September 12 - October 16, 2022
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.
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. We'll take a first look at these elements, and invite you to begin using your own materials for your own scenes, for critique.
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. There is an optional exercise to demonstrate how historical material may be used in variant ways, even by the experts.
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.
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.
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.
Out of stock
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].
Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.
I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.Catherine O’Neill
I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.
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.
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 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.
Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.
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 you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer pieces 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.
Creative Nonfiction is committed to creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for all staff and participants regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, age, or religion.
We expect that staff and participants will treat each other with respect in all interactions. We will not tolerate discrimination or harrassment in conjunction with any of our programs. Harassment could include but is not limited to:
Community posts violating any of these guidelines can and will be removed from the page at any time. Anyone asked to stop harassing behavior is expected to comply immediately.
Harassment does not include respectful disagreement or critique in good faith. Reading and writing, by their nature, include exposure to controversial, challenging, and sometimes offensive language. We encourage all participants to follow the peer review guidelines provided by their instructor.
Online communication happens without the benefit of body language and tone. Therefore, it can be easy to misinterpret. The following tips may help participants engage in civil, intelligent, vigorous discourse without impugning the personal dignity of others:
See your course for additional feedback guidelines provided by your instructor.
All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.
FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.
INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.
ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).
An awareness of historical context can help you enrich your narrative and reach a broader and more diverse audience.
A follow-up presentation to The Three Essential Questions Every Agent Hopes Your Book Proposal Answers* (September 28th), this webinar takes a deeper dive into four specific areas of the nonfiction book proposal and explores how these areas can help writers finish—and prepare to sell—their manuscripts.
Dive in with CNF Founder Lee Gutkind
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