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Writing Creative Nonfiction: Everything That You Need To Know


Creative nonfiction is a genre that includes a wide range of categories and topics, including memoirs, cookbooks, self-help books, and more. Writers in this genre will often blur line between fiction and nonfiction when facts are unavailable or are unclear. The creativity of a good nonfiction writer will enhance the facts and bring a reader into the nonfiction world just as much as if it were a wholly new fiction work. Real life can be pretty interesting on its own, which is why creative nonfiction is such a popular category at book retailers worldwide.

This post will guide you through some key methods for making sure your book is creative and well planned, which leads to success in gaining a following.

Your perspective

What about the nonfiction topic first drew you to it? Why did you decide to write about that topic? The first piece of advice when writing creative nonfiction is to choose a topic you're passionate about! If you are not passionate about the topic, then chances are your readership won't feel the excitement and won't be interested in reading your work. Start with that, and you will have a great foundation for writing your nonfiction book in a creative and engaging way.

When you choose a topic that you have a personal connection to or that you are passionate about, you will be able to show the reader what your personal connection is to that topic. If you're writing a cookbook, for example, include personal stories about each recipe. Show the reader how that food can evoke a similar emotion in them or why that food would be perfect for the upcoming family barbecue. If you're writing a travelogue, include details about your personal experiences at a location, such as special interactions you had with locals or reflective moments drawn out by the unique architectural designs of the area. By giving your readers the human element in your nonfiction work, you are bringing them along with you for the ride.

Even if your book is about computer programming, tie programming principles to other situations that could connect with a broader audience so that more readers will be able to understand the concepts.

Avoid technical jargon

Speaking of computer programming, creative nonfiction doesn't have to be restricted to technical terms. Get creative with your wording while still explaining or describing the correct terminology for that industry. Conceptual understanding of a topic shouldn't require that the reader know the full nomenclature. A reader can learn about the latest cyber security breakthroughs without knowing the specific functions of IIS and the requirements for SOC2 compliance.

If you were writing a biography about a composer and how they developed their orchestrations, you wouldn't necessarily want to use terms like harmonic interval, circle of fifths, secondary dominant, or rootless voicing. Instead, describe those concepts using plain language. For example:

  • Instead of this: "Using rootless voicing, Neuford was able to successfully integrate the time's popular jazz into his composition."
  • Write this: "By taking out the main note in some of the longer-lasting chords, Neuford weaved the cool essence of jazz into this new composition. This technique is known in the musical community as rootless voicing."

Stay true

Even when building in some more creative vocabulary, you must remain true to the facts. A nonfiction writer's job is to join facts with a narrative without contradicting those facts. Building a story requires a foundation, and in creative nonfiction that foundation is the truth and a steadfast grasp of the facts being used.

Let's take the example of a book about an unsolved murder that occurred in the 1980s. Witness statements would be an important inclusion in such a book. There are two ways that could go:

  1. The writer could embellish or change a witness statement to fit a theory they are presenting.
  2. The writer could present the witness statement as it was and then explain how that could lead to the writer's theory.

The second option is always going to be the best when it comes to writing creative nonfiction. Never change the facts to fit your narrative! You are the writer with creativity and imagination, so adjust your narrative to fit the facts.


Using outlines to build a framework is a huge benefit for all genres. Creative nonfiction is no different. Writers of all types of nonfiction would benefit greatly from starting with the most basic of outlines.

The scaffold should be built from the known facts first. The story can be built around that using first-hand research. Without an outline to start from, all subsequent steps could fall into disarray, leading to mismanaged facts and a disorganized structure. This ultimately is a turn off for readers, especially in nonfiction writing. Even something as simple as a fun cookbook will benefit from having an outline as its starting point.

Going back to our example of a book about an unsolved murder in the 1980s, an outline could help you better understand the theories from that time and will help you figure out how to guide the reader through evidence, witness statements, locations, situations, and other related data connected to the event being covered. Who knows, maybe it could even help solve the murder!

Give accurate credit

Most creative nonfiction is going to include primary and secondary sources. There are various methods for documenting your sources in your work. One method is to use endnotes connected to dialogue or direct quotes used in your text. For example, Kate Colquhoun, in her 2014 book Did She Kill Him?, italicized quotes from historical documents she used and then cited the sources in endnotes.

Another method is to use an evidence file. This method allows you to take a little bit of creative license to increase the drama in your text, but the actual original text is included at the end of the book. This method is a good option because it leaves no room for doubt on what was actually said. The reader can trust that you are providing high quality recreations of situations and dialogue while also being engaged by the heightened drama in the narrative.

In the end, the important part is making sure that you are not plagiarizing, misquoting facts, taking too much creative license, or deliberately misleading your readers.


If you are writing a memoir or other personal nonfiction work, keep in mind that memory isn't perfect. Furthermore, our perception is unique and may differ significantly from the perception of others involved in events throughout our lives. It's almost impossible to remember each word we had in a conversation, and it gets more difficult the longer time goes on.

While this can benefit a creative nonfiction writer, it is important to remain honest about our inherent limited capabilities with memory. It is good practice to include a disclaimer about what creative liberties you have taken with information or situations you describe. Being upfront is always going to be the right choice over asking for forgiveness later.

Tell the story

Even though you are writing nonfiction, you are still telling a story. Whether your work is a collection of personal essays, a biography, or a career journal, there is still a story being told. Use classic storytelling techniques like bringing characters to life:

Building your nonfiction narrative in the same manner will keep your reader engaged in the natural suspense that can be offered by real-life events.

A good example of this is nonfiction war stories. In The Good War, author Studs Terkel takes the reader on a vivid journey through history through well-organized and engaging interviews with 121 men and women about their experiences leading up to World War II and during the war. The structure and creativity that Terkel used earned him a Pulitzer Prize.


As a writer, have you grown as a result of your research for your work? Chances are, you have or you will. Tell the reader how the events in your book changed you or how the process of writing about it made you reflect on your own life experiences. Put a piece of yourself into the story and invite your readers to open themselves up to the same. Readers are often looking for connection, and this is the perfect opportunity to open the door and invite them in.

Using these tips, you'll be able to write an engaging, creative, nonfiction work that many people will be excited to read. Focus on your desired audience, be honest, and include yourself in the work. Don't hesitate to indulge your creative side while diving deep into the history or truth of real life experiences. From recipes to tales of the bravery of soldiers, creative nonfiction should connect readers to others through shared feelings of excitement, memory, tragedy, and love.

Header photo by Thought Catalog.

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