader emotionally as well as intellectually—our minds use emotions to add meaning and clarity to straight, factual information. This, of course, sets the creative nonfiction writer aside from the journalist who believes, or is instructed, that emotions should not play a role in understanding the news of the outer world. To gain an appreciation for the central importance of the research work required by this kind of writing, I recommend that you read any or all of The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe), Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three Families (J. Anthony Lukas), House (Tracy Kidder), or Those Days (Richard Critchfield).

Creative nonfiction writers still use the basic research method— interviewing—but they also use many more methods. They talk with the people immediately involved in the story to flush out, and later to flesh out, the who, what, where, when, why, and how elements of the traditional news story. The traditional reporter on a daily newspaper barely has time to ferret out all those elements with the accuracy and completeness he or she desires. Since the creative nonfiction writer isn't usually constrained by a similarly tight deadline, there is much more time to get the story as accurate and complete as possible.

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