Chapter 6: Creative Writing

6.3 Creative Nonfiction

There is lots of creative writing that, unlike a short story, contains factual elements. I may write about “Carellin Brooks,” who has had the same past experiences as me and lives the same kind of life today. However, “Carellin Brooks” is a construct. I am writing about her, so she is a character, even though she shares my name and life.

In creative nonfiction, the lines between reality and what you make up can get quite blurry. That is because, however much we set out to write the exact truth, it still needs shaping into a narrative if anyone is going to be interested in reading it.

You will already know this if you have ever listened to people speaking and written down exactly what they say. Unlike in stories, plays, or other forms of writing, people’s speech is littered with phrases like “um,” “you know,” and “well, ah.” Sentences trail off halfway instead of finishing: “Well, then, I guess we’ll just, um, yeah. That makes sense.” It actually does make sense, in the context of the conversation, but if we accurately recorded such dialogue, either we, or the characters we wrote about, would sound like idiots.

In creative nonfiction, you’re also usually setting out to make a point. Your blog post about the latest great book you read is not going to spend time describing what you had for breakfast (unless it’s a cookbook). Instead, you’ll select and order your details to build toward the point you’re making. You could describe all the books you’ve read lately that haven’t been great, for example, and all the things you did to avoid reading them because you were bored, exaggerating for comic effect, perhaps, to emphasize that you couldn’t put this particular book down for even a minute.

Table 6.3 Dos and don’ts of creative nonfiction
Things to always do Things to never do
  • Talk about your specific point of view.
  • Include relevant examples from your own experience.
  • Describe experiences using the five senses.
  • Order your experiences to reinforce the sense of story and make your point stronger.
  • Assume that everyone else feels as you do about a given topic. (Example: We all know that the day you get your driver’s licence is the greatest day of your life …)
  • Skimp on details. (Example: The house will be exactly the way I want it. I’ll step inside …)
  • Assume your reader already knows who you are and what you’re like (even if it’s your instructor!). (Example: That’s just like me …)

Review Questions

  1. Write a blog post or journal entry describing a particular day that is significant to you. Try to choose something of personal significance, rather than a national holiday or general celebration, like graduation. (Hint: For ways to make your writing come alive, review Chapter 3.1 Descriptive Paragraphs, which gives you lists of words relating to the five senses and explains how to show, not tell, readers about your subject.)

Points to Consider

  1. Trade your writing with a classmate. Use the peer review process described in Chapter 7.2 Peer Review to give each other feedback. Revise your writing based on the feedback you received. Do substantial revisions first. As a last step, proofread.
  2. Find a blog you like, and see if you can figure out how the writer creates comic effect or stokes your interest. After identifying some of the blogger’s strategies, can you use them when you revise your own blog post or journal entry?


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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