Pages Navigation Menu

One curiosity after another

Online Resources for Creative Nonfiction

Defining it, discussing how to write it, warning what not to do when attempting to write interesting, true feature stories.

A University of Idaho definition of creative non-fiction and guidelines for writing it.

A collection of online research sources for historical storytelling.

A master writer of literary nonfiction on how to write it.

A warning about getting TOO creative, quoted below, but found here:

Writers are warned to not be too creative with weaving their stories, however. If you add characters, dialogue, invent scenes and alter facts, you moved to the realm of historical fiction, a noble genre but still, fiction.

Reynolds cautions writers to be wary of being too creative. “The author who does not treat the genre with respect can easily convey erroneous impres­sions. Creative nonfiction requires even more careful research than straight exposition, as so much more information is being conveyed. It is the small details that the creative writer adds that bring texture and drama to an event, but it is not come by easily.”

“If characters are added, scenes are imagined, dialogue is invented, this is now a fictional story based on real events, and as a reader, I want to know what actually happened and what may have happened,” says O’Malley. “For me the cardinal rule is, ‘Never lie: If you made up some of the elements, bring your reader into that process: Use an author’s note to explain clearly what, why, and where,”

According to Yoder, “The problems that writers run into is when style overcomes everything else—and the story or theme suffers. You’ve painted a beautiful picture, but there’s no real substance. This is especially true with history writing. Context and background suffer and the reader has no firm grounding,”

“One of the hardest things for many writers to do,” says Simonsen, “seems to be getting the emotional aspects of a nonfiction topic across successfully. I’ve noticed that many authors try to carry the emotion with anthropomorphism or an abundance of exclamation points, rather than building the story in such a way that the natural drama of it comes through. Sometimes, the descriptive language is not as strong as it could be. I’ve found that nonfiction authors are more likely to use a simple, somewhat familiar description rather than searching for a more evocative, unique way of saying the same thing.”

Yoder adds, “Creative nonfiction lets the author come out. I want to see the author. I want to follow where the author is leading me. So many times with history writing, the author feels that he or she has to be quiet, has to rely on the facts. The great history writer analyzes the facts, picks the rich anecdotes and details, and paints a picture. That’s why I always ask authors to rely on the best resources, whether primary or secondary. Rich research can only lead to rich writing. It’s as simple as that.”