Creative Nonfiction

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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.

The genre of creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction) is broad enough to include travel writing, nature writing, science writing, sports writing, biography, autobiography, memoir, the interview, and both the familiar and personal essay.

See the examples and observations below.

Examples of Creative Nonfiction

Observations

  • "Creative nonfiction . . . is fact-based writing that remains compelling, undiminished by the passage of time, that has at heart an interest in enduring human values: foremost a fidelity to accuracy, to truthfulness."
    (Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, Introduction, Writing Creative Nonfiction. Story Press, 2001)
  • "What Is Creative About Nonfiction?"
    "It takes a whole semester to try to answer that, but here are a few points: The creativity lies in what you choose to write about, how you go about doing it, the arrangement through which you present things, the skill and the touch with which you describe people and succeed in developing them as characters, the rhythms of your prose, the integrity of the composition, the anatomy of the piece (does it get up and walk around on its own?), the extent to which you see and tell the story that exists in your material, and so forth. Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have."
    (John McPhee, "Omission." The New Yorker, September 14, 2015)
  • A Checklist for Writers of Creative Nonfiction
    "[There] is a significant way in which creative nonfiction differs from journalism. Subjectivity is not required in creative nonfiction, but specific, personal points of view, based on fact and conjecture, are definitely encouraged..."
    (Lee Gutkind, "The Creative Nonfiction Police?" In Fact. W.W. Norton & Company, 2005)
  • Common Elements of Creative Nonfiction
    "[Creative nonfiction] can be identified by these common elements: personal presence (the author's self as spectator or participant, whether on the page or behind the scenes), self-discovery and self-motivation, flexibility of form (the tendency for the form to arise from the content rather than the content to be contorted to fit an inverted pyramid or five-paragraph or similarly prescriptive model), veracity (to paraphrase Annie Dillard, rendering the real world coherent and meaningful either analytically or artistically), and literary approaches (drawing on narrative techniques also used in fiction or lyrical language also used in poetry or dramatic rendering of scenes or cinematic uses of pacing and focus)."
    (Robert L. Root, The Nonfictionist's Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008)
  • Walt Whitman on Writing About Real Things
    "Whatever may be the case in years gone by, the true use of the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science, and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only."
    (Walt Whitman, "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads," 1888)

    Also Known As

    literary nonfiction, literary journalism, literature of fact