What Is Creative Nonfiction?

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  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Creative nonfiction is a type of fact-based writing that uses both fiction and nonfiction techniques in its presentation of factual information. Sometimes referred to as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction often reads like a story, but the events are true. Combining real-world facts with literary elements can be tricky for some writers, who must be cautious about inventing or inflating the events. Creative fiction as a recognized genre of writing is a fairly new concept. Still, the market for this kind of writing is wide-ranging and a writer of narrative nonfiction can become published in much the same way as any other author.

Both nonfiction and literary elements are present in creative nonfiction. Examples of nonfiction elements can include the format, the presence of research, and a focus on facts and ideas rather than the language used. At the same time, examples of literary elements that can be present include an actual story featuring narration, a plot, and a setting. Typically, creative nonfiction conveys the presence of a literary or author voice that is personally involved in the story. Readers usually have no problem detecting the author’s presence.


Some examples of creative nonfiction include essays, personal essays, or memoirs. Since these nonfiction pieces allow for creative literary elements, writers must be careful to avoid exaggerating or embellishing the facts, as well as fabricating events that did not occur. Despite being relatively new, the genre of creative nonfiction is gaining recognition as work worthy of the same kind of literary criticism fiction and poetry receives. As such, it is susceptible to scrutiny as well as ethical criticism. Writers who fail to present the truth, or who knowingly write about experiences that did not happen, can jeopardize their reputations and careers as authors.

Authors who are interested in publishing their creative nonfiction can look to a variety of markets. Certain kinds of magazines, such as literary magazines, and anthologies that combine a number of personal essays and true to life stories accept queries for and submissions of narrative nonfiction. Of course, writers of memoirs and autobiographies can turn to literary publishers who concentrate on such larger-scale pieces. Getting creative, fact-based writing published is similar to getting any other kind of writing published. Authors must search the market for publishers that accept the exact kind of writing they want to submit, as well as carefully read and follow query and submission guidelines.


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Post 3

@Fa5t3r - A lot of creative non-fiction is basically just a narrative overlaid on a chunk of the author's own life, so that is generally pretty safe.

I actually think the main problem most of them face isn't being sued, per sec, but that they may have to write things that people don't like about people they know.

I took a creative nonfiction writing class a few years ago and that seemed to be the biggest hurdle for a lot of the students. They were worried if they wrote an essay about their parents or their childhood they would alienate their family without meaning to.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - That goes double for any writers who are planning to self-publish their creative nonfiction. I think it's actually a big danger for a certain kind of person, because they may have the "inside scoop" on some situation that will get them a lot of readers, but decide not to elicit the support of a publisher with a legal team that will help them navigate the potential legal problems.

Post 1

Creative non-fiction is becoming a more lucrative market, but it does have some different pitfalls from fiction that authors need to be aware of. For example, you have to have permission to print anything that isn't in public domain and doesn't fall under fair-use guidelines. I was told a story by my writing tutor a few years ago about an author who managed to get hold of some letters between a famous person and their lover and had incorporated them into a book of creative non-fiction. She had told the publisher that she had permission to print the letters, but it turned out she didn't and she ended up having to pay for the publisher to destroy

the existing copies of the book when the truth came out.

Now, partly that was the fault of the publisher, as they really ought to make absolutely sure that they have permissions to print things. But ultimately, it was the author who paid for it.

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