Creative nonfiction explores the depth of human interactions and interior thoughts. Who we are, how we relate to those closest to us, and what difference we make in our world—these are the questions nonfiction writers struggle with in bringing our true stories to the page.
It’s an even greater challenge to characterize those with whom the nonfiction writer is most intimate; how to bring those closest to you to life on the page. Some approach the task with ease, capitalizing on the closeness to recreate family and friends in an almost photographic way, while others struggle to see clearly, so close are they to the people in their lives that they cannot get them on the page without flattening them so they are unrecognizable.
Creative nonfiction writers must also be painters, filling each character with color, line and shading. We must create a reliable world on the pages in which they live. The way characters speak, the things they carry, the issues that worry them—these are all part of what defines them, both in real life and on the page.
The stories we chose—“Sound Waves,” “On the Western Front,” “Accouchement,” “Grapefruit” and “Puppy Tail”—show us that sometimes, the strongest characters are not necessarily the showiest. They don’t fight for our attention with broad gestures or fiery speeches, but offer support, inspiration and whatever else the author needs at the time, in their own quiet way. Like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, these characters sometimes only come into the light at the end of the piece, even though they have been with us all along. And when we recognize them, we are moved and we are changed for the better.