Associative Movement, rather than relying on chronology as the best way to structure creative nonfiction, is when a writer ties the central question together not by chronology but by association. Associative movement generates energy not by “what will happen next,” but the deeper suspense of “what it all means,” as the narrator considers the central question within the situation, or as the narrator links together ideas not based on time but on how they relate to each other thematically.
Leaps help writers break from standard chronological movement by moving a narrative across time and space to focus on the most significant moments.
Toothbrush Syndrome, the, is when writers stick too doggedly to the timeline, and insist on holding the reader’s hand through time, which often leads to a series of plodding plot points.
Juxtaposition is when a writer uses associative leaps. The writer places two “things,” often unrelated, side by side to see what is created or revealed. How we put things together in creative nonfiction is as crucial as what we put together. Juxtaposition is placing unlike things beside each other.
Dramatic Design includes all of the ways writers intentionally organize and shape creative nonfiction—either through chronological movement or associative movement—to reinforce and contribute to the central question and knot of meaning. Dramatic design organizes our creative nonfiction in ways that allows our readers to see meaning in our shifts in focus, content, or ideas; leap forward or back in time; and where and how we create juxtapositions.
Flashbacks and Flash Forwards are when a character or narrator re-experiences a previous or future event. Flashbacks and flash forwards are different from reflection in that reflection is thinking about a past action while flashbacks are remembering the actions themselves as scene on the page, while flash forwards are remembering an event that will occur at some future moment.
Prolonged Flashbacks and Forwards are fully fleshed-out scenes that slow the chronological movement of our creative nonfiction to a halt as the narrator either relives a past scene or imagines a future scene.
Anecdotal Flashbacks and Flash Forwards are quick in nature. They may be no longer than a few words or a quick summary of a scene. Anecdotal flashes can blend more seamlessly and provide opportunities to quickly establish metaphors and resonances, anda satisfying sense of pattern across time.
Narratives are often thought to be stories with beginnings, middles, and ends and are organized by time, rather than space. That said, many narratives utilize other forms.
Chronology Narratives are narratives with a temporal frame—some movement through time, which helps highlight two different versions of the writer. First, we see the writer as a character in the actions of our creative nonfiction. Next, we see the writer as someone reflecting on those actions; this is our narrator.
Achronological Narratives break with chronological organization. These are often considered "experimental," outside of the boundaries of traditional meaning-making, and we borrow terms from other art forms (visual art, music, etc.) to describe these achronological narratives. These forms include the lyric, collage, braided, and so on.