Write an essay of your personal experience about how the pandemic changed your life and the people around you? In writing your piece, remember to apply the multiple elements found in creative nonfiction. In formulating your thesis statement, organize and develop the ideas in detail and use any literary conventions of a creative nonfiction genre​​

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New questions in English

What Is Creative Nonfiction?

By Lee Gutkind

I am often asked: “What is creative nonfiction?” Or, in some cases, “what the hell is creative nonfiction?”  The answer—or answers—can be complicated because creative nonfiction may mean different things to different people, a characteristic that makes this form so elusive and alluring.

On its very baseline creative nonfiction is a literary genre. Some people call it the fourth genre, along with poetry, fiction and drama. And it’s an umbrella term for the many different ways one can write what is called creative nonfiction. Memoir, for example, personal essay, biography, narrative history and long form narrative reportage may all fit under the creative nonfiction umbrella. Recently, as the genre has evolved, there have been offshoots to the genre like speculative nonfiction, auto(biographical) fiction, lyric essay, and the visual essay, to name only a few.

Writers who write creative nonfiction are very different in voice, orientation and purpose. But what they have in common is that they are, in one way or the other, writing true stories that provide information about a variety of subjects, enriched by relevant thoughtful ideas, personal insight, and intimacies about life and the world we live in.  And this scope and variety is exactly what makes creative nonfiction significant and, these days, so incredibly popular.

“Freedom” and “flexibility” are words I like to use when defining creative nonfiction, for the genre invites writers to push boundaries and open doors, offering them the opportunity to use all of the techniques of the fiction writer (or the poet)—dialogue, setting, description, inner point of view (seeing the world through the eyes of the person about whom they are writing)—in order to capture a reader’s attention and enlighten and intrigue them through nonfiction.

There are very few rules for writers of creative nonfiction. You can predict the future, speculate about the past, or imagine what could have happened or what someone might have been thinking, as long as you don’t violate the reader’s trust, and in the process your own credibility. There are, however, limits to the freedom and flexibility that make creative nonfiction so attractive and compelling—legal, ethical and moral issues that are challenging and, in many ways, impossible to clearly define. Freedom and flexibility—and daring—are governed by responsibility, not just to the people about whom we write, but to those who read and publish our work.

Nonfiction itself has had a bad rap in the literary world. For a long time, it was commonly believed that writing nonfiction was generally inferior to the writing of poetry and fiction. “Nonfiction is a pleasant way to walk,” Larry McMurtry once wrote, “but the novel puts one on horseback, and what cowboy, symbolic or real, would walk when he could ride?”

I remember reading this from McMurtry, who had written a great deal of nonfiction, in addition to his many novels and stories, and feeling more than a little annoyed and, at the same time, amused. He had to be joking, I thought. Or maybe he had just fallen off his horse. I pictured the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who became rich and famous for the line “I get no respect,” which in many ways has been the story of creative nonfiction in a nutshell-up until present day.

The addition of the word “creative” to nonfiction was at first controversial, but it gradually reversed the belief that nonfiction was somehow second class, a cut below poetry and fiction. It liberated all writers, journalists especially, releasing them from longstanding rules and boundaries that had been so restrictive and inhibiting.  For novelists, poets and essayists, “creative” encouraged experimentation and offered new avenues of expression. Scientists, physicians, engineers (Atul Gawande, Hope Jahren, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Henry Petroski, to name just a very few) were intrigued by the notion of being creative and began to write true stories that humanized and revealed the behind-the-scenes intimacies of their professions.  

The interest in true stories motivated and opened doors for others who were not writers by trade to share their life experiences, finding meaning in the process and fulfillment in the connections they forged with readers.

This transition—an awakening to the potential and power of nonfiction that allowed and encouraged creativity—did not happen overnight and was not without resistance and often bitter infighting. Change was difficult for the literary, journalistic and academic communities, steeped in tradition and long resistant to new ideas, to accommodate. Indeed, the resistance in some corners far exceeded the scale of the change itself.  The change was hardly drastic and was not really, when one looks back over the history of nonfiction, much of a change at all. Writers had been writing nonfiction that was creative and imaginative for centuries, familiar and famous names you will recognize–Daniel Defoe, George Orwell, Charles Dickens and many others—for centuries. The change, the adjustment that it precipitated, had much more to do with the approach or attitude toward nonfiction rather than its content and, of course, the idea that creative and nonfiction were not mutually exclusive. That change in approach and attitude is ongoing. The scope of nonfiction today, most especially what we call creative nonfiction, continues to evolve, informing and inspiring readers with stories that are true, compelling, revealing and always surprising.

