Online Course

Experimental Forms

July 12 - August 15

Level Intermediate

Explore new structures, hybrid forms, and nonstandard narrative perspectives, and discover a variety of strategies for innovation in nonfiction writing.

Additional Information

What are the limits of creative nonfiction? At what point does an essay leave the world of fact and enter the realm of fiction or poetry? Are the borders between these genres rigid and unyielding, or are they porous? How can a writer move seamlessly between them during the course of a single essay in order to communicate more effectively the complexity of his or her experience?

In this class, you will explore a variety of strategies for innovation in nonfiction writing. You’ll study new exhilarating developments in the genre, encountering the work of many contemporary practitioners of the craft, and discuss which subjects lend themselves to these cutting-edge techniques. You will learn about experimental structures, hybrid forms, and nonstandard narrative perspectives, writing two short 500 word vignettes and one 3,000 word essay.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Experimental Structures—Breaking the Rules

Most essays proceed in a linear, chronological fashion—And then we did this, and then we did that. Throughout the week, you'll talk about strategies for deviating from this standard structure in order to dramatize complex, multifaceted stories. Among other things, you’ll discuss nonstandard essay structures, including: fragmented chronology; flashing backwards and flashing forwards; braided storylines; and the bookended essay. You will practice these techniques by writing a 500-word micro-essay that deploys one of these innovative structures.

Week 2: Hybrid Forms—Incorporating Other Genres

Oftentimes essayists forget that you don't have to rely solely on your memories to construct an essay. The class will overlook the other textual sources that inform your experiences—the assorted testimonies that can be in conversation with your own interpretations of events. During the week, you’ll talk about how your essays can be a collage of other genres, appropriating material from newspaper articles, poems, song lyrics, business brochures, diary entries—whatever—in order to locate the meaning of your experiences. You’ll talk about how these sources can be integrated effectively into your essays.You will practice these techniques by writing a 500-word micro-essay that begins to draw on a chorus of other textual voices.

Week 3: Nonstandard Narrative Perspectives—Letting Go of the First Person

Writing creative nonfiction doesn’t always mean excavating the terrain of the self. There are countless examples of essayists who have done enough research and have taken enough care to tell other people’s stories compellingly and sensitively. This week, you’ll talk about strategies for writing about other people’s experiences. You’ll review narrative perspectives used by fiction writers to animate the lives of your characters—particularly, second-person, third-person-omniscience, and third-person-close—and you’ll discuss ways you can use these perspectives in nonfiction writing. You will also submit a 3,000 word essay this week. The submission should respond to one of the assignment prompts and draw on the lectures and class discussions.

Week 4: Revision—Recalibrating the Methods of Your Experiment

Whenever you use a nontraditional approach, you must make sure that it contributes to the success of your essay. This week, you’ll talk about how you can determine whether the experiments in your essays are necessary and worthwhile, and how you can adjust your approach to best serve the purpose of the piece. You will also share your Week 3 essay with a small group of classmates for Peer Critiques.

Week 5: Publishing

While some experimental structures will offend classical tastes, increasingly these strategies have been accepted by major literary magazines and publishing houses. This week you’ll discuss print venues that are interested in experimental work. The lecture will also talk about matching your aesthetic sensibility with those of the right magazine. More generally, the class will talk about expectations for the submission process, as well as strategies for increasing your chances to land your work in print.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

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Early Registration ends 06/15/2021 $310.00 $260.00

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

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Creative Nonfiction's online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

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I have taken many online classes and Ploi was one of the very best [instructors]. She gives constructive criticism — meaning she points out strengths and weaknesses of a given piece of writing which you’ve turned in. She really promotes concrete writing, and pushes her students to do their best work.


Education FAQs

  • What day and time is my class?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins.If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s online courses different from other online programs?

    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace throughout the week based on your schedule. While some optional events, such as class video conferences, do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes
    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors
    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments
    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection
    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (June-July), we offer only 5-week courses.

  • What is the Community Page?

    Communities are forums in Wet.Ink where members can connect and interact around writing. Every online CNF student is a member of the general “Creative Nonfiction Community,” and each course includes an opportunity to join a private community with your classmates for when class is over.

  • The course I’m interested in is sold out. Is there anything I can do?

    Sometimes spaces open up as people’s schedules change. If you’d like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please contact us here.