Putting the Creative in a Creative Nonfiction Memoir with Patrick O'Neil

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Creative nonfiction merges literary fiction (and possibly poetry), research nonfiction, and journalism. It employs the same literary devices as fiction, such as setting, voice, and character development. This is what makes it different from standard nonfiction writing, and that difference is what this course is about. We will explore the use of scenes, dialogue, character arcs, and timelines; as well as discuss the difference between actual memories, and memories clouded by fear, resentments, and the passing of time.

July 25 - August 22, 2016

4-Week Online Writing Course

This course will focus on the use of literary devices in nonfiction. There will be four lectures to read, and we will discuss one topic each week. Students will submit a short work of nonfiction/memoir at the beginning of the course. Then over the next four weeks they will revisit their original submissions and revise them using instructor notes and the ideas and materials that have been presented and discussed each week. On the final week they will submit their revised manuscript.


Students will be encouraged to develop their own writing within the context of Creative Nonfiction Memoir. We will analyze various elements traditionally considered as craft utilized by writers of fiction. Our focus will be to learn how to incorporate those elements into our writing. The course will invite students to consider the issues raised in the process of writing memoir, aiming to uncover various methods of confronting potential problems. Through lectures and group discussions students will be provided information that they can use to analysis and revise their own writing.

Recommended Texts:

While not required reading, these memoirs successfully utilize the literary devices we will be discussing.
Liars’ Club, Mary Karr
Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Wells
The Los Angeles Diaries, James Brown
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
Let’s Not Go To The Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller
Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, Nick Flynn
The Bill From My Father, Bernard Cooper

Class Schedule:


Lecture: Scene/Setting: descriptive scenery and the responsibility of each scene as it pertains to the basic idea of your writing.

* Student introductory discussion, and discussion on topic of lecture.

* Students submit short work of nonfiction/memoir (no more than 5-7 pages)


Lecture: Dialogue: develop an ear for actual dialogue. Minimizing “wordiness” to better express emotion. Recreating dialogue from past events, and utilizing dialect, the pro’s and con’s of grammatical gymnastics.

* Student discussion on lecture topic

* Students work on writing exercise and revising their original submission.


Lecture: Character Development: through the use of description, dialogue, actions, and non-actions. How to make your characters come alive by showing, not telling. And the narrator as a character

* Student discussion on lecture topic

* Students work on writing exercise and revising their original submission.


Lecture: Memory/Timeline/Structure – what to use, and what not to use, creative editing of reality, and the reliability of memory.

* Students discussion on lecture topic, and the revision process

* Students submit revised original submission of nonfiction/memoir (no page limit)


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Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books), and the excerpted in part French translation, Hold-Up (13e Note Editions). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including: Juxtapoz, Salon.com, The Weeklings, Razorcake, Sensitive Skin, Fourteen Hills, and Word Riot.

Patrick is an editor for the NYC-to-California-transplant-post-beat-pre-apocalyptic art, writing, and music anthology Sensitive Skin Magazine. And a two time nominee for Best Of The Net. He is a regular contributor to the recovery website AfterPartyMagazine, and has been blogging at Full Blue Moon Dementia for over ten years. Patrick holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, lives in Hollywood, California, and teaches at a local community college. Check out Patrick's web-site for more information www.patrick-oneil.com and his blog Full Blue Moon Dementia http://patrick-oneil.com/blog/