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Lesson 12: A Different Challenge: Writing Creative Non-Fiction

In this lesson, we look into other genres prose and tackle how to write creative non-fiction.


  • To identify the different types of Creative Non-Fiction
  • To study its structure and basic elements
  • To take a look at how to write good Creative Non-Fiction
  • To enumerate problems faced when writing Creative Non-Fiction and how we can avoid letting them affect our work

Quick Navigation through the Lesson 12:

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Creative Non-Fiction is one of the most over-looked genres of prose. It differs from the scientific/critical essay by incorporating literary elements such as narrative and figurative speech. In this lesson, we’ll be talking about the different types of Creative Non-Fiction, its elements and how to go about writing it. We’ll also be discussing common problems encountered by Creative Non-Fiction writers and how to overcome them.

I. Creative Non-Fiction: Structure & Types

Here we discuss what differentiates Creative Non-Fiction from other types of non-fiction like critical essays or scientific journal entries. We also take a look at the different types of Creative Non-Fiction.

Creative Non-Fiction is perhaps the most widely used type of non-fiction writing. It’s used for blogs (fashion, food, personal), magazines, coffee table books and biographies. The distinguishing trait of Creative Non-Fiction is that it tells you a story by recounting facts, as opposed to simply reporting facts. This is what has made it so widespread—several creative non-fiction books like Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert have been turned into movies.

A. Structure

Creative Non-Fiction can be structured in many different ways; the most common of these formats are the structured paragraphs and the ordered list.

The former is usually done in informative websites like Buzzfeed or ThoughtCatalog. This is also done for lifestyle features in magazines—most cover features in zines such as Cosmopolitan and In Style are written this way, with an introductory abstract and various paragraphs sub-headed with sub-topics. For example, if they’re writing an article on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the sub-heading might be Brad & Angie on adoption. or Time management: how they get it all done.

The latter, on the other hand is usually used by websites such as Discovery Online (the official Discovery Channel website) to outline certain issues. A good example of this would be lists such as 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Orcas or Crime & Suspense: 12 Civilians Who Solved The Most Riddling Crimes.

However, there are some instances where the opposite takes place—the structured paragraph is used for more technical purposes (How Johnny Caught His Mother’s Killer) and the ordered list is used for more leisurely writing (30 Times in 2013 Jennifer Lawrence Proved She Was Awesome). The key is to know when to utilize these two main structures: if you want to discuss a topic in-depth, it would be best to use the structured paragraph. If your main goal is to enumerate, best to use the ordered list.

B. Types

There are many different types of Creative Non-Fiction. In a way, Creative Non-Fiction as an even wider scope than fiction writing because it can be applied to anything that’s happened in real life. Below are several types of Creative Non-Fiction that you might want to try your hand at.

Personal Essay. This is the Creative Non-Fiction equivalent of writing a short story. The piece usually centers around one experience and at the end of it, the writer usually talks about what he/she learned from that experience and offers the reader a grain of salt. The writer assumes the “I” point of view.

Memoir. This describes a period in time in the author’s life. It is usually longer than the personal essay and can be composed of several essays. An example of this would be Anne Frank’s diary, which documents the experiences that she and her family went through during the 2nd world war.

Literary Essay. The writer crafts a story around a real sequence of events. However, the literary essay is meant to read like fiction in that it incorporates the same elements and uses the same kind of figurative language. They differ only in that the plot points in the Literary Essay transpired in real life.

Biography. This is the chronicling of another’s life, from birth to death. For instance, several John Lennon biographies have come out in the several decades since his death. More recently, an unauthorized biography on the reclusive writer J.D. Salinger was published.

Autobiography. This definition contradicts itself as it is a biography written by the subject of the biography—this is very odd because a person can most definitely not write about his own death. This is then aims to chronicle a life from birth up until the time that the autobiography is written. Among the most famous people who wrote their own autobiographies are Barrack Obama and Winston Churchill.

Travel Writing. The writer describes a trip taken using literary devices. This is most commonly sparsely worded and accompanied by a lot of photographs.

Food Writing. In this type of Creative Non-Fiction, the writer usually describes new dishes that he/she has tried. This is used in the reviewing of a restaurant or in the DIY portion of blogs which feature recipes. This is usually accompanied by a photo of the dishes or the venue where the food was consumed. It is also sometimes accompanied by the actual recipe.

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II. Creative Non-Fiction Guidelines

In this section, we will outline practices that will help you write good Creative Non-Fiction.

Creative Non-Fiction is on one hand, meant to be entertaining but on the other hand, it is also meant to tell a true story. Good Creative Non-Fiction balances both. Below we outline certain guidelines you need to follow if you are to be able to achieve this.

Do Your Research. Research is important in Creative Non-Fiction, especially if you’re writing about someone else or about a certain group of people. It’s important to know what you’re talking about. Furthermore, it’s important to only report facts: while there is room for creativity, there is no room for invention in non-fiction. Imagined stories belong to the fiction genre.

Consider The Aftermath. This is especially important if you have something controversial to report or if you are going to be writing a biographical account of someone you know—weigh the pros and cons of your decision to expose the truth.

Provide Concrete Evidence. It is important to engage your reader; part of writing Creative Non-Fiction is allowing your reader to vicariously experience what you’ve experienced, especially with travel writing. You can do this by providing photos or a literal glimpse into the experience.

Introduce the Story With A Hook. Why should the audience read your book or your essay? Always begin with a captivating sentences which piques their interest.

End It Well. Always end with a conclusive, coherent point. Answer the question: why am I telling my readers this? This will help them understand what you’ve written more fully.

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III. Common Roadblocks & Overcoming Them

In this section we enumerate the common problems people have with writing Creative Non-Fiction and how to surpass them.

You may encounter a lot of problems when writing Creative Non-Fiction. Below are a list of the common suspects and how to rid yourself of them.

Lazy Explanations. This usually happens when the experience is one that the writer went through—because you’ve experienced it, you may often overlook certain details that are important to engaging the reader. Never forget to introduce people you write about or tell them why you’re going where you’re going.

Faulty Resources. This often happens when people write biographies about famous personalities. Having faulty resources results in the writing renders your piece incredible and may come off as inauthentic or (in a lot of cases) like mere gossip. You can avoid this by researching well and always citing your sources.

Illogical Reasoning. This goes hand-in-hand with the organization of your work. Make sure to always organize your sentences and paragraphs in a way that makes sense. With Creative Non-Fiction, it’s usually best to write things in a chronological fashion.

This wraps up our lesson on Creative Non-Fiction writing. In this section we learned about the two main structures of Creative Non-Fiction as well as the different types of Creative Non-Fiction such as the biography, memoir, personal essay and travel articles. We also learned about what guidelines to follow so we can become better at writing Creative Non-Fiction. Finally, we ended with discussing how to solve common problems when writing in this genre.

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We’ve almost come to the end of our Creative Writing Workshop Class. Read on for a summary of the things we’ve learned in this class as well as conclusions we can draw from all the information that we’ve received.




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