Monday, 4 November 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 1

The term ‘creative non-fiction’ may seem like a contradiction of terms. After all, if non-fiction refers to the facts and truth, as opposed to fiction being all the made-up stuff, then how you be creative with facts? 

It all comes down to the fact, or truth, that you wish to get across to your reader, and how you go about doing that. The creative element comes into the delivery of the truth/fact, rather than influencing the fact itself. And there’s a lot of scope for using creative non-fiction. Writers who explore travel, biography (and autobiography), nature and food writing can use the techniques, as can ghost writers. Being creative with how you deliver your facts is what helps to engage the reader. Here’s an example:

“Watch out for the lobsters,” screamed a little girl running out of the church door. “They’re huge!” She ran off down the steps and onto the beach to rejoin her family.
I marvelled at the imaginations of children as I stepped from the heat of the midday sun into the cooler air of St Julian’s Church. The heavy door fell behind me, into its frame, with a solid thud, cocooning me from the bustling beach scene outside. Now I was alone, standing in a space only big enough for four pews, three thin stained glass windows and, above the altar, a fishing net with three of the tackiest, bright orange plastic lobsters you’ve ever seen!

I’ve been creative with some of this scene: the little girl did not exist. I made her and her dialogue up. But it doesn’t matter, because if the reader were to go to this particular church, on the harbour front at Tenby, they wouldn’t meet her. However, they will come across those lobsters hanging on the wall above the altar (see photo as evidence!). This is the fact that I wanted to convey to the reader.

Bringing in the little girl to offer some dialogue helps to draw the reader into the paragraph. Dialogue adds life and interest to text, and when you use dialogue, readers feel as though they are there at the scene, ‘listening’ to what’s being said as it happens, rather than being ‘told’ or ‘reported’ what was said, like a journalist would. So by using a little creativity here, I have, hopefully, made the fact a little more interesting.

So next time you want to convey some facts and figures to your readers, let your imagination wander. See how creative you can be in delivering some facts and truths to your readers. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be exploring some of these creative non-fiction techniques in more detail.

Good luck.  


  1. A great post, Simon - agree that using this technique would make an article. less stuffy to read.

    1. Yes, it's a great way to make a piece of text more interesting, although not all writers are comfortable doing it.

  2. Thanks for this Simon. It will be very helpful to a member of our group who is writing non-fiction. I'll pass it on to him.