A few weeks I returned from school, having just learned more about creative nonfiction. At first, creative nonfiction seemed boring. I wanted to be creative! Additionally, what makes talking about my life or someone else’s something creative? And what does creative nonfiction even mean?
Creative nonfiction, in itself, makes up a lot of types of works. A nonfiction work examines your life, someone else’s life, or history, science, and more woven into biography or memoir. It also includes nature writing and travel writing. But like any writing, nonfiction takes skill and technique to write well. In this post, I want to specifically talk about nonfiction that involves writing about yourself or someone else. To learn more about how nonfiction works and how to write it well, look below!
The Different Types of Creative Nonfiction
There are a few major types of creative nonfiction outlined below. However, one key difference between creative nonfiction and fiction involves how it’s labeled. Because major types of creative nonfiction often exist to be subverted later on by form.
For example, you could call several different books in the biography section of a bookstore “biography,” but each might tell the story differently. In one book, the subject could be a historical figure, so the author made up the conversations in a way that the figure would have spoken. Or an author braids science and history with their work, combining their own story with what they’ve learned about the subjects to teach their readers.
In any case, look below at three major types.
Autofiction – a recent genre, this nonfiction combines fiction and autobiography. Basically, you tell your own story, but you include some extra, fictional elements. (A lot of people think of this as mere fiction, while others see it as a memoir with a few extra aspects that the author created themselves).
Biography – someone’s life written down by someone else. Sometimes people write about historical figures. Other times people write about people they once knew, or currently know. Those who write their own story write an autobiography. This contrasts with memoir.
Memoir – unlike autobiography, memoirs focus on an author’s memories of an event. This doesn’t usually cover the author’s entire life or even focus on the author at all.
Here are a few examples of each:
Memoir includes: Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy
Biography includes: Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts and A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
Autofiction includes: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Some Writing Tips
Like any type of writing, nonfiction requires some know-how. When you start writing, remember these things:
1) Remember to be accurate, no matter the subject. You need your past facts and stories about your subject, whether you or another person, to be as accurate as possible to avoid accidental slander. Feel free to be creative with what nobody knows about, but make sure it doesn’t stray too far from what most likely happened. Additionally, make sure your historical facts and scientific facts accurately advance your work.
2) Do your research. If you need to do a lot of research, even if that means looking back on your own life, don’t skimp on building up notes and facts. The more the better. It might sound boring, but it’s like researching what you don’t know when you write fiction.
3) Ask for help. This genre allows you to ask around for more information. You might write about someone in your family, and you need to ask for more info about them. You might need to talk to an expert in the field of study you chose or the historical figure you want to talk about. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others.
4) Find ways to be creative. You can still add some creative flair to nonfiction! Be accurate, but experiment with form and style. Look for new ways of telling your story or someone else’s. This also helps make the process much more fun!
While creative nonfiction might seem daunting, remember to do your research and continue practicing the different forms to get better at writing it. Happy writing!
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