5 Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips

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True stories well told. Lee Gutkind

At some point in university, I read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species. It was lyrical and riveting. Yes, you read that right. I’m talking about a scientific text published in 1859 … and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not what I’d call a cure for insomnia like so many of the dry, nonfiction texts I read throughout my school years. Have you ever wondered why history textbooks, so full of adventure, misfortune and the ideals on which countries were founded, tend to be written in fairly unimaginative language? Me, too. Well, I don’t have the answer. I do know, however, that it’s entirely possible to write about facts in an exciting style. There’s a reason why we enjoy reading fiction so much. So, in the interest of readability, I’ve pulled together five tips to help you make your nonfiction writing more engaging.

  1. Explain complex ideas, scientific facts or technical workings through story elements (character, setting, plot, theme).
  2. Write like it’s a memoir. This form of creative nonfiction uses an individual’s personal life as a focus.
  3. With literary journalism, like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, an idea is explained through scientific analysis and personal anecdotes.
  4. Creative nonfiction makes good use of literary devices, like voice, tone, character and scene development.
  5. Make your nonfiction as experimental as fiction (like a poem that explains a math concept!), but always ground it in fact.

Need to see how creative nonfiction works in action? Here are some great examples:

Anthony Bourdain – All of his books are colourful and mouthwatering accounts of his travels through global culinary landscapes.

Laura Hillenbrand Unbroken – The story of Louis Zamperini’s life from childhood through WWII and beyond.

Rachel Carson Silent Spring – Using known scientific facts, this classic inspired the birth of the environmental movement.

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