Writing Beginner

What Is Creative Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 20 Examples)

Creative writing begins with a blank page and the courage to fill it with the stories only you can tell.

I face this intimidating blank page daily–and I have for the better part of 20+ years.

In this guide, you’ll learn all the ins and outs of creative writing with tons of examples.

What Is Creative Writing (Long Description)?

Creative Writing is the art of using words to express ideas and emotions in imaginative ways. It encompasses various forms including novels, poetry, and plays, focusing on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes.

Bright, colorful creative writer's desk with notebook and typewriter -- What Is Creative Writing

Table of Contents

Let’s expand on that definition a bit.

Creative writing is an art form that transcends traditional literature boundaries.

It includes professional, journalistic, academic, and technical writing. This type of writing emphasizes narrative craft, character development, and literary tropes. It also explores poetry and poetics traditions.

In essence, creative writing lets you express ideas and emotions uniquely and imaginatively.

It’s about the freedom to invent worlds, characters, and stories. These creations evoke a spectrum of emotions in readers.

Creative writing covers fiction, poetry, and everything in between.

It allows writers to express inner thoughts and feelings. Often, it reflects human experiences through a fabricated lens.

Types of Creative Writing

There are many types of creative writing that we need to explain.

Some of the most common types:

  • Short stories
  • Screenplays
  • Flash fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction

Short Stories (The Brief Escape)

Short stories are like narrative treasures.

They are compact but impactful, telling a full story within a limited word count. These tales often focus on a single character or a crucial moment.

Short stories are known for their brevity.

They deliver emotion and insight in a concise yet powerful package. This format is ideal for exploring diverse genres, themes, and characters. It leaves a lasting impression on readers.

Example: Emma discovers an old photo of her smiling grandmother. It’s a rarity. Through flashbacks, Emma learns about her grandmother’s wartime love story. She comes to understand her grandmother’s resilience and the value of joy.

Novels (The Long Journey)

Novels are extensive explorations of character, plot, and setting.

They span thousands of words, giving writers the space to create entire worlds. Novels can weave complex stories across various themes and timelines.

The length of a novel allows for deep narrative and character development.

Readers get an immersive experience.

Example: Across the Divide tells of two siblings separated in childhood. They grow up in different cultures. Their reunion highlights the strength of family bonds, despite distance and differences.

Poetry (The Soul’s Language)

Poetry expresses ideas and emotions through rhythm, sound, and word beauty.

It distills emotions and thoughts into verses. Poetry often uses metaphors, similes, and figurative language to reach the reader’s heart and mind.

Poetry ranges from structured forms, like sonnets, to free verse.

The latter breaks away from traditional formats for more expressive thought.

Example: Whispers of Dawn is a poem collection capturing morning’s quiet moments. “First Light” personifies dawn as a painter. It brings colors of hope and renewal to the world.

Plays (The Dramatic Dialogue)

Plays are meant for performance. They bring characters and conflicts to life through dialogue and action.

This format uniquely explores human relationships and societal issues.

Playwrights face the challenge of conveying setting, emotion, and plot through dialogue and directions.

Example: Echoes of Tomorrow is set in a dystopian future. Memories can be bought and sold. It follows siblings on a quest to retrieve their stolen memories. They learn the cost of living in a world where the past has a price.

Screenplays (Cinema’s Blueprint)

Screenplays outline narratives for films and TV shows.

They require an understanding of visual storytelling, pacing, and dialogue. Screenplays must fit film production constraints.

Example: The Last Light is a screenplay for a sci-fi film. Humanity’s survivors on a dying Earth seek a new planet. The story focuses on spacecraft Argo’s crew as they face mission challenges and internal dynamics.

Memoirs (The Personal Journey)

Memoirs provide insight into an author’s life, focusing on personal experiences and emotional journeys.

They differ from autobiographies by concentrating on specific themes or events.

Memoirs invite readers into the author’s world.

They share lessons learned and hardships overcome.

Example: Under the Mango Tree is a memoir by Maria Gomez. It shares her childhood memories in rural Colombia. The mango tree in their yard symbolizes home, growth, and nostalgia. Maria reflects on her journey to a new life in America.

Flash Fiction (The Quick Twist)

Flash fiction tells stories in under 1,000 words.

It’s about crafting compelling narratives concisely. Each word in flash fiction must count, often leading to a twist.

