Exploring Nonfiction Genres for Creative Writing

nonfiction genres

Nonfiction genres are growing!

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 genres will continue to gain strength as a dominant force in the world of writing. The Internet is growing at an astounding rate, and much of the content on the web 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, nonfiction genres depend 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 could lead to a controversial reception of the work.

Creative Nonfiction Genres and Sub-Genres

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 creative nonfiction genres, feel free to share them in the comments.

Creative nonfiction genres continue to grow and become more widely accepted and recognized as valid forms 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 creative nonfiction genres 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.


25 Responses to “Exploring Nonfiction Genres for Creative 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 provide a 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.

    • Krithika Rangarajan says:

      #HUGSSS You are a wonderful man, Paul! Thank you for honoring the many talents and triumphs of this admirable man!

  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!

  7. Thank you for addressing the topic/definition of Creative Nonfiction. I wish I would have found this information about four years ago. 🙂 I would like to add “True Crime Narrative Nonfiction.”

    I have been a published fiction author for almost 3 decades. But when a friend asked me to help write about her cases as a private investigator, I didn’t know how to categorize the series in query letters. Each book is a stand-alone case of a crime from the P.I.’s point of view. By her own admission, her initial draft is “just the facts” and reads like a police report. (He said, She said.) My contribution is to “flesh out” the story with description of setting and characterization.

    I finally found a class on Narrative Nonfiction that sounded like what we were doing. But the instructor told me I was *not* writing a narrative (aka creative) nonfiction book because I did not interview everyone involved or study court docs. I explained my P.I. friend refused to breach her client confidentiality so she changed all the names, some of whom have new identities. The instructor also said the our books would never sell because the investigative cases were not current, not newsworthy and not credible (due to the fact the narrative was only one person’s memory of the event).

    I hate to admit I felt completely defeated by the time the weekend class concluded. Eighteen months later, after querying 115 literary agents, I hired professional editors and cover artist in order to publish the books through my new publishing company, along with my backlist of novels.

    – Gillian Doyle
    LOSING LISA: Intuitive Investigator Series, Book One
    FINDING FAYE: Intuitive Investigator Series, Book Two

    • Hi Gillian. When I was researching creative nonfiction genres, some forms of true crime writing were classified as literary journalism, which I’ve included in the post. This is a form of writing that shares true stories in a journalistic fashion but does so with literary flair. Conversely, straight journalism (or nonfiction without the “creative”) is focused on laying out the facts with as little flair as possible. I think your instructor might have misused the word narrative, since any story or report qualifies as narrative per the official definition. But it sounds like you learned a lot from the experience!

  8. Krithika Rangarajan says:

    Aaah – I finally have a name for the kind of writing that I want to pursue (and am drawn to!)

    Thank you so much, Melissa, for elaborating on the essence of creative non-fiction!


  9. Gis says:

    I suppose self-help topics would fall in the non-fiction sub-genres, would they?

    • Yes, I think some self-help books and articles would be considered creative nonfiction. Whether it’s considered creative nonfiction or (regular) nonfiction has nothing to do with the topic but how the piece itself is written.

  10. Angie Dixon says:

    Thank you for this. I write nonfiction in the self-help and how-to categories, and I have ambitions toward essays. One of my difficulties has been in sticking with the facts while moving the essay forward. I mean that I don’t know what I can safely summarize or just leave out, and where to go with the “story” of the essay. As a nonfiction writer, I think a background in writing good fiction might be helpful in narrative nonfiction.

    • It’s true that some essays are narrative (or stories), but studying narrative essays seems like a better way to go than studying fiction writing, in my opinion. And I’ve found that the single best way to master any form or genre is to read a lot of it. Good luck, Angie!

  11. Patty Perrin says:

    I would consider Inspirational writing to fall into this category. I wrote a book using Scripture in conjunction with my own life experiences. I’ve had a few of those over the years, and my readers have expressed that they’ve enjoyed it and that’s it’s inspired them in some way. It’s a combination of Memoir and Inspiration, and written in snippets that are easily digestible. You could consider it creative non-fiction.

    • Again, it’s not about the form or genre (inspirational) but about how it’s written and the way it applies language. Inspirational writing certainly can be creative nonfiction and would fall into the category of self-help.