“What is Creative Nonfiction” has been adapted from Lee Gutkind’s new book, The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble-Rousers, Outsiders and Ne’er-do-wells Created Creative Nonfiction,  to be published later this year by Yale University Press.

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About Lee Gutkind

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Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including  You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between ,  Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather,  and the award-winning , Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.


Lee's Latest Book

My Last Eight Thousand Days

This revealing, candid, and vivid portrait of one man’s view of aging written by the man who played a crucial role in establishing literary, narrative nonfiction in the marketplace and in the academy, examines male aging in a way we’ve not seen before.


The Art of Storytelling

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March 1st, 2023

It’s an age-old art form—storytelling—and you can learn the craft.

example of personal essay in creative nonfiction brainly

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Explore non-traditional and imaginative ways to tell your stories with this ten-week writing course online. Creative nonfiction teacher Gretchen Clark provides detailed feedback on weekly writing assignments that emphasize creative freedom.

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March 15th, 2023

Fiction or nonfiction? Article, short story, or how-to book? Do you want to write for children, teens, adults? There is a type of writing that is best suited for you, and the discovery process can be an adventure.

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with Margo Steines

Weaving your story with facts and research can help you craft a stronger essay. Tell your story with confidence in this empowering essay writing course.

example of personal essay in creative nonfiction brainly

Let It Rip: The Art of Writing Fiery Prose

with Giulietta Nardone

March 22nd, 2023

You'll write prose that gets folks so hot and bothered they won't be able to put it down, even if it isn't about sex.

Different Forms of Creative Nonfiction

From the autobiographies of Mark Twain and Benvenuto Cellini, to the more experimental styles of modern writers like Karl Ove Knausgård, creative nonfiction has a long history and takes a wide variety of forms. Common iterations of the creative nonfiction genre include the following:

Also known as biography or autobiography, the memoir form is probably the most recognizable form of creative nonfiction. Memoirs are collections of memories, either surrounding a single narrative thread or multiple interrelated ideas. The memoir is usually published as a book or extended piece of fiction, and many memoirs take years to write and perfect. Memoirs often take on a similar writing style as the personal essay does, though it must be personable and interesting enough to encourage the reader through the entire book.

Personal essays are stories about personal experiences told using literary techniques.

When someone hears the word “essay,” they instinctively think about those five paragraph book essays everyone wrote in high school. In creative nonfiction, the personal essay is much more vibrant and dynamic. Personal essays are stories about personal experiences, and while some personal essays can be standalone stories about a single event, many essays braid true stories with extended metaphors and other narratives.

Personal essays are often intimate, emotionally charged spaces. Consider the opening two paragraphs from Beth Ann Fennelly’s personal essay “ I Survived the Blizzard of ’79. ”

We didn’t question. Or complain. It wouldn’t have occurred to us, and it wouldn’t have helped. I was eight. Julie was ten.

We didn’t know yet that this blizzard would earn itself a moniker that would be silk-screened on T-shirts. We would own such a shirt, which extended its tenure in our house as a rag for polishing silver.

The word “essay” comes from the French “essayer,” which means “to try” or “attempt.” The personal essay is more than just an autobiographical narrative—it’s an attempt to tell your own history with literary techniques.

Lyric Essay

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, but is much more experimental in form.

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, with one key distinction: lyric essays are much more experimental in form. Poetry and creative nonfiction merge in the lyric essay, challenging the conventional prose format of paragraphs and linear sentences.

The lyric essay stands out for its unique writing style and sentence structure. Consider these lines from “ Life Code ” by J. A. Knight:

The dream goes like this: blue room of water. God light from above. Child’s fist, foot, curve, face, the arc of an eye, the symmetry of circles… and then an opening of this body—which surprised her—a movement so clean and assured and then the push towards the light like a frog or a fish.

What we get is language driven by emotion, choosing an internal logic rather than a universally accepted one.

