Creative nonfiction is the underrated genre that somehow escapes from every high school English class to be replaced with analytical essays and rhetorical criticisms. In reality, creative nonfiction is important! It gives writers an outlet to express personal experiences in an artistic way and share real stories. Here is your beginners guide to the creative nonfiction education you’ve been missing!
The Personal Essay
The first type of creative nonfiction is the personal essay. This essay takes a personal story and tells it in an artistic way, often using metaphors. It can be funny, entertaining, or inspiring, depending on the experience you are sharing and your intended tone as the author. It is important that your personal essay is relatable to the reader, whether that be by using vibrant language or including values that are universally experienced. Here is an example of a personal essay by Roxane Gay called Peculiar Beliefs.
The memoir is personally my favorite type of creative nonfiction, and it shares a lot of the same characteristics of the personal essay. The memoir, however, is always autobiographical and highlights an important part of your life. The story is told through the eyes of the author and how they experienced something; memories are not always fact and that is okay! Emotions are central to the memoir, and there is usually a new perspective that forms from the period of life in which you are writing about. David Sedaris wrote a short memoir you can read online called Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Literary journalism is another type of nonfiction that is most closely related to typical news writing. Publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic use this style, where they report on real events in artistic styles and literary conventions. Personal anecdotes or metaphors could be included to attach the reader to the story, rather than the straightforward style that is used in typical journalism. An example of literary journalism is demonstrated in this interview with Stevie Nicks published in The New Yorker.
The lyric essay is the most obscure type of creative nonfiction, and it is often described as a combination of nonfiction and poetry. It usually showcases the emotion of a poem and can be written in a variety of formats other than the paragraph. In my opinion, this is the form where you can experiment most with the order in which the story is told. Life Code is a lyric essay that tells a true story in the form of an extended poem by J.A. Knight.
Hopefully this guide helps you to broaden your writing styles and experiment with the joy that is creative nonfiction. Next time you remember the trip you took with your uncle when you were eight, write a personal essay about it! You may remember more than you think!
Abby Bruner is double majoring is English and Communications. She is working on the nonfiction section and enjoys working out, writing, and reading!