Online Course

Historical Narratives

July 12 - August 15

Level Fundamentals

Bring the past to life! Get insight into how to translate facts and research into vivid characters and scenes.

Additional Information

Have you ever been fascinated by a true historical story? The tools of creative nonfiction are exactly right for turning historical finds into vivid characters and scenes. Even when you can’t interview your characters or directly observe them in action, you can still write great nonfiction narratives from the rich materials of history. Whether you’re just beginning or deep into researching a piece (especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material you could use), this class will show you how to bring the past alive.

You’ll learn how to find the best characters and scenes in what you’ve dug up, how to organize your information, and how to make it live on the page. You’ll look at published pieces of historical nonfiction, discuss your work in progress, and critique it in detail. You may choose to write the crucial beginning chapter of a longer piece or work on a section in the middle where you’ve been stuck. Alternatively, you may work on a smaller historical nonfiction piece that can be completed for the end of the class. To get the most out of the class, you should have a subject in mind and at least one source of historical material. This could be a personal source like a diary or letters, material from a publicly-available archive, and so on.

Course Schedule

Week 1: The tools of creative nonfiction

One of the key skills of writing historical nonfiction is learning how to turn research materials into characters, scenes, and dialogue, creating a story that is exciting but still true to the facts. During this week you will take a look at how notes from one historical research project turned into a scene, then will begin writing a first draft of a scene that will be due at the end of the course. 

Week 2: Finding the best material

Some historical projects yield a glut of research material, while for others source material may be hard to find. This week you’ll discuss online and in-person sources for historical materials, how to select the right material out of an overwhelming collection, prioritizing sources that lead to narratives, and how to find the story among the facts. You will complete an exercise to determine which piece in your collection of great finds really makes a story.

Week 3: Beginnings

The beginning of a historical narrative is the most important part; it sets the tone and scene, and determines whether your readers will follow your story to its end. This week you’ll work on finding focus and main character(s), setting scenes, and introducing themes. You’ll also consider the balance between narrative and information, learning how to entice readers while introducing research material, and how to inform readers without breaking the narrative. You will use this material to construct the opening paragraph of your opening scene – the most crucial part of a historical narrative piece.

Week 4: Organizing the rest

Writing a historical narrative is typically a long process, so you will spend this week planning for how you will continue to write your piece. The class will discuss outlining and prioritizing scenes for a narrative arc, concentrating on the small/specific within a large amount of material, and picking characters and scenes large and small. 

Week 5: Critiquing and revising your work

This week you'll look at how to revise your writing as you continue and complete your ongoing project. You’ll also go over tips for telling whether a piece is completed, a checklist for revision, and best methods for self-critique. You will submit a completed draft of a scene, essay, or chapter of up to 3,500 words.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration

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].

Hear from Our Students

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

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Suzanne was personable, and it was great that she made time to have a synchronous session with us, as well as give us specific feedback on our writing

Cara Evanson

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.