This format captures life’s vivid moments, delivering quick, impactful insights.

Example: The Last Message features an astronaut’s final Earth message as her spacecraft drifts away. In 500 words, it explores isolation, hope, and the desire to connect against all odds.

Creative Nonfiction (The Factual Tale)

Creative nonfiction combines factual accuracy with creative storytelling.

This genre covers real events, people, and places with a twist. It uses descriptive language and narrative arcs to make true stories engaging.

Creative nonfiction includes biographies, essays, and travelogues.

Example: Echoes of Everest follows the author’s Mount Everest climb. It mixes factual details with personal reflections and the history of past climbers. The narrative captures the climb’s beauty and challenges, offering an immersive experience.

Fantasy (The World Beyond)

Fantasy transports readers to magical and mythical worlds.

It explores themes like good vs. evil and heroism in unreal settings. Fantasy requires careful world-building to create believable yet fantastic realms.

Example: The Crystal of Azmar tells of a young girl destined to save her world from darkness. She learns she’s the last sorceress in a forgotten lineage. Her journey involves mastering powers, forming alliances, and uncovering ancient kingdom myths.

Science Fiction (The Future Imagined)

Science fiction delves into futuristic and scientific themes.

It questions the impact of advancements on society and individuals.

Science fiction ranges from speculative to hard sci-fi, focusing on plausible futures.

Example: When the Stars Whisper is set in a future where humanity communicates with distant galaxies. It centers on a scientist who finds an alien message. This discovery prompts a deep look at humanity’s universe role and interstellar communication.

Watch this great video that explores the question, “What is creative writing?” and “How to get started?”:

What Are the 5 Cs of Creative Writing?

The 5 Cs of creative writing are fundamental pillars.

They guide writers to produce compelling and impactful work. These principles—Clarity, Coherence, Conciseness, Creativity, and Consistency—help craft stories that engage and entertain.

They also resonate deeply with readers. Let’s explore each of these critical components.

Clarity makes your writing understandable and accessible.

It involves choosing the right words and constructing clear sentences. Your narrative should be easy to follow.

In creative writing, clarity means conveying complex ideas in a digestible and enjoyable way.

Coherence ensures your writing flows logically.

It’s crucial for maintaining the reader’s interest. Characters should develop believably, and plots should progress logically. This makes the narrative feel cohesive.


Conciseness is about expressing ideas succinctly.

It’s being economical with words and avoiding redundancy. This principle helps maintain pace and tension, engaging readers throughout the story.

Creativity is the heart of creative writing.

It allows writers to invent new worlds and create memorable characters. Creativity involves originality and imagination. It’s seeing the world in unique ways and sharing that vision.


Consistency maintains a uniform tone, style, and voice.

It means being faithful to the world you’ve created. Characters should act true to their development. This builds trust with readers, making your story immersive and believable.

Is Creative Writing Easy?

Creative writing is both rewarding and challenging.

Crafting stories from your imagination involves more than just words on a page. It requires discipline and a deep understanding of language and narrative structure.

Exploring complex characters and themes is also key.

Refining and revising your work is crucial for developing your voice.

The ease of creative writing varies. Some find the freedom of expression liberating.

Others struggle with writer’s block or plot development challenges. However, practice and feedback make creative writing more fulfilling.

What Does a Creative Writer Do?

A creative writer weaves narratives that entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

Writers explore both the world they create and the emotions they wish to evoke. Their tasks are diverse, involving more than just writing.

Creative writers develop ideas, research, and plan their stories.

They create characters and outline plots with attention to detail. Drafting and revising their work is a significant part of their process. They strive for the 5 Cs of compelling writing.

Writers engage with the literary community, seeking feedback and participating in workshops.

They may navigate the publishing world with agents and editors.

Creative writers are storytellers, craftsmen, and artists. They bring narratives to life, enriching our lives and expanding our imaginations.

How to Get Started With Creative Writing?

Embarking on a creative writing journey can feel like standing at the edge of a vast and mysterious forest.

The path is not always clear, but the adventure is calling.

