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Tell It Slant : Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola

Updated on September 11, 2014

Martha Jane McColloam died in 1929

I recently completed the Family History Writing Challenge sponsored by The Armchair Genealogist. Those of us who participated in the challenge wrote a chosen amount of words each day for the 28 days in February 2013.

I am enamored with my great grandmother. She was a remarkable woman who managed to survive the murder of her husband and raised nine children on her own. For 28 days, I wrote what i knew about her. I have five letters she wrote to my grandparents in 1918 and 1919. I have three pictures of her. All of them taken in about 1913. That's all I know. I can guess at some of the other incidents based on fact but that leaves a lot open to imagination.

How do I write a non-fiction book about this remarkable woman when obviously some of it will have to be creative? Throughout the challenge, we were provided hints and tips but the one that helped the most pointed to "Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction".

To tell a story of the past, it is important to stick to the facts but they are boring by themselves. This is the best book I have read that truly defines where creativity, used correctly and honestly, keeps the facts intact.

The Book - Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction

I bought the Kindle book. I am into instant gratification and started reading it immediately.

Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction
Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction

I read this through and am reading it again, doing all the exercises. This is a wonderful learning tool!


What you will find in this book - Part 1 - Unearthing your material

There are so many great ideas for expanding your knowledge.

  1. The Body of Memory
  2. Writing the Family
  3. "Taking Place", Writing the Physical World
  4. Writing the Spiritual Autobiography
  5. Gathering the Threads of History
  6. Writing the Arts
  7. Writing the Larger World

"Think of yourself as a witness and your writing will take on greater weight and urgency. As you write about the other people who populate your memories and life, you will do so with a clearer sense of purpose that will elevate your writing beyond the purely personal."

Kindle location 506-13

Part 2 - The Forms of Creative Nonfiction

This is a problem for many writers. What is creative nonfiction and how do you write it?

  1. The Particular Challenge of Creative Nonfiction
  2. The Personal Essay
  3. The Lyric Essay
  4. The Basics of Personal Reportage

Part 3 - Honing Your Craft

The mechanics of writing.

  1. The Basics of Good Writing in Any Form
  2. The Writing Process and Revision
  3. The Writing Group
  4. Last Words

"It is important to allow yourself permission to write anything in a first draft; otherwise you might censor yourself into silence.

I am not one who highlights passages in books

What I love most about the Kindle is the ability to highlight text. As the daughter of a librarian, writing in books was sacrilege. It just wasn't done. Now, I can highlight away without any guilt.

This is my Kindle and it may be one of the best items I have ever received as a gift.

Did I say I loved this book?

It is not often that I read a nonfiction book from cover to cover. Do you know those moments when you are listening to someone and they say something that hits you and you nod your head? This book gave me whiplash.

Try it's

One of the best features of this book

Not only is the book full of valuable information, there is a bonus. At the end of each chapter is a section call "Try it".

The "Try it" exercises are prompts to work with the information that was just presented.

Like I said, I read the book all the way through. Now I am going back to do the Try it's.

Here is one small example.

In talking about memory which is often forgotten or lost, there is a way to spur the memory.

"Write for twenty minutes, using the phrase "I can't remember" to start off each sentence. Where does such an examination lead you?"

It is going to lead me into a lot of places I probably won't expect.

Warning on the "Try its"

The Try Its for the first chapter are about the senses. Easy right? I can do taste, touch, see, and smell but I can't seem to get through the hearing. I always knew that it was music that held my soul but I didn't realize how much it guided me life. Every memory has its own soundtrack.

Are you interested in creative nonfiction? - I would welcome your comments

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      RinchenChodron 5 years ago

      Well written review. Sounds like you have learned a lot from this book.