Lyric essays are amazing spaces to break barriers in language. For example, the lyricist might write a few paragraphs about their story, then examine a key emotion in the form of a villanelle or a ghazal. They might decide to write their entire essay in a string of couplets or a series of sonnets, then interrupt those stanzas with moments of insight or analysis. In the lyric essay, language dictates form. The successful lyricist lets the words arrange themselves in whatever format best tells the story, allowing for experimental new forms of storytelling.

Literary Journalism

Much more ambiguously defined is the idea of literary journalism. The idea is simple: report on real life events using literary conventions and styles. But how do you do this effectively, in a way that the audience pays attention and takes the story seriously?

You can best find examples of literary journalism in more “prestigious” news journals, such as The New Yorker , The Atlantic , Salon , and occasionally The New York Times . Think pieces about real world events, as well as expository journalism, might use braiding and extended metaphors to make readers feel more connected to the story. Other forms of nonfiction, such as the academic essay or more technical writing, might also fall under literary journalism, provided those pieces still use the elements of creative nonfiction.

Consider this recently published article from The Atlantic : The Uncanny Tale of Shimmel Zohar by Lawrence Weschler. It employs a style that’s breezy yet personable—including its opening line.

So I first heard about Shimmel Zohar from Gravity Goldberg—yeah, I know, but she insists it’s her real name (explaining that her father was a physicist)—who is the director of public programs and visitor experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Common Elements and Techniques

What separates a general news update from a well-written piece of literary journalism? What’s the difference between essay writing in high school and the personal essay? When nonfiction writers put out creative work, they are most successful when they utilize the following elements.

Just like fiction, nonfiction relies on effective narration. Telling the story with an effective plot, writing from a certain point of view, and using the narrative to flesh out the story’s big idea are all key craft elements. How you structure your story can have a huge impact on how the reader perceives the work, as well as the insights you draw from the story itself.

Consider the first lines of the story “ To the Miami University Payroll Lady ” by Frenci Nguyen:

You might not remember me, but I’m the dark-haired, Texas-born, Asian-American graduate student who visited the Payroll Office the other day to complete direct deposit and tax forms.

Because the story is written in second person, with the reader experiencing the story as the payroll lady, the story’s narration feels much more personal and important, forcing the reader to evaluate their own personal biases and beliefs.


Telling the story involves more than just simple plot elements, it also involves situating the reader in the key details. Setting the scene requires attention to all five senses, and interpersonal dialogue is much more effective when the narrator observes changes in vocal pitch, certain facial expressions, and movements in body language. Essentially, let the reader experience the tiny details – we access each other best through minutiae.

The story “ In Transit ” by Erica Plouffe Lazure is a perfect example of storytelling through observation. Every detail of this flash piece is carefully noted to tell a story without direct action, using observations about group behavior to find hope in a crisis. We get observation when the narrator notes the following:

Here at the St. Thomas airport in mid-March, we feel the urgency of the transition, the awareness of how we position our bodies, where we place our luggage, how we consider for the first time the numbers of people whose belongings are placed on the same steel table, the same conveyor belt, the same glowing radioactive scan, whose IDs are touched by the same gloved hand[.]

What’s especially powerful about this story is that it is written in a single sentence, allowing the reader to be just as overwhelmed by observation and context as the narrator is.

We’ve used this word a lot, but what is braiding? Braiding is a technique most often used in creative nonfiction where the writer intertwines multiple narratives, or “threads.” Not all essays use braiding, but the longer a story is, the more it benefits the writer to intertwine their story with an extended metaphor or another idea to draw insight from.

“ The Crush ” by Zsofia McMullin demonstrates braiding wonderfully. Some paragraphs are written in first person, while others are written in second person.

The following example from “The Crush” demonstrates braiding:

Your hair is still wet when you slip into the booth across from me and throw your wallet and glasses and phone on the table, and I marvel at how everything about you is streamlined, compact, organized. I am always overflowing — flesh and wants and a purse stuffed with snacks and toy soldiers and tissues.

The author threads these narratives together by having both people interact in a diner, yet the reader still perceives a distance between the two threads because of the separation of “I” and “you” pronouns. When these threads meet, briefly, we know they will never meet again.

Speaking of insight, creative nonfiction writers must draw novel conclusions from the stories they write. When the narrator pauses in the story to delve into their emotions, explain complex ideas, or draw strength and meaning from tough situations, they’re finding insight in the essay.

Often, creative writers experience insight as they write it, drawing conclusions they hadn’t yet considered as they tell their story, which makes creative nonfiction much more genuine and raw.

