Who Reads Those Footnotes?

Last night in my Creative Non-fiction class at the University of Memphis, there was a big discussion about footnotes in CNF narratives. The piece we were reading was about a student’s conversation/interview with his grandfather. There were about 6 or 8 footnotes included, which mostly were the writer’s notes to clarify something in the narrative, something that his grandfather said or did. The instructor asked if the class members read footnotes when they were reading other works, whether CNF or whatever. Most students said they skipped over them; footnotes were annoying. When footnotes appear in anything they may be necessary, but they are not welcome.

As I re-read this writer’s footnotes about his grandfather’s life, I realized that that’s probably where the real story was – in those afterthoughts, in those minute explanations to make or clarify a certain event. Most suggested that the writer get rid of the footnotes and put them in the narrative flow, to include them as part of the building of the characters – both the writer and the grandfather.

What are your thoughts? Do footnotes interrupt the flow of the story? Should there be endnotes instead? Do you have creative methods to include research information within a narrative?

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One response to “Who Reads Those Footnotes?

  1. I usually appreciate the footnotes. I like the additional explanation, but on my own terms. Too much detailed explanation in the body is tedious.

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