Creative Writing at WVU: Wild, Wonderful Writing

Writing About Craft

On Crafting Nonfiction: Found Objects as Metaphor

By Kelly Sundberg

Creative Nonfiction can be many things: memoir, personal essay, literary journalism, gonzo journalism, travel essay, etc?. Still, ultimately, what all creative nonfiction should strive for is to illuminate truth—not truth in the “truthiness” sense—but universal truth. In other words, creative nonfiction sheds light on those shady corners of memory and experience that create meaning.

In her essay The Dark Art of Description, Patricia Hample writes “Perhaps from that first injunction of the oracle at Delphi—Know thyself—Western culture has been devoted to the exploration of individual consciousness and the unspooling of individual life.”

You don’t need to have an interesting story to write creative nonfiction. We can’t all be Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love who travelled to Europe, India, and Bali and found herself along the way.

So, how do those of us with “everyday stories” find something meaningful to write about? One way is to use found objects as inspiration and metaphor.

I’m using the term “found objects” liberally here. By found objects, I mean artifacts from our everyday lives, but I’m also including songs, poems, and other sorts of written artifacts that could be performed orally.

Found objects have multiple functions in creative nonfiction. Among other things, found objects can: 1. Inspire Memories. 2. Function as Metaphor. 3. Get you out of your comfort zone. 4. Capture an emotion or state of mind. 5. Capture a time period

Finally, you’ve probably all heard the term Zeitgeist. Translated from the German, zeitgeist loosely means “spirit of the time.” Zeitgeist is also often used to describe fashion or trends that evolve. Because of this, describing a found object can be a great way to capture a zeitgeist through description.