Top tips for creative nonfiction writing
Creative nonfiction is based on true stories, but you can use your subjective vantage point to narrate it. Remember that creative nonfiction tends to interpolate imagined thoughts and conversations of real characters into the tale. When this happens, it can also be called a nonfiction novel, and some people usually distinguish it from creative nonfiction.
Creative nonfiction can go beyond writing down facts and journalism. You must write only the truth. Your readers expect this because of its nonfiction side of things. But how you choose to share your stories can depend on you and your creativity. This article provides the top tips for creative nonfiction writing.
You should not contract fact
One of the rules of creative nonfiction writing is that the fiction side is usually understudied to truth, and you can use it only when you see gaps in the historical records and a specific fact is not known or open to interpretation. Take note that creative nonfiction always looks at facts.
Your task is to join the dots in the facts with plausible lines of dialogue or narrative, though you need to leave the dots where they are. The problem with creative nonfiction authors is that the imagination can become the driving force, so historical facts can be ignored or distorted.
Research is important
The best way you can make sure that you don’t break creative nonfiction writing is to research. You can only choose to use creative nonfiction methods from a knowledge position.
The best research should include secondary sources like books and primary sources. For instance, the historical true crime genre can involve checking the original police files, such as police reports, inquest testimony, witness statements, and other documentary evidence. And, this invaluable and first-hand history can offer the most sought-after information for most nonfiction writers.
But it can be tricky to find primary sources. One of the ways you can research is to find out if there is a book that has already been written on the subject in which you are interested. If there is such a book, then it can often list both primary and secondary sources.
If not, you can check local or national records for information. National archives usually have many documents like declassified prosecution and police files, but these are sometimes released just decades after the event. Historical police files can sometimes be kept regionally.
You should outline the story
The idea of creative nonfiction is to narrate a true story compellingly and engagingly so that the readers can like it. Take note that the best stories usually have a clear objective and structure that highlights and explores issues. The same applies to creative nonfiction.
You need to develop the skeleton of your story with known facts and include details from first-hand research. It’s only when there are some gaps in historical records that you can consider including imagined constructs like a dialogue between the real characters. For example, with unresolved murder cases that happened decades ago, you can reconstruct the crime scene to show how the murder unfolded according to the various theories that have been expressed over the years.
And, if there are two or more theories that account for what may have happened, they cannot be both true. This means one theory can be false, so there is often an intrinsic component of fiction to such types of true crime stories regardless of the style you intend to write. Besides, different theories can be available from different authors because they don’t know most of the facts of the case. After all, if the writers knew what happened, then the crime would have been resolved. This makes it suitable for creative nonfiction writing.
You need to write in scenes
When you decide to outline the story, you should think about scenes. This is crucial when it comes to writing both creative fiction and nonfiction. Remember that scenes have events, characters, and dialogue to further the story and highlight key points. If the whole dialogue is known, then you don’t need to imagine things, but it can be rare.
Dialogue is often where the creative element tends to be put into creative nonfiction. And, if the whole story cannot be placed in scenes, you need to change focus and expand the scenes with traditional prose. In such cases, you need to highlight the reconstructions.
You should be honest
As explained earlier, creative nonfiction requires honesty. You can decide to italicize the dialogue that is derived verbatim from historical documents and use endnotes to cite your sources for important facts. This is one of the best approaches to dealing with creative nonfiction.
Besides personal memoirs, you should also list sources in any nonfiction book. Also, you can choose to transcribe any of the original primary research, so make sure that you have an evidence file. This approach is suitable for cold case jury books. For instance, important conversations between the suspects and the police officer can be reconstructed. But the reconstruction should be based on the police documents that were released to the public. The reconstructed conversation aims to help you to add more details and offer insight.
In creative nonfiction, you should never break the rule of narrating the truth. However, you can include literary techniques that may add interest as well as engage your readers. You can play with extended metaphors, symbolism, imagery, juxtaposition, irony, personification, and many more. You can add these devices to your story, and they don’t change the truth, but they can change the creativity and strength of your story.
In conclusion, creative nonfiction can blur the difference between fiction and nonfiction, though just at the borderline of knowledge, where truth and fact are obscured or unavailable. It may not be a dramatic license to change what you and your readers already know. Take note that there are many readers out there who prefer reading creative nonfiction stories. Therefore, to appeal to your potential readers, you should make sure that you are honest. You should also research the story so that you can present the true story.