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Creative non-fiction

Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing truth which uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry.

Characteristics and definition

For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.” [1] Forms within this genre include personal essays, memoir, travel writing, food writing, biography, literary journalism, and other hybridized essays. Critic Chris Anderson claims that the genre can be understood best by splitting it into two subcategories--the personal essay and the journalistic essay--but the genre is currently defined by its lack of established conventions. [2]

Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry in her book The Art of Fact suggests four constitutive characteristics of the genre, the first of which is “Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind.” [3] By this, she means that the topics and events discussed in the text verifiably exist in the natural world. The second characteristic is “Exhaustive research,” [3] which she claims allows writers “novel perspectives on their subjects” and “also permits them to establish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references in their texts.” [4] The third characteristic that Lounsberry claims is crucial in defining the genre is “The scene”. She stresses the importance of describing and revivifying the context of events in contrast to the typical journalistic style of objective reportage. [5] The fourth and final feature she suggests is “Fine writing: a literary prose style”. “Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer’s artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature.” [6]

Creative nonfiction may be structured like traditional fiction narratives, as is true of Fenton Johnson's story of love and loss, "Geography of the Heart," and Virginia Holman's "Rescuing Patty Hearst." When book-length works of creative nonfiction follow a story-like arc, they are sometimes called narrative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction often escapes traditional boundaries of narrative altogether, as happens in the bittersweet banter of Natalia Ginzburg's essay, "He and I," and in John McPhee's hypnotic tour of Atlantic City, "In Search of Marvin Gardens."


Creative NonFiction -

‘Having always used the word to refer to walking, I am surprised to learn that it comes from water. Rivers and streams meander, verb, have meanders, noun. "Meander," in fact, comes from the name of a river, one in ancient Phrygia, now part of Turkey -- the Maeander, now the Menderes. Change of name notwithstanding, the waters still flow from the Anatolian plateau to the Aegean Sea. A namesake, a Meander River, meanders in northern Alberta.

In what we do on foot, meandering implies an aimless wandering, with the pleasant connotation that the very aimlessness of the wander is something freely, even happily, chosen.

The meanders of water seem equally aimless, but are, it turns out, very regular in their irregularity -- although if you were walking along the bank of a meandering river, you might find that hard to believe. You would head in one direction, and then curve around until you are going the opposite way, and then around again, following a path which turns upon itself and makes no sense. Could a helicopter or fairy godmother, though, raise you high enough, you would see that what seems like chaos below actually forms a regular repeating pattern of serpentine flexuosity.

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but a river neither knows nor cares. It seldom flows straight for a distance of more than about ten times its width. A river erodes its banks, and the way of the world is such that one side invariably erodes faster than the other. It eventually collapses and its sediment is carried along and deposited downstream. Two curves are thus begun: the erosion point becomes the outside of one; the sediment pile, the inside of the next.

The water on the outside has to flow faster to keep up, causing more erosion, more sediment movement. The outsides get deeper, the insides shallower. At any point, the shape of the river shows its history. If other forces do not prevent, the bends over time work toward becoming perfectly elliptical. "Ellipse" comes from the Greek for "to fall short," an ellipse falling as it does short of a perfect circle.

This has all been observed in nature and shown experimentally in laboratories, and is thought by many to be sufficient explanation for meanders.

Others disagree, especially now that infrared images from satellites show I that ocean currents -- which have no erodable banks -- also meander. The jet stream appears to meander as well. Mathematicians have calculated that the most probable path between two points on a surface is in fact a meander. Meanders then may be the norm, not the exception. The question may be not why some rivers meander, but why every river we see does not.’

* * *


What they're looking for:

  • Strong reportage
  • Well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice.
  • An informational quality or instructive element that offers the reader something to learn (an idea, concept or collection of facts, strengthened with insight, reflection and interpretation.)
  • A compelling, focused, sustained narrative that is well-structured, makes sense and conveys meaning.

Guidelines for Submission:

  • Submissions should be typed, double-spaced, 5,000 words maximum.
  • Submissions to special issues should be clearly marked.
  • Please do not send multiple submissions.
  • Please do not send queries. We consider only complete essays.
  • Faxed or emailed submissions will not be accepted.
  • Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for response. We regret that we cannot return manuscripts.
  • We will reply to manuscripts sent from outside the United States by email, if an email address is provided.
  • We accept simultaneous submissions, but do ask to be kept informed of the status of your manuscript.
  • We typically pay $10 per printed page.
  • Please send unsolicited material to:

    Creative Nonfiction Foundation


Clear, concise, vivid prose -- memoir, journalism, or lyric all welcome. Memoir and narrative are best told with scenes and detail, not explanation, and even the personal essay form benefits from image and sensory language.

*Bernard Cooper suggests that short nonfiction “requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.” We agree.


What is Creative Nonfiction?

Contacts (Trade Journalism)

1.      Classic fm

Editor in chief: John Evans


2.      Marty Weil’s blog (guides for trade journalists) -

3.      Paul Conley – blog for trade journalists -

4.  (750 words max) – no payment

5. -  (submissions page)

6.       Inkpot -

7.       Freelance jobs -

Creative nonfiction is urgent, complex, intelligent, and written in a strong and distinctive voice, immersing and transporting the reader. It can come in many forms, including, but not limited to:

~ literary memoir
~ essay
~ satire and parody
~ literary diaries
~ literary journalism.

Robert L. Fielding