Creative nonfiction

From autobiography, memoir, personal essays, family history and local history to travel writing, business writing, self-help, food writing, health and fitness, these all come under the heading of nonfiction. And, because of their diversity, they are the widest category in literature – a visit to any book shop or an online search will demonstrate this. But what is creative nonfiction and would it be appropriate for the stories you have to tell?

What is creative nonfiction?

Lee Gutkind (founder and editor of the Creative Nonfiction website and magazine) defines the genre of creative nonfiction as “true stories well told” and so this is particularly relevant for memoirs, personal essays, autobiographies, travel stories, foodoirs etc. where the focus is on personal experiences and real people and events.

What are the basic elements creative nonfiction?

As a writer of creative nonfiction you cannot invent facts and imagine events and people that do not exist but you can use the dramatic and story-telling techniques of fiction writers to make your true stories read like fiction but without compromising or misrepresenting the truth. For example:

  • setting (where and when the story takes place)
  • character (the people who inhabit the story.)
  • plot (the events that make up the story)
  • theme (the central idea or theme such as love, friendship, betrayal, family, overcoming hardship, etc.)
  • dialogue (comments or conversations which have been recorded (if you can’t recall them word for word you can recreate them but you should not make anything up)
  • point of view (the person who is telling the story)
  • literary devices (for example, humour, simile, metaphor, figurative language, symbolism, alliteration, imagery, hyperbole, irony)

Do the research

Creative nonfiction is based on real people and events and so just like nonfiction you will need to research your topic/subject. This can be through primary research (interviews, reference to original documents, personal experience etc.) and secondary research (from books, the internet, newspapers, magazines etc.).

Even though creative nonfiction should only include information that is well researched and accurate, by adopting and embracing the literary devices used in fiction you will not only inform your readers but you will also have the opportunity to entertain, amuse and/or inspire them.

Can creative nonfiction reach a wider audience?

Typically nonfiction books are aimed at a niche audience but by adding a creative element where the subject matter is secondary and the story you build around it helps to engage the reader, you do have the potential to reach a wider audience.

Creative nonfiction – a brief introduction

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