The story “ Me Llamo Theresa ” by Theresa Okokun does a fantastic job of finding insight. The story is about the history of our own names and the generations that stand before them, and as the writer explores her disconnect with her own name, she recognizes a similar disconnect in her mother, as well as the need to connect with her name because of her father.

The narrator offers insight when she remarks:

I began to experience a particular type of identity crisis that so many immigrants and children of immigrants go through — where we are called one name at school or at work, but another name at home, and in our hearts.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: the 5 R’s

CNF pioneer Lee Gutkind developed a very system called the “5 R’s” of creative nonfiction writing. Together, the 5 R’s form a general framework for any creative writing project. They are:

You can read more about the 5 R’s in this helpful summary article .

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Give it a Try!

Whatever form you choose, whatever story you tell, and whatever techniques you write with, the more important aspect of creative nonfiction is this: be honest. That may seem redundant, but often, writers mistakenly create narratives that aren’t true, or they use details and symbols that didn’t exist in the story. Trust us – real life is best read when it’s honest, and readers can tell when details in the story feel fabricated or inflated. Write with honesty, and the right words will follow!

Ready to start writing your creative nonfiction piece? If you need extra guidance or want to write alongside our community, take a look at the upcoming nonfiction classes at Writers.com. Now, go and write the next bestselling memoir!

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Sean Glatch

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Thank you so much for including these samples from Hippocampus Magazine essays/contributors; it was so wonderful to see these pieces reflected on from the craft perspective! – Donna from Hippocampus

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Absolutely, Donna! I’m a longtime fan of Hippocampus and am always astounded by the writing you publish. We’re always happy to showcase stunning work 🙂

[…] Source: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-complete-guide-to-writing-creative-nonfiction#5-creative-nonfiction-writing-promptshttps://writers.com/what-is-creative-nonfiction […]

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Thank you. I’ve been researching a number of figures from the 1800’s and have come across a large number of ‘biographies’ of figures. These include quoted conversations which I knew to be figments of the author and yet some works are lauded as ‘histories’.

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excellent guidelines inspiring me to write CNF thank you

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2.2: Elements of Creative Nonfiction

The main elements of creative nonfiction are setting, descriptive imagery, figurative language , plot , and character . The overarching element or requirement that distinguishes creative nonfiction from any other genre of writing is that while other literary genres can spring from the imagination, creative nonfiction is, by definition, true. As you complete the assigned readings in this chapter, keep track of the following elements as they arise in your readings: see if you can identify each of them. Learning these elements now will form a solid foundation for the rest of the class.

Each story has a setting. The setting is the place where the story takes place. Usually, an effective story establishes its setting early in the story: otherwise readers will have a difficult time visualizing the action of the story. Below is an example of how a writer might establish setting in a way which immerses the reader: by showing rather than telling.

Which of the above lakes would you want to visit? Which one paints a more immersive picture, making you feel like you are there? When writing a story, our initial instinct is usually to make a list of chronological moments: first I did this, then I did this, then I did that, it was neat-o. That might be factual, but it does not engage the reader or invite them into your world. It bores the reader. Ever been stuck listening to someone tell a story that seems like it will never end? It probably was someone telling you a story rather than using the five senses to immerse you . In the example above, the writer uses visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), or gustatory (taste) imagery to help the reader picture the setting in their mind. By the final draft, the entire story should be compelling and richly detailed. While it's fine to have an outline or first draft that recounts the events of the story, the final draft should include dialogue, immersive description, plot twists, and metaphors to capture your reader's attention as you write.

an aquamarine alpine lake surrounded by trees with a snow-capped mountain in the background

"Eibsee Lake" by barnyz , 2 August 2011, published on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Descriptive Imagery

You have probably encountered descriptive imagery before. Basically, it is the way the writer paints the scene, or image, in the mind of the reader. It usually involves descriptions of one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. For example, how would you describe a lemon to a person who has never seen one before?

activity: describe a lemon

a lemon cut into slices

"Lemon" by André Karwath (2005) is licensed CC BY-SA 2.5

Imagine you are describing a lemon to someone who has never seen one before. How would you describe it using all five senses?

