Exploring Genres in Creative Nonfiction Writing

creative nonfiction writing

Creative nonfiction writing is a growing genre!

Creative writing includes more than just fiction and poetry. Creative nonfiction is a wide category of creative writing, which includes several genres.

Creative nonfiction is a relatively new field; only in recent years have works of creative nonfiction received the kind of attention from critics and readers that fiction and traditional nonfiction have enjoyed for decades.

It’s likely that creative nonfiction will continue to gain strength as a dominant force in the world of writing. The world wide web is growing at an astounding rate, and much of the content on the Internet is considered creative nonfiction. Take blogs, for example; many would be considered creative nonfiction.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

How can you tell the difference between a literary novel and any other kind of novel?

A work is usually considered literary because of the way it’s written. A literary novel is more than simple storytelling. The writer pays special attention to language, word choice, rhythm, and voice. Creative nonfiction is factually accurate writing that does the same thing; it pays attention to the craft of writing.

According to Wikipedia:

Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing truth which uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft.

Unlike fiction and poetry, the creative nonfiction genre depends heavily on research, facts, and credibility. While opinions may be interjected and often, the work depends on the author’s own memories, the material must be verifiable and accurately researched and reported.

Due to the factual nature of creative nonfiction, ethics come into play. In recent years, some memoir authors have been criticized for straying from the truth. There may be some wiggle room here. Since a memoir is not considered journalism, a writer may decide to take creative liberties with the facts; however, this may cause an uproar among critics and may even lead to a controversial reception of the work.

Sub-Genres in Creative Nonfiction

These are just a few of the genres that qualify as creative nonfiction:

  • Memoir and biography
  • Food and travel writing
  • Personal essays
  • Literary journalism

If you think of more genres in creative nonfiction writing, feel free to share them in the comments.

Creative nonfiction continues to grow and become more widely accepted and recognized as a valid form of nonfiction literature.

Have you written creative nonfiction? How strictly do you feel a memoir or other work of creative nonfiction should stick to the facts? Do you feel that nonfiction works should focus on content and not creativity? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


14 Responses to “Exploring Genres in Creative Nonfiction Writing”

  1. When I did my master’s thesis 12 years ago in creative writing, I focused only on poetry and creative nonfiction. I LOVE the genre. I love memoirs in which the author crafts a beautiful narrative. I don’t want to read autobiographies or biographies of celebrities. I want to read honest portraits of regular people.

    • I don’t read a lot of memoirs but I do appreciate that they are a great way to connect with ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences – “honest portraits of regular people” is the perfect way to describe good memoirs.

  2. A rather prominent man in our community passed away at a fairly ripe old age. He arrived in Las Vegas in the late 1950’s and established a Theater Department and degree program, he contributed greatly to the community with his time and talent. When he retired after 30-plus years the university built a new theater venue and named it for him. The local paper printed a short typical obituary; that was it. Lesser members of the community had gotten more attention.

    I was outraged! I wrote a piece which detailed his contributions and, I think, the essence of the man, then sent it to the paper along with a note explaining my actions. A week later the piece got published with credit as a guest columnist. Creative nonfiction.

    A week after that I received a beautiful note of thanks from his surviving family. I couldn’t have asked for better payment!

    • What an interesting writing experience you had. I know my local paper requires the family to submit (or pay for) an obituary with a few notable exceptions (like local politicians, etc.). It’s wonderful that the paper published your piece honoring a man who made such important contributions to your community.

  3. allena tapia says:

    I took a class on creative nonfiction in my masters program. LOVED it.

  4. Susan Silver says:

    I was trying to figure out where Biographies were on the literary spectrum. It sounds strange to call something non-fiction and creative at the same time. But then you realize that not every fact or statement about someone is recorded. Then you might have to add something based on what you know. I guess the lesson here is to take these pieces with a grain of salt. If we become really interested in something, then it might be best to do our own research.

    • The line between nonfiction and creative nonfiction is gray and hazy. We would probably classify some biographies as nonfiction whereas others would be creative nonfiction.

      I’m not sure why you think it’s strange to call something nonfiction and creative at the same time. The word “creative” does not mean the same thing as “fiction.” Creativity implies a unique or original approach. Creative nonfiction is often classified as such because of the author’s language and word choice. There is an artistic quality to the writing, not to the way facts are treated.

  5. Miriam Gordon says:

    Melissa, I happily just found your site today and I write a blog called Fat Science which I consider creative non-fiction. I just read what I feel is the quintessential example of creative non-fiction: Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

  6. Fernanda says:

    I love creative fiction writing but if I look at examples of creative non fiction writing my first example is always the journalism of National Geographic. I love the way the writers expose the facts using so many simbolism and strong imagery and word choice in their articles.

    • I should read National Geographic. I haven’t read much of it except in waiting rooms, and then I’m usually flipping through and admiring the photography. I like science and I love our planet Earth, so I think I would enjoy it. So much to read, so little time!