Perhaps the best way to define creative nonfiction is to first define nonfiction. Generally, nonfiction is anything that isn’t fiction, or made up. In other words, nonfiction writing is the truth as reported by a reporter or a journalist.
Creative nonfiction goes one step further. Based in fact, rather than a story being told in the journalistic manner of who, why, when, what, where, the “reporter” or narrator of the story shapes the facts to read like fiction. In addition to “only the facts, Ma’am,” a reader will encounter the elements of fiction–plot, setting, character, conflict, symbols, and point of view. In creative nonfiction, the facts come alive, and a reader will encounter the narrator’s voice and style as themes of the story are shown rather than told. At its heart, creative nonfiction has an interest in universal human values, not just facts.
Personal essays, memoir, food writing, biography, literary journalism, autobiographies, travel writing, history, cultural studies, nature writing–all fit under the broad heading of creative nonfiction.
Authors noted for creative nonfiction include Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou, Russell Baker, Wendell Berry, Truman Capote, Rachel Carson, Pat Conroy, Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, Maxine Hong Kingston, N. Scott Momaday, David Sedaris, Alice Walker, David Foster Wallace, and Virginia Woolf, to name only a few.
If you’ve never read creative nonfiction, give it a try. It’s an entertaining way to learn something new.