One might describe a lemon as yellow, sour-smelling and tasting, and with a smooth, bumpy skin. They might describe the sound of the lemon as a thump on the table if it is dropped, or squelching if it is squished underfoot. By painting a picture in the reader's mind, it immerses them in the story so that they feel they are actually there.

Figurative Language

As a counterpart to descriptive imagery, figurative language is using language in a surprising way to describe a literary moment. Figurative language can take the form of metaphor, such as saying "the lemon tree was heavy with innumerable miniature suns." Since the lemons are not actually suns, this is figurative. Figurative language can also take the form of simile: "aunt Becky's attitude was as sour as a lemon." By comparing an abstract concept (attitude) to an object (lemon), it imparts a feeling/meaning in a more interesting way.

Plot is one of the basic elements of every story: put simply, plot refers to the actual events that take place within the bounds of your narrative. Using our rhetorical situation vocabulary, we can identify “plot” as the primary subject of a descriptive personal narrative. Three related elements to consider are scope, sequence, and pacing.

The term scope refers to the boundaries of plot. Where and when does the story begin and end? What is its focus? What background information and details does the story require? I often think about narrative scope as the edges of a photograph: a photo, whether of a vast landscape or a microscopic organism, has boundaries. Those boundaries inform the viewer’s perception.

The way we determine scope varies based on rhetorical situation, but I can say generally that many developing writers struggle with a scope that is too broad: writers often find it challenging to zero in on the events that drive a story and prune out extraneous information.

Consider, as an example, how you might respond if your friend asked what you did last weekend. If you began with, “I woke up on Saturday morning, rolled over, checked my phone, fell back asleep, woke up, pulled my feet out from under the covers, put my feet on the floor, stood up, stretched…” then your friend might have stopped listening by the time you get to the really good stuff. Your scope is too broad, so you’re including details that distract or bore your reader. Instead, focus on the most exciting or meaningful moment(s) of your day: "I woke up face-down to the crunch of shattered glass underneath me. When I wobbled to my feet I realized I was in a large, marble room with large windows overlooking the flashing neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. I had no idea how I got there!" Readers can expect this story will focus on how the storyteller arrived in Las Vegas, and it is much more interesting than including every single detail of the day.

The sequence of your plot—the order of the events—will determine your reader’s experience. There are an infinite number of ways you might structure your story, and the shape of your story is worth deep consideration. Although the traditional forms for a narrative sequence are not your only options, let’s take a look at a few tried-and-true shapes your plot might take.

Freytag's Pyramid is in the public domain

Freytag's Pyramid: Chronological

A. Exposition : Here, you’re setting the scene, introducing characters, and preparing the reader for the journey.

B. Rising action : In this part, things start to happen. You (or your characters) encounter conflict, set out on a journey, meet people, etc.

C. Climax : This is the peak of the action, the main showdown, the central event toward which your story has been building.

D. Falling action : Now things start to wind down. You (or your characters) come away from the climactic experience changed—at the very least, you are wiser for having had that experience.

E. Resolution : Also known as dénouement, this is where all the loose ends get tied up. The central conflict has been resolved, and everything is back to normal, but perhaps a bit different.

In Medias Res

While Freytag's Pyramid tends to follow a linear or chronological structure, a story that begins in medias res begins in the middle of the action. In fact, the Latin translation for this term most literally means "in the middle of things." This is a more exciting way to start a story in that it grabs the readers' attention quickly.

There I was floating in the middle of the ocean, the sharks with laser beams attached to their heads circling hungrily, the red lights bouncing off of the floating disco ball upon which I clung to for dear life, when I thought back to the events which led to this horrifying situation...

The best In Medias Res beginnings make the reader go "WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?" and want to continue reading. They will usually follow the following inversion of Freytag's Pyramid:

C. Climax : This is the peak of the action, the main showdown, the central event of the story where the conflict comes to a head. A. Exposition : Here, you’re setting the scene, introducing characters, and preparing the reader for the journey.

B. Rising action : In this part, things start to happen. You (or your characters) encounter conflict, set out on a journey, meet people, etc. C. Climax : the story briefly returns to the moment where it started, though usually not in a way which is redundant (not the exact same writing or details)

Nonlinear Narrative

A nonlinear narrative may be told in a series of flashbacks or vignettes. It might jump back and forth in time. Stories about trauma are often told in this fashion. If using this plot form, be sure to make clear to readers how/why the jumps in time are occurring. A writer might clarify jumps in time by adding time-stamps or dates or by using symbolic images to connect different vignettes.

