Decorating a Scene: Description in Narrative

Here we are on Memorial Day, and our peonies are in bloom. These showy, fragrant flowers were in every bouquet that my mother always made to set upon our family’s graves on what we then called Decoration Day. I look forward to their buds opening this time of year, not only because I enjoy their…

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Time and Narrative in Memoir

When it comes to writing memoir, we can never give full expression to an entire life. We have too much from which to choose—too much time, too many moments, too many characters, too many questions. We can, though, find a narrative arc that, if handled skillfully, will contain more of the past, the present, and…

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What Pauses Can Do for a Narrative

Yesterday, there was work to do—there’s always work to do, something to write, something to read—but, after brunch, Cathy said, “Why don’t you just rest?” I gave her my standard answer, “I’ve got so much I need to get done.” Her response? “Sometimes, it’s okay to not do anything.” So it is in the stories…

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The Sound at the End: Narrative and Music

Each night before bed, Cathy turns on the dishwasher and sets the security alarm. I listen to the  whir of water, the beeps of the alarm. As we drift off to sleep, there’s the hum of traffic from the nearby highway, or the sound of our cat, Stella, jumping onto the bed. At the end…

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Making Stories Matter in Creative Nonfiction

I could tell you a story, as I do in my essay, “Bastards,” about the night a young man opened the back door to our house and stepped inside while my mother was washing dishes. I could recall, fact by fact, what happened next. The relevant question for those of us who write creative nonfiction…

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One Way to Shape a Narrative

Here we are on the other side of the Fourth of July. We’re in the heart of summer now, but I can feel its end and the coming of the crisp days of fall and then the biting winds of winter within the hot, sunny days that will still be ours for some time. Book-length…

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Go Big or Go Home: Creating Plot

My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting a book club in Casey, Illinois, last week, just about an hour from where we grew up. Casey has taken it upon itself to be the capital of the largest things in the world. We saw the world’s largest wind chime, the world’s largest rocking chair,…

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