Author Archives: Shannon DeHoff

Technology and Creative Nonfiction

As the world continues to modernize, technology has become ever-present in our lives. Inherently, our means of communication have changed as technologies have been introduced to us. Not only that, but the ways in which events and accounts are recorded and shared has also changed. That being said, the entire genre of creative nonfiction has been altered by technology. Memory is now in competition with social media and news outlet accounts of events. It can be hard to find the truth among thousands of different accounts of one instance. Some of our deepest, most heart-wrenching conversations have been held over text, completely erasing the author’s ability to describe time and space of face-to-face conversation. Our encounters with each other may be diminishing, and even though we have the greatest access to communication we’ve ever had, some would say that we are at the greatest disconnect of all time. In some ways, technology has impeded our ability to write powerful nonfiction pieces.


However, technology has also introduced certain benefits to authors. Can’t remember specifically what a place looked like? Odds are, you can find it on Google Maps street view. Can’t remember what a speaker said verbatim? The speech may have been recorded and uploaded to the internet. Can’t find a juicy descriptor? Online thesauruses will solve your problem in seconds. Students nowadays can write and submit entire essays on their phone. Writers can jostle down observations in their iPhone note pad and refer back to them when crafting a piece.


Whatever your take, however you look at it, technology has certainly changed the way in which we write. I would say creative nonfiction is the genre most significantly impacted by the exponentially increasing role of technology. As part of the 21st century tech era, we as writers must find a way in which we can balance technology in our craft as a writer. It’s up to the individual the extent to which they choose to rely on technology to alter their writing process. There are ways in which we can make it work for us, making the genre stronger and more robust than ever.

Genre Bending

In writing creative nonfiction, it is impossible to accurately remember every detail of a scenario that you wish to write about. As creative writers, it is our duty to our readers to fill in the gaps when they need to be filled and to make a comprehensive story out of the details that we do remember.

That leads to a bigger question, how much can we rely on our memory? I often wonder if my sister actually dared me to stand on a tree limb when I was eight years old pretending to be Tarzan then pushed me, or if somehow over time my memories have been warped and that’s the only sense I can make of the situation. How do we know we are being honest with ourselves, and is it an injustice to our writing if we are not, or cannot?

I don’t think so. I think the creative part of creative nonfiction comes from bending the truth a little bit. Now, that’s not to say that we can intentionally falsify elements of the past to make the story fit our authorial desires, but I think it’s necessary in some instances to find ways to creatively recreate the past and make meaning of it. I don’t think that it’s ingenuous to bend the genre a little bit to create the best story possible while maintaining the important truths which create the topic and purpose for discussion.

When I think about this, I often think of a song titled “Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 2” by Watsky. It opens:

“There’s 7 billion 46 million people on the planet

And most of us have the audacity to think we matter

Hey, you hear the one about the comedian who croaked?

Someone stabbed him in the heart, just a little poke

But he keeled over ‘cause he went into battle wearing chain mail made of jokes

Hey, you hear the one about the screenwriter who passed away?

He was giving elevator pitches and the elevator got stuck halfway

He ended up eating smushed sandwiches they pushed through a crack in the door

And repeating the same crappy screenplay idea about talking dogs ’til his last day

Hey, you hear the one about the fisherman who passed?

He didn’t jump off that ledge

He just stepped out into the air and pulled the ground up towards him really fast

Like he was pitching a line and went fishing for concrete”

This, to me, is a perfect example of using the creative form and being imaginative to bend the truth to make it more captivating. It’s our responsibility as creative nonfiction writers not only to tell the truth, but to present it in an interesting way. Rather than just stating fact, we are artists that must compose it into masterpieces. We, as authors, choose the angle from which our readers get to view us, and it is our burden to make sure that we select the best kind of light… and sometimes, that requires a bit of shifting.