I’m a guy who writes creative nonfiction, and I was asked the other day what that term means.
Nonfiction itself occupies such a wide avenue in book writing. From historian Doris Kerns Goodwin to journalist Malcolm Gladwell to Bob Woodward's commentaries on Washington, this is a genre with breadth and depth.
But in recent years, a new term has emerged for a type of storytelling that sees the author add a certain voice to the writing style. This form incorporates writing techniques often associated more with literary fiction that many readers find engaging and enjoyable. Hence: creative nonfiction.
Here’s an example. Self-discovery is an element of creative nonfiction that I use in my most recent book "Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life". I explain to the reader up front that I'm searching for ways to enhance my life, just as they are, outlining my personal connection to the subject matter. I then go on to invite them to join me in meeting 31 interesting individuals (many of them well known) who have overcome their fears about taking risks, and have gone on to gain greater fulfillment in their lives. Essentially, I am asking the readers to come with me on a voyage of discovery. That's one aspect of creative nonfiction.
I believe nonfiction readers respond to stories featuring real world characters who are emotionally invested in the story’s outcome. Publishers call this a story arc. At the same time, the information has to be based on authentic facts since nothing undermines the authority of nonfiction books more than inaccuracies or exaggerations.
Another device I have used regularly in my writing is humor – where it fits. This may be as simple as a wry comment about someone or something, or a self-inflicted put down of myself, but for the fun of it. If the going gets heavy, nothing like a little smile to take you down from the high road.
Ginevra Grasso, who's an Editor with Europe Books, wrote me recently to praise "Pushing The Boundaries": "From a literary point of view there is no need to say that is a very well done job, it is obvious that you have a good experience in writing, interviewing, collecting information and transforming it into a motivation for your public. I love your positive attitude and your ironic tone which can always steal smiles." Aha: there is it: the ironic tone that can always steal smiles. That's creative nonfiction.
Lee Gutkind, Editor and Founder of Creative Nonfiction Magazine (that’s right: this category even has its own journal now), defines the genre as “True stories well told". He goes on to say, "In some ways, creative nonﬁction is like jazz – it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques, some of which are newly invented and others as old as writing itself." I think that does a pretty good job of summing up the category.
Did you know that creative nonﬁction has actually become the most popular genre in literary and publishing communities?
That's nice. Because it's the category I trade in!