The art of Creative Nonfiction

What is creative nonfiction? 

Creative nonfiction is journalism or other nonfiction writing which pays particular attention to creative literary techniques. Creative Nonfiction magazine defines it simply as, “true stories well told”. As such, a requirement of creative nonfiction is that it is factually accurate. 

This means that a creative nonfiction piece is about true events, but it reads like a compelling story, to the point that it reads almost like fiction. 

Another requirement of the genre is ‘reflection’ – a creative nonfiction piece must offer an insight into the writer’s thoughts and feelings about the subject. 

What are examples of creative nonfiction?

A trailblazer of the genre is Joan Didion. Perhaps her most well-known work is Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of magazine articles about the Californian hippie counterculture of the 1960s. This helped to shape journalism’s future and is referred to as an example of New Journalism. Her work reads like a novel and set a new standard for how articles are written. 

A more recent example of creative nonfiction is an article in The Cut about the New York grifter Anna Delvey. The writer, Jessica Pressler, writes a narrative with her interviewee (Neff) as the protagonist, rather than writing it as a traditional interview structure. The article went viral for its eloquence and wit – the perfect way to present the bizarre true story. The truth is after all stranger than fiction, so why not narrate it with the same literary flourish? 

How do I write creative nonfiction? 

To write literary nonfiction, you must first focus on the literary, which is what separates it from a more traditionally journalistic recounting of facts. 

Literary elements

  • Storytelling/narration. Is your narrator a part of the story or outside of it?
  • Character. How do you want to portray the main players in your piece?
  • Setting and scene. How do you want to create an atmosphere for your reader? Does your piece have a strong sense of place? 
  • Plot and plot structure. It may help you to outline the main events of your story on a timeline before you begin. Then, you can make structural decisions. Do you necessarily want to begin at the beginning?
  • Figurative language. This is what sets a creative story apart from a merely descriptive one. How can you convey ideas and feelings creatively? 
  • Imagery. What are the descriptions you want to stay in your reader’s mind long after reading?
  • Point of view. It’s important to consider the perspective of your story. Try doing experiments where you tell the story from different points of view. Which is the most interesting? 
  • Dialogue. This is where your interview skills come into play. Notice not just what people say, but how they say it. 

What can we learn from creative nonfiction? 

Even if you don’t want to write in this form, creative nonfiction can make us better writers. This is because it encourages different ways of looking at real life. Even if you’re a high fantasy writer, you can still draw inspiration from real life. By thinking creatively about the world around us, we can generate inspiration.