While scope determines the boundaries of plot, and sequencing determines where the plot goes, pacing determines how quickly readers move through the story. In short, it is the amount of time you dedicate to describing each event in the story.

I include pacing with sequence because a change to one often influences the other. Put simply, pacing refers to the speed and fluidity with which a reader moves through your story. You can play with pacing by moving more quickly through events, or even by experimenting with sentence and paragraph length. Consider how the “flow” of the following examples differ:

A major requirement of any story is the use of characters. Characters bring life to the story. Keep in mind that while human characters are most frequently featured in stories, sometimes there are non-human characters in a story such as animals or even the environment itself. Consider, for example, the ways in which the desert itself might be considered a character in "Bajadas" by Francisco Cantú.


Whether a story is fiction or nonfiction, writers should spend some time thinking about characterization: the development of characters through actions, descriptions, and dialogue. Your audience will be more engaged with and sympathetic toward your narrative if they can vividly imagine the characters as real people.

Like setting description, characterization relies on specificity. Consider the following contrast in character descriptions:

How does the “cry-smile” detail enhance the characterization of the speaker’s parent?

To break it down to process, characterization can be accomplished in two ways:

Thinking through these questions will help you get a better understanding of each character (often including yourself!). You do not need to include all the details, but they should inform your description, dialogue, and narration.

Point of View

The position from which your story is told will help shape your reader’s experience, the language your narrator and characters use, and even the plot itself. You might recognize this from Dear White People Volume 1 or Arrested Development Season 4, both Netflix TV series. Typically, each episode in these seasons explores similar plot events, but from a different character’s perspective. Because of their unique vantage points, characters can tell different stories about the same realities.

This is, of course, true for our lives more generally. In addition to our differences in knowledge and experiences, we also interpret and understand events differently. In our writing, narrative position is informed by point-of-view and the emotional valences I refer to here as tone and mood.

point-of-view (POV): the perspective from which a story is told.

Although point-of-view will influence tone and mood, we can also consider what feelings we want to convey and inspire independently as part of our narrative position.

tone: the emotional register of the story’s language.

mood: the emotional register a reader experiences.

A Non-Comprehensive Breakdown of POV

Typically, you will tell your story from the first-person point-of-view, but personal narratives can also be told from a different perspective; I recommend “Comatose Dreams” to illustrate this at work. As you’re developing and revising your writing, try to inhabit different authorial positions: What would change if you used the third person POV instead of first person? What different meanings would your reader find if you told this story with a different tone—bitter instead of nostalgic, proud rather than embarrassed, sarcastic rather than genuine?

Furthermore, there are many rhetorical situations that call for different POVs. (For instance, you may have noticed that this book uses the second-person very frequently.) So, as you evaluate which POV will be most effective for your current rhetorical situation, bear in mind that the same choice might inform your future writing.

dialogue: communication between two or more characters. For example...

"Hate to break it to you, but your story is boring."

"What? Why do you say that?" he stuttered as his face reddened.

"Because you did not include any dialogue," she laughed.

Think of the different conversations you’ve had today, with family, friends, or even classmates. Within each of those conversations, there were likely pre-established relationships that determined how you talked to each other: each is its own rhetorical situation. A dialogue with your friends, for example, may be far different from one with your family. These relationships can influence tone of voice, word choice (such as using slang, jargon, or lingo), what details we share, and even what language we speak.

Good dialogue often demonstrates the traits of a character or the relationship of characters. From reading or listening to how people talk to one another, we often infer the relationships they have. We can tell if they’re having an argument or conflict, if one is experiencing some internal conflict or trauma, if they’re friendly acquaintances or cold strangers, even how their emotional or professional attributes align or create opposition.

Often, dialogue does more than just one thing, which makes it a challenging tool to master. When dialogue isn’t doing more than one thing, it can feel flat or expositional, like a bad movie or TV show where everyone is saying their feelings or explaining what just happened. For example, there is a difference between “No thanks, I’m not hungry” and “I’ve told you, I’m not hungry.” The latter shows frustration, and hints at a previous conversation. Exposition can have a place in dialogue, but we should use it deliberately, with an awareness of how natural or unnatural it may sound. We should be aware how dialogue impacts the pacing of the narrative. Dialogue can be musical and create tempo, with either quick back and forth, or long drawn out pauses between two characters. Rhythm of a dialogue can also tell us about the characters’ relationship and emotions.

