Oral History as A Narrative Form

Interview with Chuck Palahniuk, whose new book, Rant, is a story that uses oral history as a narrative device. I’m glad that this interview expounds on oral history and documentary as a narrative device. This was what I most wanted to know from a local appearance of Palahniuk that I nearly made it to. Happy to see it in print here.

DF: Can you tell me why your newest book, Rant, is written in an oral history format?

CP: Pretty much all of my books find some non-fiction form and use that to tell some over the top incredible story.  [Movies such as] Citizen Kane, Fargo, and The Blair Witch Project tell really over the top elaborate stories but are being made believable by using non-fiction forms and Rant is basically using a nonfiction form; which is the oral biography.  I’ve been in love with this form [of storytelling] and I love these kind of books such as Edie [by Jean Stein] about Edie Sedgwick. It just occurred to me this would make a great form for a novel. If you don’t have to allow transition, you can just cut directly from one story to another and just cut all the narratives very much like a film does.

DF: Did cinema or documentaries have a direct influence on this novel’s peculiar format?

CP: Yes, very much.  I’ve been watching pretty much nothing but documentaries to see how editors cut together different bits of a spoken story and then using those different forms to tell an ongoing story.

Sidenote: I participate in a non-profit organization called WriteGirl, which pairs women writers with teenage girls to help them develop skills in writing and self-expression. I was talking with my mentee about using one genre to tell the story of another genre, using Chuck Palahniuk as an example of how my area of interest, oral history, is used to help tell a fictional story. Sweet that Palahniuk elaborates on the theme.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 09, 2007 in • Books
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