Here’s how to take your first steps into the world of creative writing:

  • Find a time of day when your mind is most alert and creative.
  • Create a comfortable writing space free from distractions.
  • Use prompts to spark your imagination. They can be as simple as a word, a phrase, or an image.
  • Try writing for 15-20 minutes on a prompt without editing yourself. Let the ideas flow freely.
  • Reading is fuel for your writing. Explore various genres and styles.
  • Pay attention to how your favorite authors construct their sentences, develop characters, and build their worlds.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to write a novel right away. Begin with short stories or poems.
  • Small projects can help you hone your skills and boost your confidence.
  • Look for writing groups in your area or online. These communities offer support, feedback, and motivation.
  • Participating in workshops or classes can also provide valuable insights into your writing.
  • Understand that your first draft is just the beginning. Revising your work is where the real magic happens.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to rework your pieces.
  • Carry a notebook or digital recorder to jot down ideas, observations, and snippets of conversations.
  • These notes can be gold mines for future writing projects.

Final Thoughts: What Is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is an invitation to explore the unknown, to give voice to the silenced, and to celebrate the human spirit in all its forms.

Check out these creative writing tools (that I highly recommend):

Read This Next:

  • What Is a Prompt in Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 200 Examples)
  • What Is A Personal Account In Writing? (47 Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Short Story (Ultimate Guide + Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Romance Novel [21 Tips + Examples)

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Fiction Writing Basics

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Plot is what happens in a story, but action itself doesn’t constitute plot. Plot is created by the manner in which the writer arranges and organizes particular actions in a meaningful way. It’s useful to think of plot as a chain reaction, where a sequence of events causes other events to happen.

When reading a work of fiction, keep in mind that the author has selected one line of action from the countless possibilities of action available to her. Trying to understand why the author chose a particular line of action over another leads to a better understanding of how plot is working in a story

This does not mean that events happen in chronological order; the author may present a line of action that happens after the story’s conclusion, or she may present the reader with a line of action that is still to be determined. Authors can’t present all the details related to an action, so certain details are brought to the forefront, while others are omitted.

The author imbues the story with meaning by a selection of detail. The cause-and-effect connection between one event and another should be logical and believable, because the reader will lose interest if the relation between events don’t seem significant. As Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren wrote in Understanding Fiction , fiction is interpretive: “Every story must indicate some basis for the relation among its parts, for the story itself is a particular writer’s way of saying how you can make sense of human experience.”

If a sequence of events is merely reflexive, then plot hasn’t come into play. Plot occurs when the writer examines human reactions to situations that are always changing. How does love, longing, regret and ambition play out in a story? It depends on the character the writer has created.

Because plot depends on character, plot is what the character does. Plot also fluctuates, so that something is settled or thrown off balance in the end, or both. Traditionally, a story begins with some kind of description that then leads to a complication. The complication leads up to a crisis point where something must change. This is the penultimate part of the story, before the climax, or the most heightened moment of a story.

In some stories, the climax is followed by a denouement, or resolution of the climax. Making events significant in plot begins with establishing a strong logic that connects the events. Insofar as plot reveals some kind of human value or some idea about the meaning of experience, plot is related to theme.

Character can’t be separated from action, since we come to understand a character by what she does. In stories, characters drive the plot. The plot depends on the characters' situations and how they respond to it. The actions that occur in the plot are only believable if the character is believable. For most traditional fiction, characters are divided into the following categories:

  • Protagonist : the main or central character or hero (Harry Potter)
  • Antagonist : opponent or enemy of the protagonist (Dark Lord Voldemort)
  • Foil Character : a character(s) who helps readers better understand another character, usually the protagonist. For example in the Harry Potter series, Hermione and Ron are Harry's friends, but they also help readers better understand the protagonist, Harry. Ron and Hermione represent personalities that in many ways are opposites - Ron is a bit lazy and insecure; Hermione is driven and confident. Harry exists in the middle, thus illustrating his inner conflict and immaturity at the beginning of the book series.

Because character is so important to plot and fiction, it’s important for the writer to understand her characters as much as possible. Though the writer should know everything there is to know about her character, she should present her knowledge of the characters indirectly, through dialogue and action. Still, sometimes a summary of a character’s traits needs to be given. For example, for characters who play the supporting cast in a story, direct description of the character’s traits keeps the story from slowing down.

Beginning and intermediate level writers frequently settle for creating types, rather than highly individualized, credible characters. Be wary of creating a character who is a Loser With A Good Heart, The Working Class Man Who Is Trapped By Tough Guy Attitudes, The Lonely Old Lady With A Dog, etc. At the same time, keep in mind that all good characters are, in a sense, types.

