Creative nonfiction refers to true stories that are immersive and engaging.
They are well-told accounts of real-life events, written to engage the reader and take them on a journey and spare them from any boring moment.
This article has included over 15 creative nonfiction prompts to help you get your creative juices flowing and inspire you to write your non-fiction book.
What is creative nonfiction?
Where does creativity come into nonfiction? Nonfiction is real stories and actual events, so where is the room for creativity?
Creative nonfiction writers use literary techniques, like character development, immersive settings, and engaging dialogue, but in the context of a true story.
The stories include real people, real events, and real situations. The way a writer tells the story is where they get creative.
Examples of creative nonfiction writing include:
- Narrative essay
- Personal essay
- Journal entry
- Literary journalism
Creative nonfiction writers aim to share real-world information such as an experience, a historical event, or a person’s life – with readers in a way that immerses them in the story as much as fiction.
Understand the use of the word creative in this context. Creative nonfiction authors don’t ‘create’ by making up facts or exaggerating them.
The facts are as they are, but how a writer conveys them and the frame in which they place them constitutes their creativity.
15+ creative nonfiction prompts
- Write in a second-person narrative. In this POV, the reader reads as though they are the character. The writer uses ‘you’ to tell the story. Consider a time in history in which to plant your reader and walk them through the experiences of that time. For example, ‘You were born in 1925. At 15 years old, you were drafted, to your dismay. Your experience with gun fighting, limited to sticks and stones on the playground, wouldn’t suffice for the days to come.
- Choose a skill, talent, or something you have a lot of experience with, and write a how-to article about it. For example, if you like to blog, write a blog about blogging – its challenges, why you want it, and how to do it well.
- Write book reviews. Choose your favorite book or the one you read most recently and write an honest review about your reading experience. What did you like about the story? What did you like about the author? Is there anything that could have made the reading experience more enjoyable?
- Do you feel a particular pull towards a vocation in life? Do you feel pulled to a particular career or life path, not because someone encouraged you but because you feel that pull deep down inside? Write about your experience with that feeling and the journey of following it.
- Do you have something you’d like to share about faith or belief with others? Write an account of your experiences on your spiritual journey. How do you feel about religion? What about spirituality? Do you have thoughts, opinions, and insights that are unique to you?
- Think about your favorite piece of art. If you can’t bring one to mind, go out and find some inspiration. Next, write about that piece of art. Describe it. How do you feel about it? Does it have any significance in other areas of your life? Is it a family heirloom?
- Write about time spent with the best teacher you’ve ever had. What was it about that teacher that made learning so easy? How did they help you in other areas of your life?
- Consider a dull moment in your day and write it as though it was the most exciting thing ever. Such a writing style lends itself well to humor, so take the joke as far as possible.
- Write about a time in your life when you had to learn the hard way. We don’t always have common sense at the ready when faced with decisions, and life is such that mistakes are our most outstanding teachers. Think about mistakes and lessons you’ve learned that would have been less impactful had you not experienced them directly.
- Sometimes we meet someone that changes our lives in a matter of moments. Perhaps we meet them once or are in our lives for days or weeks. Then, as life always does, it changes. That person isn’t around anymore, but the old version of ourselves isn’t around anymore either. Write a memoir about someone who passed through your life and made a significant impact.
- Write a story about your town or city. Consider the various characters, communities, and events that have taken place in the past and recent years and how the community has shifted and grown. Focus on engaging, real-life characters and their lives.
- Do you believe in fate and destiny? Do we have free will, or is that a more remarkable design at play? Write about your experiences with strange coincidences, spiritual experiences, and the concept of free will. Where do you stand? How do your religious beliefs come into play? Have you had experiences that you just can’t explain? What makes you think about how the world works? For a more fact-based and immersive read, include research and references to respected works on the topic.
- Write about a significant event in your life from your perspective. Then, rewrite the story from someone else’s perspective, such as a friend or one of your family members.
- Write about a time when your efforts paid off, even though you wanted to give up many times. The theme is persistence and consistency and their relationship to success.
- Good vs. evil. What makes a person, action, or behavior good or evil? Is it all relative? Just a matter of perspective? Or are good and evil cold, hard facts? Write about a moment when you were unsure if your actions were good or evil. How do you feel about that situation now? What did you learn about yourself and life in general?
- Write a story about a crime. You may know every detail, but take the facts you know and craft a story around them. Consider a major bank heist, a serial killer, or the story of a government whistleblower. Crime stories make for outstanding nonfiction because readers experience the pleasure of plot, narrative, settings, and characters while experiencing the thrill of the story being real.
Creative nonfiction writing tips
Writers have room to play when it comes to creative nonfiction. The facts exist and can’t be changed, but how one tells the story is what sets one account apart from another on the same topic.
Still, some basic nonfiction writing guidelines are essential to consider, as free as one is to write from different perspectives, characters, and tones.
Get your facts right
First things first, get your facts right.
If you write about a character from history, such as Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan, ensure everything around that character is accurate. Exert as much of your own efforts as you can in researching the topic.
Understand the time and culture in which they lived. Failing to convey the facts accurately is sure to backfire and damage your reputation, so check the facts.
Explore different points of view
One of the most exciting aspects of creative nonfiction is not the time or place in which the events happen but the people who experience them.
It’s wise to offer your readers multiple perspectives on the same situation, such as a shift from first person to third person narrative or even a second person narrative.
Use literary techniques and elements of fiction
Great creative nonfiction incorporates elements of fiction to tell a story better. Of course, it doesn’t contain the ‘fictional’ part – that would make it fiction. It includes literary techniques and devices such as:
- Point of view
- Vivid descriptions of settings and characters
These techniques, tools, and devices bolster your story-telling skills. You want your reader to get lost in your story, even if they know the ending.
For example, you may want to write about a historical figure, such as Malcolm X. We know that Malcolm X was assassinated. Still, the story leading up to the assassination is what readers want.
Pose a question
In Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style, with Readings, author Eileen Pollack suggests that creative nonfiction authors pose questions before beginning the writing process.
For example, if you want to write a memoir about a period of your life, consider why you want to write it.
Why is this memory significant? What did it teach me? How am I different today because of that experience?
Such questions help you add dimension to your nonfiction story. The nonfiction aspect is the facts, the ‘what happened.’ Your creativity comes into why it happened and how you see it.
Read, read, read
No matter the genre you want to write, one of the best ways to improve your writing and craft a story that readers will love is to read as much as possible.
Find creative nonfiction authors you enjoy and explore their style.
Consider what makes their writing so engaging and immersive. Is it their descriptive abilities? Is it their use of POV? Is it their use of humor?
Find and experiment with different styles to find your own creative writing approach.
‘Creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and often more accessible,’ writes Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction. That accessibility is why many readers love creative nonfiction.
History, facts, actual events… These are interesting, but learning about them can be challenging. Many people don’t like to read dense, long historical accounts or complex research, and as such, they miss out on learning about those events.
Creative nonfiction writers offer as much detail about the facts as necessary but don’t rely on them. Instead, they play with other story elements such as the people, the setting, and different points of view.
This approach makes it easier for the reader to immerse themselves in the story and learn about what happened.
‘You don’t have to spend long in archives to see how much drama there is in real life – often more drama than a novelist would dare invent.’– Charlotte Gray, author, historian