What the Heck is Creative Nonfiction?

Creative NonfictionThe term cre­ative non­fic­tion was first used by Lee Gutkind in the 1980s as a syn­onym for nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion. Gutkind wished to con­vey the idea that non­fic­tion wasn’t always dry and util­i­tar­i­an. By employ­ing such ele­ments as char­ac­ter, dia­logue, scene build­ing, strong voice, inno­v­a­tive struc­ture, point of view, and lit­er­ary devices, writ­ers could craft non­fic­tion that sings. 

Over the years, the term has come to be used more broad­ly, describ­ing both expos­i­to­ry and nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that makes use of ele­ments orig­i­nal­ly con­sid­ered as exclu­sive to fic­tion­al texts. As a result, most of the trade non­fic­tion titles cur­rent­ly pub­lished for chil­dren include a mix of these cre­ative elements.

Biogra­phies and his­to­ry books gen­er­al­ly fea­ture a nar­ra­tive writ­ing style and include cen­tral char­ac­ters, real dia­logue, and scene build­ing. Sci­ence books often fea­ture an expos­i­to­ry writ­ing style and employ strong voice, inno­v­a­tive struc­ture, and care­ful­ly-craft­ed lit­er­ary lan­guage that delights as well as informs.

Nev­er, nev­er, nev­er does cre­ative non­fic­tion refer to books that take cre­ative lib­er­ties with the truth. Every­thing must be accu­rate and ver­i­fied through fas­tid­i­ous research. Any kind of undoc­u­ment­ed embell­ish­ment kicks a piece of writ­ing out of the non­fic­tion realm.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mary Bowman-Kruhm
6 years ago

Excel­lent arti­cle, Melis­sa. I rec­om­mend­ed it to cri­tique group and on my writer FB page.

6 years ago

Thanks, Mary. Glad you liked it.

Paul F Cockburn
3 years ago

Ah, every day’s a school day. I can now blame Lee Gutkind for com­ing up with such an insult­ing term. 

Strange, though, that “cre­ative non­fic­tion” does­n’t appear to have the same neg­a­tive con­text as “cre­ative accoun­tan­cy”. I won­der why?