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What Is Creative Nonfiction?: An Academic Discussion
By Victor Wasserman, UR Writing Consultant
(printable version here)

Creative Nonfiction stands apart from the more conventional fields of study discussed in these handbooks. Creative Nonfiction is a style of essay that rewards ingenuity. It is interdisciplinary by nature and requires research to pull together many disparate elements and fields. Generally speaking, creative nonfiction is more organic than analytical essays, flows easily from topic to topic and allows for a hyper-textual presentation of ideas, so long as your reader can follow along. The principal goal of this handbook is to discuss how to employ sources, researched information and other kinds of secondhand references in a creative nonfiction essay. Because even beginning a creative nonfiction essay may seem to be a monumental task, we will also talk in part about appropriate style and formula.

Creative Nonfiction is far too open and broad of a field to give a generic description of how any creative writing essay should look. The word "creative" tends to mislead and confuse students, who either freeze up at the absence of direction or interpret the word to mean a blank check allowing them goof off. Unless the assignment is as simple as "write something," assume that there are certain criteria to which the essay must adhere. While many of the rules of analytical essays can be ignored under the right conditions in creative nonfiction, there are still certain expectations that an academic creative nonfiction essay must fulfill.

Creative Nonfiction Is:

  • Academically rigorous - your paper should incorporate various fields and ideas to provide a more complete perspective for the reader.
    • i.e.: In "The Man Who Loved Grizzlies," author Ned Zeman combines aspects of biology, zoology, anthropology and geographic knowledge of the Alaskan wilderness to provide a knowledgeable portrait of the events he describes.
  • Written with a thesis in mind - the paper should still have a central argument or claim which unifies the various aspects of the essay.
  • Creative - See Appropriate Style and the Absence of a Formula.

Creative Nonfiction Is Not:

  • A reflection piece - the purpose of the narrative should be to provoke a deeper discussion of a topic.
  • About the writer - even if you choose to narrate in the first person, the essay should use your experiences to launch into a discussion of the thesis.
  • A report - although you are a source in your own writing, your essay should not be merely a description of what happened.
  • A list - your paper should not be merely a list of related events but should flow together.


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