Contributors and Attributions

Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Creative Writing

Creative nonfiction.

Within the world of creative writing, the term creative nonfiction encompasses texts about factual events that are not solely for scholarly purposes. Creative nonfiction may include memoir, personal essays, feature-length articles in magazines, and narratives in literary journals. This genre of writing incorporates techniques from fiction and poetry in order to create accounts that read more like story than a piece of journalism or a report. The audience for creative nonfiction is typically broader than the audiences for scholarly writing.

The term creative nonfiction is credited to Lee Gutkind, who defines this genre as “true stories well told.” However, the concept of literary nonfiction has its roots in ancient poetry, historical accounts, and religious texts. Throughout history, people have tried to keep a record of the human experience and have done so through the vehicle of story since the invention of language. For more about the origins of the term creative nonfiction, see the article What is Creative Nonfiction ?

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What is creative nonfiction?  It involves writing about personal experience, real people, or events. It is writing about fact, rather than fiction. The writer can write about anything, such as a personal experience, current events, or issues in the public eye. The writer can also inject personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions into the writing. Often, the writer uses the first person “I.” Popular types of creative nonfiction include the personal essay, memoir, autobiography, literary journalistic essay, travel writing, and food writing. Creative nonfiction is also known as “Literary Journalism.”

This article identifies the techniques of creative nonfiction, defines the various types of creative nonfiction, provides some guidelines, and lists several popular books and several resources to help the aspiring writing learn the art and craft of writing creative nonfiction.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction

The creative nonfiction writer produces a  personal essay, memoir, travel piece, and so forth, with  a variety of  techniques, writing tools, and  methods. He/she is required to use the elements of nonfiction, literary devices of fiction, and what Lee Gutkind called “the 5 Rs of Creative nonfiction.”  The following is a brief explanation of each:

Elements of Creative Nonfiction

The creative nonfiction writer often incorporates several elements of nonfiction when writing a memoir, personal essay, travel writing, and so on. The following is a brief explanation of the most common elements of nonfiction:

Literary Elements

Creative nonfiction is the literature of fact. Yet, the creative nonfiction writer utilizes many of the literary devices of fiction writing.  The following is a list of the most common literary devices that writers incorporate into their nonfiction writing:

The 5’Rs of Creative Nonfiction

Lee Gutkind, who is a writer, professor, and expert on creative nonfiction, wrote an essay called “The Five R’s of Creative Nonfiction.” In this essay, he identified five essential elements of creative nonfiction. These include:

Types of Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction is about fact and truth.  The truth can be about a personal experience, event, or issue in the public eye. There are many categories or genres to choose from, such as the personal essay, memoir, and autobiography.  The following is a list of the most popular types of creative nonfiction:

Guidelines for Writing Creative Nonfiction

Not only must the aspiring writer of creative nonfiction learn the techniques, but he/she also requires a good understanding of the guidelines. The following are 12 guidelines for writing any type of creative nonfiction:

Reading List

There have been many creative nonfiction books written about a wide variety of topics, such as divorce, abuse, and happiness. To help the aspiring writer learn the art and craft of creative nonfiction, he/she ought read creative nonfiction books by the best writers. By doing this, the writer acquires an appreciation for good writing and  learns how creative nonfiction is written. Some of the most popular creative nonfiction books include:

As well, there are several good books that are currently on many bestseller lists:

There are also many popular magazines that publish all types of creative nonfiction, including:

Resources for the Aspiring Writer

To write creative nonfiction, the aspiring writer must learn the craft.  He/she can do this by taking a course or through self-study. Both involve reading text books. The following books will help the aspiring writer learn how to write creative nonfiction:

Next, I will explain how to write a lead and ending.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blogs.

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Tags: Creative Nonfiction , Creative Writing , definition , elements of creative nonfiction , Elements of Fiction , Guidelines , literary devices , Literary Journalism , memoir , Personal Essay , Resources , Techniques

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Hi Dave, I am writing a memoir and found this a very helpful article. Thank you very much. I’m currently studying “Eat Pray Love.”

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I’m a first year student at thee international university of management pursuing a marketing degree, want to improve my writing skills at the same time thinking of pursuing writing, this was xtremly helpful. thanks

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