To Tell the Truth

Connie D. Griffin  
Total pages
September 2008
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This text engages in current conversations in the popular field of narrative nonfiction, which ranges across memoir and biography, the essay, and literary journalism.  Designed to meet the growing needs resulting from the burgeoning interest in narrative nonfiction the text emphasizes key elements common to all three major branches of the genre.  It assists nonfiction writers in developing a writing practice specifically modeled to their unique needs, it bends over the practical tasks of applying elements of craft in the actual process of generating and shaping material, and it includes contemporary models that represent the range and diversity of the genre.


  • A key feature of the text, one seldom found in books on the subject, is the inclusion of essays that reveal writers' internal processes--that quirky quality we call creativity--bringing in writers' revelations about uniquely individual efforts at foiling the inner critic and getting beyond writer's block.
  • Another unique feature is the author's engagement with major voices in the field, bringing numerous approaches and points of view to bear on the subject.
  • Additional features include guidance on generating narrative from factual data, as well as strategies for both traditional and nontraditional research.

  • To Tell the Truth breaks down the recursive writing process of generating, composing, and revising into manageable stages and stresses the effectiveness of working in drafts.

Table of Contents


Preface           xvi

Part I  Creativity And Nonfiction Writing

CHAPTER 1  An Introduction to Storytelling . . . . . . . . . .1

An Invitation to Creativity

Creativity and the Unconscious

Telling Our Stories

Getting Started

Writing as Process

Thinking Like a Writer

Writers on Writing

"How and Why," Jane Bernstein

 “Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character,” Phillip Lopate

Lyric Essay

"On the Street: Nobody Watches, Everyone Performs," Vivian Gornick

Literary Journalism

"A Boy of Unusual Vision," Alice Steinbach, The Baltimore Sun

The Short

"Volar," Judith Ortiz Cofer

Prose Poem

"Two Hearts," Brian Doyle

Practice Strategies

CHAPTER 2   Narrative Nonfiction:  Distinguishing Among Forms . . . . . . . . . . 17

Reading As A Writer

Narrative Nonfiction: History and Form

Memory, Meaning, and Memoir

~Mosaic Memoir

The Essay

~The Segmented Essay

~The Lyric Essay

Literary Journalism

The Short

The Prose Poem

Fluidity and Form

CHAPTER 3  How Writers Work:  Developing a Writing Practice  . . . . . . . . 34

Demystifying the Myth of the Muse

~The Myth

~The Reality

Courtship and Creativity: A Date Best Kept

Practice and Your Journal: Diamonds in the Dust Heap

Practice and Prewriting Techniques




Getting to the First Draft

Writing as Discovery

Your Inner Critic and Your Writing Practice

Writers on Writing

"The Watcher at the Gate," Gail Godwin

"Courting the Muse," Diane Ackerman

"On Keeping a Notebook," Joan Didion


"The Root of My Mother's Powers," Audre Lorde

Lyric Essay

"What Can't Be Spoken," K. Gregg Elliott


"In the Beginning," Leila Philip, from A Family Place

Prose Poem

"Traces," Marjorie Agosín

Research and Practice Strategies

Pointers and Potential Pitfalls

CHAPTER 4  The Story Takes Shape:  Reading and Writing for Story . . . . . . 53

The Shape of the Story

Reading, Writing, and Revision

How Writers Help Each Other: A Writer's Workshop

What Peer Readers Offer the Writer

Becoming an Effective Reader for Others (and Yourself)

Prompts - Questions

Writers, Listen to Your Readers

Trusting Your Practice

Trusting the Story

Writers on Writing

"Memory and Imagination," Patricia Hampl


"Serviam," Madeleine Blais

Literary Journalism

"The Khan Men of Agra," Pamela Michael


"The Deck," Yusef Komunyakaa

Prose Poem

"The Quality of Mercy," Jane Brox

Research and Practice Strategies

Pointers and Potential Pitfalls

Part II  Craft Matters: Techniques For Practice

CHAPTER 5  Writing in Scenes--Painting Word Pictures . . . . . . . . . . . . .72

Scene and Summary

Imagery and the Senses

Scenes and the Senses

Show and Tell

Imagery, Metaphor, and Theme



~Making Metaphor

Imagery and Memory

Imagery and the Observing Eye

Setting is Part of the Story

Setting Reveals Character

Setting and Symbol

Playing with Cliché

Writers on Writing

“But Tell It Slant: From Poetry to Prose and Back Again,” Judith Ortiz Cofer


"A Restricted Country," Joan Nestle

Lyric Essay

"A Map of My Face," Marjorie Agosín

Travel Writing

"The Wonderful Thing about Tigers," William Gray


"Hypertext," Dorothy Allison

Prose Poem

"What We Remember and What We Forget," Karen Salyer McElmurray, from Surrendered Child

Research and Practice Strategies

Pointers and Potential Pitfalls

CHAPTER  6  When Characters Are Real People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98

