Prose other than fiction
Very few schools use prose other than fiction for Part 3: the 2015's Examiner report stated that they "did not see enough responses to make a general comment" on the questions for prose other than fiction at Higher Level; while at Standard Level they wrote that it "would appear that no-one had studied Prose other than fiction." This is probably unsurprising given that most Literature teachers have a background that is mainly focused on the other three available genres and for many of us there would seem to be a wider and richer range of choices available for the study of fictional prose, drama and poetry. Furthermore, students who choose the Literature over Language and Literature course often do so because they have a preference for fictional texts.
However, some teachers do like to choose this option and argue for its rewards and benefits. For a start, if the rest of the course has been intensely focused on fictional prose, drama and poetry there is a freshness to encountering a new genre for the last part of the course; in addition, there is a pleasing potential course structure to be developed around building to a final unit where you look at what happens when elements of fictional writing are used to respond to and convey experiences in the real world and in real life. Furthermore, choosing this genre guarantees your students will stand out from the crowd in at least one respect, as it is clear that examiners encounter very few responses to the questions on prose other than fiction.
The texts studied for Prose other than fiction might include autobiography, biography, travel writing, letters, memoirs and essays, although the detailed study of this genre will take you deeper into some of the problems of clearly defining this (or any) genre, as well as some of its sub-genres, such as new journalism. A good place to start your study is with a discussion around a term that may appear to be an oxymoron when first given to students - creative nonfiction:
All of the authors on the PLA for prose other than fiction could be described as writing creative non-fiction, using many of the same literary features as writers of short stories and novels. As a starting point, give students the following quotation from Lee Gutkind and use the questions that follow as prompts for discussion:
“[The term creative non-fiction] precisely describes what the form is all about. The word ‘creative’ refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting non-fiction – that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events – in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative non-fiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible. It is important to remember that there are lines – real demarcation points between fiction, which is or can be mostly imagination; traditional nonfiction (journalism and scholarship), which is mostly information; and creative non-fiction, which presents or treats information using the tools of the fiction writer while maintaining allegiance to fact. Creative non-fiction offers flexibility and freedom while adhering to the basic tenets of reportage. It is a genre in which writers can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously.”
Questions for discussion:
- What seem to be the benefits and attractions of this genre (for writers and readers)?
- Are there any potential problems/issues with this genre and its definition?
These questions should generate an interesting initial discussion and hopefully students have read some examples of creative non-fiction to draw upon for specific examples. If you have a classroom library - and all Literature classrooms should have one - make sure it includes some non-fiction texts so that students have access to good examples of this genre.
Following this initial discussion, use the extracts below to take students' thinking further in terms of how writers use "literary craft in presenting non-fiction" and how they use creativity to engage with people, places and events in the real world.