What Is Creative Nonfiction?
Creative nonfiction differs from other nonfiction because a certain amount of creativity is needed to write in it. Creative nonfiction focuses on telling the “truth” while using many techniques associated with fiction, more specifically, scene, plot, narrative, setting, character, theme, dialogue, and even symbol, among others.
Creative nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.There are many ways to define the literary genre we call Creative Nonfiction. It is a genre that answers to many different names, depending on how it is packaged and who is doing the defining. Some of these names are: Literary Nonfiction; Narrative Nonfiction; Literary Journalism; Imaginative Nonfiction; Lyric Essay; Personal Essay; Personal Narrative; and Literary Memoir.
Creative nonfiction is a branch of writing that employs the literary techniques usually associated with fiction or poetry to report on actual persons, places, or events. This genre has faced its share of criticisms. Some argue that creativity requires an embellishment or skewing of the facts—making the idea of creative nonfiction an oxymoron. Others maintain that “It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.” A common description of creative nonfiction is true stories, well told. Transforming real events and people into a narrative is a delicate balancing act.
Creative non-fiction takes the techniques and elements of fiction and poetry and applies them to a non-fiction story. It is, as the name suggests, a true story told using creative devices. When done well, it is the perfect blend of the factual and the personal.Taken at its broadest definition, this genre has many names, such as literary non-fiction, narrative non-fiction and literary journalism, and takes many forms – travel writing, personal essays, feature stories, memoirs, journals and letters, to name a few.
Sometimes the facts get in the way of telling a good story and sometimes the story misrepresents the facts. Working with the restriction of reality can be a writer’s biggest challenge and greatest weapon. You can’t change the facts to make it easier to write the story, but you also have the framework of reality to guide your writing. Taking the grit of everyday life and making it into something beautiful on the page is an amazing art; faithfully representing the truth behind the facts is a great responsibility.
Let’s suppose you’ve got knowledge on a famous personality (it needn’t necessarily be famous, just for saying). But to cover a whole life in a single book is a pretty hard task. The purpose isn’t just to give information. It’s to show things, it’s to entertain and intrigue the reader, or show them accounts of the subject in a compelling and creative manner. That, in a nutshell, is the meaning of creative nonfiction.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow when writing creative nonfiction:
Get your facts straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your own story or someone else’s. If readers, publishers, and the media find out you’ve taken liberties with the truth of what happened, you and your work will be ridiculed and scrutinized. You’ll lose credibility. If you can’t help yourself from lying, then think about writing fiction instead.
Issue a disclaimer. Most nonfiction is written from memory, and we all know that human memory is deeply flawed. It’s almost impossible to recall a conversation word for word. You might forget minor details, like the color of a dress or the make and model of a car. If you aren’t sure about the details but are determined to include them, be upfront and plan on issuing a disclaimer that clarifies the creative liberties you’ve taken.
Consider the repercussions. If you’re writing about other people (even if they are secondary figures), you might want to check with them before you publish your nonfiction. Some people are extremely private and don’t want any details of their lives published. Others might request that you leave certain things out, which they feel are personal. Otherwise, make sure you’ve weighed the repercussions of revealing other people’s lives to the world. Relationships have been both strengthened and destroyed as a result of authors publishing the details of other people’s lives.
Be objective. You don’t need to be overly objective if you’re telling your own, personal story. However, nobody wants to read a highly biased biography. Book reviews for biographies are packed with harsh criticism for authors who didn’t fact-check or provide references and for those who leave out important information or pick and choose which details to include to make the subject look good or bad.
Pay attention to language. You’re not writing a textbook, so make full use of language, literary devices, and storytelling techniques.
Know your audience. Creative nonfiction sells, but you must have an interested audience. A memoir about an ordinary person’s first year of college isn’t especially interesting. Who’s going to read it? However, a memoir about someone with a learning disability navigating the first year of college is quite compelling, and there’s an identifiable audience for it. When writing creative nonfiction, a clearly defined audience is essential.
The Creative Nonfiction genre can be rather elusive. It is focused on story, meaning it has a narrative plot with an inciting moment, rising action, climax and denouement, just like fiction. However, nonfiction only works if the story is based in truth, an accurate retelling of the author’s life experiences. The pieces can vary greatly in length, just as fiction can; anything from a book-length autobiography to a 500-word food blog post can fall within the genre. Additionally, the genre borrows some aspects, in terms of voice, from poetry; poets generally look for truth and write about the realities they see.