I still get letters and notes about the creative nonfiction genre from people who think they can fictionalize their story because it is creative.


The creative piece is how it is written, turning nonfiction into a literary telling. The comment will often be that the book was written like a novel.

Yes. Think Truman Capote and In Cold Blood, probably the first book written in this fashion. Some call it Narrative nonfiction. Whatever. Just get it right, please.

So, I’m going to break down the genre here to help those still struggling with it.  It is an excellent genre for anyone who has a story to tell that is factual but wants it to read like a novel.

What Are The Elements of Creative Nonfiction

  • The writing must be based on fact rather than fiction.
  • You’ve done extensive research and reporting.
  • You have your personal experience and personal opinion. E
  • You have drafted it in essay format.

For an essay or test to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate and written with attention to literary style and technique.

Lee Gutkind, the founder of Creative Nonfiction magazine, writes, “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter. Think of yourself as a journalist with style.”

Theme: What do we mean by theme? The theme is the main idea of the story. It is an essential idea that the fiction writer wants to convey to the readers, so as nonfiction writers, you have a theme.

What is tone in creative nonfiction?

In literary terms, tone typically refers to the mood implied by an author’s word choice and how the text can make a reader feel. The tone, an author, uses in a piece of writing can evoke many emotions and perspectives. Tone can also span many textual styles, from terse to prosaic.

What is setting in creative nonfiction?

The setting is the same for fiction as well as nonfiction. It is the backdrop of a story or the scene’s atmosphere and is the context for your main characters’ actions and includes all aspects of place, from visual description to historical time to social environment.

What is character in creative nonfiction?

Any character is an individual (usually a person) in a narrative in a work of fiction or creative nonfiction. Characterization is the act or method of creating a character.

Scenes are the same in fiction as in nonfiction, where you take the reader from one place to the next. Here you show your readers the story instead of just telling them what happened.

Below is a piece from my creative nonfiction book, Housewife Assassin: The Woman Who Tried To Kill President Ford, that is being re-published by Diversion Books. It won many awards in the Creative Nonfiction genre. My scene below shows a place in time. You can see how I tell the story:

Late in 1956, Sara Jane made one of her very rare calls to her mother. She was clearly upset. She needed to have some time back home in West Virginia, she explained and was going to bring the children for an extended visit. She booked a direct flight from Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, and as her brother Dana told me, he drove up from Charleston to collect Sara Jane and the kids at the airport.

The plane landed just before sunset, and Dana stood watching the ground crew roll a staircase up to the door just behind the gleaming wings. The door opened, and the first of a hundred passengers began to deplane. He said he watched them walk off, one after the other, into the waiting arms of friends and relatives.

But where was Sara Jane? Finally, after all of the other passengers had left, little Sydney Jr., four years old, carefully walked down the steps, holding tight to the railing with one hand and grasping the hand of his three-year-old sister, Janet, in the other.

Right behind him was a stewardess, holding nine-month-old baby Christopher in her arms. Dana watched, puzzled. Sara Jane was not with them.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

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