What is ‘Creative Nonfiction’?

Jyssica Schwartz
3 min readDec 10, 2020
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

There has been a rise of a genre called “creative nonfiction” in the last decade. Or at least a rise of calling it that.

Creative nonfiction, also called literary nonfiction and narrative nonfiction, is when writers use prose and storytelling to create a narrative — but the story is true.

Like John McPhee, a pioneer of creative nonfiction, wrote in his piece “Omission” in The New Yorker, “Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.”

Like other nonfiction, these stories are real, true things that happened. But the telling of them is how they differ.

Common types of writing considered creative nonfiction are biographies and autobiographies, memoirs, self-help, literary journalism, travel writing, and personal essays.

Think about it like this: A newspaper reporter is giving the facts of an event, usually in chronological order. They say what happened and move on. Someone writing a memoir is writing the real, true story of their life but in a way that tells a story and usually from the first-person point of view.

Creative nonfiction is fact-based but interesting to read. The creative part is in the retelling of the story.

As Lee Gutkind, author of The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol 1 and creator of Creative Nonfiction magazine, says, “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

Accuracy Is Still Important

Creative nonfiction is still nonfiction. At its core, it still needs to be a true story that actually happened. It is not a dry retelling, more like sitting around a campfire and telling your friends a story of something happening to you.

But accuracy is incredibly important. If something is marketed as a true story, it needs to be real. If not, the author’s ethics are called into question.

When something is proven untrue, it affects the entire publishing world and casts doubt on other, similar works. Two authors who exaggerated their experiences or outright lied were James Frey, when his 2006 book A Million Little Pieces was revealed to have…

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Jyssica Schwartz

Manging editor. entrepreneur, writer, editor, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.” jyssicaschwartz.com