Multimodality: Interfacing the Creative with the Critical

What is creative nonfiction?

Lee Gutkind, the “Godfather” of creative nonfiction, defines this concept as
“‘true stories well told.’”

Now, what makes the stories true?

The genre is composed of characters that resemble real people, places that are real locations, and events that have really occurred. Of course, fiction too is usually based on this reality, giving the readers believable characters and relatable places as they are moved into this new world. But fiction is also filtered through the writer’s fantasy and imagination, while creative nonfiction is also filtered through the writer’s world or what they perceive as truth.

Have you ever listened to a friend retell a story that you were there for and you find yourself thinking, well that’s not how it happened at all? The truth is a very faint line. It is never going to be a simple black and white, or true and false capital-T Truth. The concept of truth is going to vary from person to person. The “creative” part in creative nonfiction gives the writer the license to imagine and artistically put together this true story…
That is well told.

A story doesn’t have to be just words on a page. New media allows writers to create a whole new meaning to reading. Johanna Drucker explains how, “Interface is what we read and how we read combined through engagement, it is a provocation to cognitive experience, but it is also an enunciative apparatus” (147). There’s more activity, which gives viewers new interactions with their senses. Text can become a form of visual and audio media at the same time. “Sight is a passive sense,” and as we shift from “our sense of bodies-as-primarily-eyes to sensing how embodiment is also through skin and other senses,” we can “re-engage and experiment with sensory connections other than the relentlessly visually reductive” (Arola & Wysocki 5-7). When reading to yourself from a book or an article online, your eyes are just scanning over the words, using recognition to gain meaning from the text (Bouma). To read a sentence would take a lot longer if you were actually reading each i-n-d-i-v-i-d-u-a-l word. This explains why sometimes you have to go back and reread because the eye can mistake this recognition for another word. However, the more the senses are involved, the more attentive a reader can be.

My name is Laurie Jackson and I’m finishing my masters in writing at Coastal Carolina University. My thesis is on the rhetoric of trust for truth in creative nonfiction, while looking at the use of combining the creative voice with the analytical voice through a digital format. Digital media creates a place where readers can interact more, and discover a new embodiment with text. What’s in print has its limitations, and digital media breaks those limited restraints, letting readers expand the use of their senses.

The video aspect of this project creates a space for two forms of narrative to work together in one space. I use my own creative nonfiction piece with a rhetorical analysis, so readers can look at these two forms of text together. The video is for the readers, as I break the glass on what it means to trust the writer’s sense of truth. There are two sets of readers for creative nonfiction: the outside reader and the inside reader. The outside reader has no personal investment within the story, while the inside reader are personally invested as they know the writer and are represented in the story. The inside reader represents a living embodiment of the story that is being told, and therefore can counter argue the writer’s truth. There are multiple inside readers, for the multiple characters within the story, which means each inside reader will have different investments with different scenes. The writer has to think of the inside readers, who will see things differently and might not perceive their “ghost selves” in the story as the writer does, but along with this the writer must also think of the readers, who will search for a way to be personally invested as they ask themselves, what’s the point of reading this.

To appeal to both readers, the writer must create meaning for the readers; the writer must persuasively tell the truth for both by creating the best illusion. The video helps create this illusion with layered images and audio, creating a more active environment. The annotations over the text represent a process of learning, which helps bridge this gap between the creative and critical academic perspectives. The text comes alive, as there’s a slight shift from sans serif to serif fonts, and highlighted words are pulled out, drawing in the reader. The background music changes with each set of analysis to hold the readers attention. The goal for the writer is to gain trust from the outside reader and the inside reader that what is being created is truth. The writer must create believable and relatable characters, balancing the relationship between the writer and outside reader versus the writer and inside (ghost-representational) reader. The writer has to balance on this faint line of truth with what is essentially a lie. The video creates space that allows these two types of readers to understand one another as they engage with text and image, listen to sound, question truth in story, all while witnessing the unusual mold of two forms of embodiment (creative and academic).

The blog explains how the writer can combine two pieces, with the natural language and the imposed language. It breaks down how the seemingly unnatural combination for so many can become something natural. Expectations are being violated as the creative voice is intertwined with the analytical voice. The story is broken and becomes something academic and creative. The digital environment creates a place where the writer can write against the norm, making the two separate styles of text one form of embodiment. “Bodily normalcy” is similar to “linguistic standardization (in English)” as “we define mistakes in terms of difference and divergence that are at once about writing ‘wrong’ but also imply the nonnormalcy of the body of the writer” (qtd. in Arola & Wysocki 111). New media creates a new embodiment, and allows “messiness,” or “the desire to ignore the body, its attachments, enablements, and limitations” that we are so used to viewing in a book or on a page (qtd. in Arola & Wysocki 113). The blog is a place for the writer (myself) to break the boundaries with the use of language and design. The writer creates “multiliteracies” with a developed “metalanguage,” which is centered on design, and “the process of designing and the structure of what’s designed” (qtd. in Arola & Wysocki 147). A design will always be a redesign, or a response to a design already made—inspirations.

When blogging, the writer is “responding to different individuals in different environments” (qtd. in Arola & Wysocki 61). With these multidifferences, the writer can find a space where they can move from one form of language to another; or specifically, codeswitching from my creative nonfiction piece to my rhetorical analysis. Readers want to see the writer knows what they are talking about. Using a standardized form, or the academic writing style, will help direct attention to the construction of the story within the creative essay. However, the use of creativity with the writer’s natural voice will also add to the boring restraints that standardized language can hold. In this digital environment, the writer can create a more authoritative voice, linking and creating paths, or strings between texts.

The writer has the power to use their natural language in a way that webs with the academic writing style. I used the split screen in the blog to emphasize what the writer is able to do with language, while the video combines two different writing styles. I attempt to blend my natural language with my imposed language with text and image through redesign. I take on two forms of embodiment, my creative and critical analysis, and place them inside one context. A digital environment allows the readers to be more engaged with their senses, while the writer creates two narratives at once. Hopefully, creating an illusion of truth for two separate readers (the outside reader and the ghost-representational).

Of course…
you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet.