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What Is Creative Non-Fiction, and How Can You Begin Exploring It?

Novels, short stories, plays, songs, and poems might be what immediately comes to mind when you imagine creative writing, but your text doesn’t have to fall under the umbrella of fiction to be passionate, imaginative, colorful, and vivid. Have you recently decided to get (back into) creative writing? Unless you also explore creative non-fiction, you could needlessly be limiting yourself. This look at the types of creative non-fiction you could dive into should loosen your creative impulses and offer you much-needed inspiration if you’re a little bit lost. 

What is creative non-fiction?

Creative non-fiction differs from creative fiction in one crucial way — while fiction, though often inspired by real-life events and experiences, offers the writer complete creative freedom, creative nonfiction is instead founded on facts. That means that you can’t conjure any element of the text itself from the depths of your imaginative mind, and you’ll have to do your research to ensure any claims you make are factually accurate. 

Writing creative non-fiction does not, on the other hand, mean that your text has to read like an instruction manual or an encyclopedia entry. The “creative” part means you are free to experiment with the words, sentences, and structure of your writing as much as you like. If you are writing creative non-fiction from your own perspective, you also get to infuse your work with personal opinions and experiences.

Among the more common types of creative non-fiction are:

  • Memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies. 
  • Travel writing. 
  • Book, film, and product reviews. 
  • Personal essays. 
  • Marketing copy.
  • Interviews.
  • Speeches. 
  • Op-eds and thinkpieces. 

The primary difference between writing that falls into the category of creative non-fiction and plain old non-fiction is that creative non-fiction gives writers more of a chance to build their worlds and their words. Rather than getting only the cold, hard, facts, readers also gain something else as they dive into creative non-fiction — they may be entertained, inspired, angered, called to action, or feel so immersed in your text they can truly relate. To achieve that effect, creative non-fiction writers use many of the same literary techniques more commonly confined to fiction. 

How to start improving your creative non-fiction

Whether you’re writing a school or college essay, interviewing your uncle about his childhood, or giving a speech to raise funds for a local animal shelter, you can take your creative non-fiction writing skills to the next level by borrowing some of the elements you’ll find in any good work of fiction:

  • Character development. To make your readers, or your audience, care about the people you’re talking about, they’ll need to understand their backstory and the hardships that shaped their lives. 
  • Plot. True, you can’t alter the facts when you’re writing creative non-fiction, but you can change how you tell a story. How can you make your writing more engaging? Fiction often begins by setting the stage, and then excites readers with suspenseful rising action before the story reaches a climax. At the end, all the loose ends are tied up. Creative non-fiction writers can make effective use of this same structure, and if they keep that in mind from the start, it will help them in their research.
  • The setting. You can truly draw your audience in by vividly describing the physical surroundings, the cultural background of the people in your writing, and highlighting small details that could easily be missed, whether you’re interviewing someone or explaining why you should be the next class president. 
  • Your theme. What lies at the heart of your writing? What’s the point? When you have a clear theme in mind throughout, you can not just constantly steer your readers back to it, but also sneak in subtle word choices that reinforce your theme throughout.

The final element is one that’s sorely lacking in non-creative non-fiction — and the reason why that type of text is frequent so very boring to wade through. It’s your personal voice, the big and small ways in which you, as a creative writer, make your own unique mark on your text. Your voice may be the first thing you take out when you’re trying to craft a mechanical work of non-fiction, but as you explore the art of writing creative non-fiction, that voice can shine.