Creating Real People on the Page

Character and Complication

Characterization and Description

Revealing Character Through Dialogue

Character and Voice

Revealing Character Through Action

Writers on Writing

"Nonfiction in First Person, Without Apology," Natalia Rachel Singer

Memoir and Auto/Biography

“Bricklayer's Boy,” Alfred Lubrano

Literary Journalism

"Enrique's Journey," Sonia Nazario


"Around the Corner," Sharon Bryan

Prose Poem

"Clip from A Winter Diary," Kelly Cunnane

Research and Practice Strategies

Pointers and Potential Pitfalls

CHAPTER 7  Narrative Persona:  Art, Facts, and the “I” of the Story . . . . . . 114

Narrative Persona and Voice

Narrative Point of View

The "I" in Imagination

Art, Imagination, and Truth

Diction, Syntax, and Style

Active and Passive Voice

Parts of Speech

Rhythm in Sentences

Writers on Writing

from The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick

"The Whole Truth," Peter Ives


"A Plague of Tics," David Sedaris, Naked


"How I Learned to Snap," Kirk Read

Prose Poem

"Three Prose Poems," Mary Oliver, from Winter Hours

Research and Practice Strategies

Pointers and Potential Pitfalls

CHAPTER 8  Finding Story in Situation:  Resonance and Theme . . . . . . . . . . 128


But, What Does it Mean?

The Point of the Story--Thematic Resonance

Scene and Situation--Story and Theme

Writers on Writing

"Saying Good-Bye to 'Once Upon a Time,' or Implementing Postmodernism in Creative Nonfiction," Laura Wexler


"Oy, My Enlightenment," Kim Chernin

Lyric Essay

"The Clan of One-Breasted Women," Terry Tempest Williams

Prose Poem

"The Blues Merchant," Jerome Washington

Research and Practice Strategies

CHAPTER 9  Bringing Research to the Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

Research and Creative Nonfiction

"I" and "Eye"

Immersion Journalism

Where to Go for Information: Finding, Checking, and Double-Checking

A Few Things about Interviewing

Preparing for the Interview

Getting it Right!

Police and Court Records

Ethics and Narrative Nonfiction

Legal Concerns and Lawsuits

Libel - Slander - Intrusion - False Light -  Public Disclosure of Embarrassing Private Facts - Appropriation

Writers on Writing

“Researching Your Own Life,” Michael Pearson

"The Five Rs of Creative Nonfiction," Lee Gutkind

"Gathering Information," James B. Stewart


"The Way to Rainy Mountain," N. Scott Momaday

The Lyric Essay

“Texas Women: True Grit and All the Rest,” Molly Ivins

Literary Journalism

"Death of a Playmate," Teresa Carpenter


"Low Tide at Four," Harriet Doerr

Prose Poem

"Mass for the Happy Death of Innocence," Holly Iglesias

Research and Practice Strategies

About The Authors--------------------------------------------------------162



Back Cover

Connie D. Griffin


Filled with practical techniques and concrete examples, To Tell The Truth is an invaluable guide to writing in the burgeoning genre of creative nonfiction.  Connie D. Griffin, an experienced educator, writer and journalist, sheds light on the trials and tribulations all writers face when entering into the writing process. Starting from the principles of storytelling and examining every facet of the various forms of nonfiction narrative, this book will assist you with the technical challenges of transforming life as lived into literary representation. Each chapter is reinforced with sample essays, memoirs, literary journalism, short shorts and prose poetry selected from the canon of this rapidly growing field. Honed and refined in dozens of college-level writing programs, creative writing workshops and conferences, these clear and detailed lessons will provide you with the tools that you'll need to develop a writing practice and a distinctive writing voice that will serve you for years to come.




·         A close analysis of the various forms of creative nonfiction, including the memoir, the lyric essay, literary journalism, the nonfiction short, and the prose poem.


·          Techniques and lessons for developing good writing practices, writing for story and theme, the importance of scene, characterization, creating a narrative persona and generating narrative from research.


·          An emphasis on working in stages: prewriting prompts, developing ideas through multiple drafts and strategies for revision to deepen narrative.


·          Over 40 model selections of contemporary creative nonfiction, including Writers on Writing--essays focusing on writers' creative processes.






Connie Griffin holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa; a master's degree from Boston College; and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  She has taught and presented in a variety of writing programs, writing institutes, and conferences, including Boston College's Creative Writing Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst's Journalism Program, the National Writer's Union writers' conference--WriteAngles, Curry College's Blue Hills Writing Institute, and the Northeast Modern Language Association. She teaches courses in narrative nonfiction, literary journalism, feature and magazine writing, memoir, media studies, as well as literary and cultural studies. She has published essays, articles, reviews, features, and profiles and has presented numerous papers on memoir, autobiography, and narrative nonfiction. She served on the editorial board and as guest editor for Woman of Power magazine, staff writer for The University of Tulsa Magazine, and contributing writer for Tulsa Magazine. She served as Broadcast Relations Manager for the University of Tulsa, where she was producer and host of University FOCUS, a weekly educational television program.


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