What Is Creative Nonfiction?
Simply put: Creative nonfiction is true stories, well told.
If novels are fiction and poems are, well, poetry, then what are memoirs? What about essays, narrative journalism, and so many other kinds of true stories that give us new ways to consider the world around us and our place in it? From books to magazine articles to podcasts, creative nonfiction surrounds us.
The banner of Creative Nonﬁction deﬁnes the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories, well told.”
In some ways, creative nonﬁction is like jazz—it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques, some newly invented and others as old as writing itself. Creative nonﬁction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, a tweet; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.
The words “creative” and “nonﬁction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques writers use to tell stories about real people and events—that’s the “nonfiction” part—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to communicate a bit of the real world—a personal experience, a scientific discovery, a history, a place, a person—in a way that will sing on the page, inform and change readers, and make an impact.
The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people think it implies the writer can pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.
“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen or reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie.
The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated.
This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonﬁction: You can’t make this stuff up!
Nuts & Bolts
- “The Five ‘R’s of Creative Nonfiction” | Lee Gutkind
- “The Essence of Immersion” | Maggie Messitt
- “Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide” | Tim Bascom
History of the Genre
- “Great (& Not So Great) Moments in Creative Nonfiction, 1993-2010” | CNF Staff
- “On the Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting” | Lee Gutkind
- “Expanding the Essay Canon” | Ned Stuckey-French
- “A Genre By Any Other Name” | Dinty W. Moore
- “Putting the ‘Creative’ in Nonfiction” | William Bradley
Why True Stories Matter
- “The Line Between Fact and Fiction” | Roy Peter Clark
- “The Braided Essay as Social Justice Action” | Nicole Walker
- “Confessions of a Navel-Gazer” | Robin Hemley
- “Creative Nonfiction in the Age of the Expert” | Lee Gutkind
- “Writing Memoir & Writing for Therapy” | Tara DaPra
- “Writing for Life” | Jill Patterson
- “The Joy of Writing” | Jennifer Niesslein
Under the Umbrella
Learn more about subgenres
- “Stunt Writing” | Hattie Fletcher
- “Family History Narrative” | Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
- “The Quiet Pleasures of Quotidian Nonfiction” | Patrick Madden
- “Sex Workers Bare All On the Page” | Shawna Kenney
- “The ‘Little Did I Know’ Memoir” | Elizabeth Stone
- “A Brief History of the #cnftweet” | FRED
- “Hermit Crab Essays” | Suzanne Cope
- “Making a Hummingbird of Words” | Beth Ann Fennelly
- “Cheryl Strayed on Fame, Success, and Writing Like a Mother#^@%*&” | Elissa Bassist
- “How to Have More Fun on the Job” | Susan Bruns Rowe
- “Contagious Empathy” | Sherrie Flick
Dive Into The Genre
79The 79 bus loops around the housing projects in the East Hills of Pittsburgh all day—“like a noose,” as reluctant resident Brian Broome puts it. This might be one of Pittsburgh’s least tourist-friendly neighborhoods, and Broome an extremely uncomfortable tour guide … but the trip is well worth taking.
RegenerationHow to regenerate a human heart
The Butterfly Effect“When the monarchs hang clustered together, paralyzed by the cold, they are clasped to each other, holding the heat between them. They wait for the sun to warm them.”
Notes from a Difficult CaseAlmost everyone I know advised me to sue. Their advice was not casual, because almost everyone I know is an attorney.
Summer Boot Camp
You want to do it. You mean to do it. You’re going to do it! Ensure that you will get around to that summer writing by joining.View Course
Explore Creative Nonfiction
Can’t get enough? Browse 25 years of archives.
View by Issue
View by Type
View by Topic
About Lee Gutkind
Lee's Latest Book
My Last Eight Thousand Days
This revealing, candid, and vivid portrait of one man’s view of aging written by the man who played a crucial role in establishing literary, narrative nonfiction in the marketplace and in the academy, examines male aging in a way we’ve not seen before.Purchase