Just when you thought you had heard of all genres of writing, and got your head around them, here comes another one. But in this case, the emerging genre of creative non-fiction is actually pretty easy to understand. And not all that new.
What is it?
Creative non-fiction uses literary styles and techniques to produce factually accurate accounts. In other words, it is any true story that is well told. That means any combination of stories that are compelling and genuine, but also vivid and dramatic.
While traditional nonfiction in academic research, technical writing, or journalism is factual, it is not necessarily designed to be entertaining, to impact readers so personally, or use a prose style. And while fiction or poetry are engaging and enjoyable, they might not contain true stories or facts. A combination of both has an incredible impact on readers.
So the take home points are that creative non-fiction is written with some attention to literary style and technique, incorporates techniques more often found in fiction writing, and is factual.
The end result is often an essay, journal article, research paper, memoir, autobiography, documentary drama, or tweet that sings off the page. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
How to write it?
To write compelling creative non-fiction, consider the following when you are writing:
Like a well-bodied wine that requires attention to detail, time, and processes followed, this genre is inherently creative, but not because any of the information it contains is invented. It is completely factual. This is an important distinction to make. And if that’s too hard, remember you can always switch to fiction. There is no room in creative non-fiction for fabrication.
Creative non-fiction is often effective because the author has tapped into their personal experiences or history to write. Or they have immersed themselves in an experience so they can recreate it on the page. In this way, writers have more freedom to write about themselves or others in ways that can impact and change people.
Read and research
Writers should be on a quest for information and discovery, which ultimately should lead them to reading and researching their topic at the library, online, through real world experiences, or by studying other writers in their field or genre, so they learn enough to ask intelligent questions, form new ideas or angles, and inform their reader of any findings through their writing. Ultimately, too, because of the factual elements in creative non-fiction writing, they rely on research, facts and credibility.
Use an emotional lens
Creative non-fiction writers approach their subject through a more emotional lens. While a journalist would, or should, avoid interjecting their own opinions into their pieces, here writers can allow personal experiences into their work with the caveat that they should be neither too personal or egocentric that the reader tunes out.
Incorporate literary techniques
One of the key elements that sets creative non-fiction apart from other non-fiction writing is the use of literary techniques more used in fiction writing. You could explore perspectives, experiment with genre, look at imagery and allegory, intimate and specific detail and different ways of explaining the narrative.
There is no one single structure or style to writing creative non-fiction. However, here are a few to consider.
Popular narrative structures used in creative non-fiction writing can include telling a story chronologically, thematically, by use of a collage, a frame, or even flashback.
Detail and description
Vivid descriptions and colourful details including sensory imagery and language outlining smell, taste, touch, sounds, and sights are all important in creative non-fiction writing.
Intimate and specific detail
As a follow-on from the detail and description above, intimate detail takes this process a step further by providing access to what people are hearing, seeing or saying is particularly effective. The more specific the better as it will become unforgettable to the reader.
Voice and style
Most writers develop their own voice and style, which includes word choice, sentence structure, metaphor use, and other elements. A good writer develops these traits to create their own unique style. The tone of the writing should be friendly and conversational.
Point of view
Stories are often told in the first-person in the creative non-fiction style, but a third person perspective can be considered.
Setting, character development, and the story arc are all important elements of good creative non-fiction writing.
There are many types of creative non-fiction. Common ones include the following:
These firsthand, personal accounts are perfect for creative non-fiction, as the writer can write about a particular experience or situation. While a memoir is not always a complete life story, or a diary, it does examine a person’s life or experiences. This gives free reign not only to the experience itself and the emotion of it, but also the creative expression in the narration be it in first or third person.
Autobiography / biography
Autobiographies are true stories about your own life, and biographies are about another person’s life. This narration of events, with colour, is often the perfect backdrop for creative non-fiction.
These essays are based on one’s experiences and opinions. Unlike scientific essays, these essays are colourful and vivid. They may recount a single event, or a series of true stories (often called braiding) and are often told using the first person.
Literary journalism essays
As opposed to personal essays, literary journalism essays are about an issue or topic. This style reports on real events using literary styles like expository techniques and extended metaphors. Magazines, newspapers, and literary journals all use these essays.
Most journals are considered non-fiction as they contain an account of events that have happened to a person. However, these may contain prose, poetry, songs, or other creative elements. Diaries, gratitude journals, and even career logs are all kinds of journals.
Articles or essays on topical elements like travel writing, self-development, food and cuisine, or even profiles are all common examples of creative non-fiction writing.