A Comprehensive Explanation of Creative Nonfiction


Creative nonfiction is a blending of two previously separate literary worlds—and the results can be breathtaking. The genre—including narrative nonfiction and memoir—has become extremely popular, often dominating the best-seller lists.


The word ‘fiction’ comes from the Latin fictio, the act of fashioning. Merriam-Webster defines fiction as “something invented by the imagination or feigned specifically an invented story.” Fiction is created by the imagination of the writer. It is not factual, though it is most often based on the real world and refers to it.


A Definition

Nonfiction is defined by Merriam-Webster as writing or cinema that is about facts and real events. This is a straight forward description that seems rather uncomplicated. The nonfiction writer draws from real life without making anything up, or worse, lying.


“I don’t know actually coined the term ‘creative nonfiction,’” writes Lee Gutkind. “I have been using it since the 1970s, although if we were to pinpoint a time when the term became ‘official,’ it would be 1983, at a meeting convened by the National Endowment for the Arts to deal with the question of what to call the genre as a category for the NEA’s creative writing fellowships. …the NEA had long recognized the ‘art’ of nonfiction and [had] been trying to describe the category so writers would understand what kind of work to submit for consideration.”


“‘Essay’ is the term used to describe this ‘artful’ nonfiction,” Gutkind recalls, “but it didn’t really capture the essence of the genre for the NEA or lots of other folks experimenting in the field. … ‘creative nonfiction’ precisely describes what the form is all about. The word ‘creative’ refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner. …creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and often more accessible.”

“The word ‘creative’ refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques of fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy. But the stories are true.”

“The word ‘creative,’” writes Gutkind, “has to do with how the writer conceives ideas, summarizes situations, defines personalities, describes places—and shapes and presents information. ‘Creative’ doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The word ‘nonfiction’ means the material is true.”


Gutkind emphasizes that in creative nonfiction, “you can’t make this stuff up!”


Read the full article at The Write Conversation Blog


*Adapted from Craig’s new book, Telling the Truth: How to Write Narrative Nonfiction and Memoir—coming later this year from Bold Vision Books.


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