Often, in creative writing workshops from beginning to advanced levels, the instructor asks, “Whose story is this?” This is because character is the most important aspect of fiction. In an intermediate level workshop, it would be more useful to introduce a story in which it is more difficult to pick out the main character from the line-up. It provides an opportunity for intermediate level fiction writers to really explore character and the factors that determine what is at stake, and for whom.

Conflict depends on character, because readers are interested in the outcomes of people’s lives, but may be less interested in what’s at stake for a corporation, a bank, or an organization. Characters in conflict with one another make up fiction. Hypothetically, a character can come into conflict with an external force, like poverty, or a fire. But there is simply more opportunity to explore the depth and profundity in relationships between people, because people are so complex that conflict between characters often gets blurred with a character’s conflict with herself

The short story, as in all literary forms, including poetry and creative nonfiction, depends on the parts of the poem or story or essay making some kind of sense as a whole. The best example in fiction is character. The various aspects of a character should add up to some kind of meaningful, larger understanding of the character. If the various aspects of a character don’t add up, the character isn’t believable. This doesn’t mean that your characters have to be sensible. Your characters may have no common sense at all, but we have to understand the character and why she is that way. The character’s motives and actions have to add up, however conflicted, marginalized or irrational they may be.

Writing Nestling

Writing Nestling

What Is Creative Writing?

What Is Creative Writing? (Definition & 11 Best Steps)

Creative writing is the celestial dance of words, an art form that transcends the ordinary to forge literary constellations that illuminate the human experience.

At its core, creative writing is a cosmic exploration of imagination, a journey into the uncharted realms where storytelling becomes a vehicle for self-expression, creativity, and connection.

It encompasses a diverse array of genres, from the poetic landscapes of verse to the intricate narratives of fiction and the introspective reflections of creative nonfiction.

Creative writing is both an ancient practice, rooted in the oral traditions of storytelling, and a contemporary force, shaped by the dynamic currents of literary movements and the digital age.

In this cosmic voyage of words, writers become cosmic architects, crafting worlds, characters, and emotions that resonate across the galaxies of human thought and emotion.

This exploration delves into the historical evolution, elements, genres, and the transformative process of creative writing, inviting both novice stargazers and seasoned explorers to embark on a literary odyssey through the cosmos of human imagination.

Table of Contents

What Is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is the process of expressing thoughts, ideas, and emotions through the artful use of language. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

Idea Generation

Start by brainstorming and generating ideas. This could be inspired by personal experiences, observations, or purely imaginative concepts.

Organize your thoughts and structure your writing. This might involve outlining the plot for a story, creating characters, or planning the flow of a poem.

Choosing a Form or Genre

Decide on the type of creative writing you want to pursue – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, or any other form.

Setting the Tone and Style

Define the tone and style of your writing. This could range from formal to informal, humorous to serious, depending on the intended effect.

Creating Characters or Themes

Develop characters, themes, or central ideas that will drive your narrative and engage your audience.

Begin writing your first draft. Allow yourself the freedom to explore ideas without worrying too much about perfection at this stage.

Review and revise your work. This involves refining your language, improving clarity, and ensuring your writing effectively communicates your intended message or story.

Pay attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Edit your work to eliminate errors and enhance overall readability.

Seek feedback from peers, writing groups, or mentors. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your work.

Make final adjustments based on feedback and your own revisions. Polish your creative writing until you are satisfied with the result.

Publishing or Sharing

Decide whether you want to share your work publicly. This could involve submitting it to literary magazines, self-publishing, or simply sharing it with friends and family.

Creative writing is a dynamic and iterative process, allowing for continuous refinement and exploration of ideas.

What Is Creative Writing?

Historical Evolution of Creative Writing

Embarking on a literary time-travel, the historical evolution of creative writing unfolds like an intricately woven tapestry, blending the whispers of ancient oral traditions with the bold strokes of individual expression that emerged during the Renaissance.

Picture storytellers captivating audiences with folk tales around ancient campfires, only to witness the metamorphosis into written words that took place during humanity’s transition from the spoken to the written word.

As the winds of change blew through literary landscapes, the Renaissance breathed life into personal narratives, and Romanticism embraced the turbulent storms of emotion.

Modernism then shattered conventional boundaries, paving the way for experimental forms that mirrored the tumultuous twentieth century.

Today, creative writing stands at the intersection of tradition and innovation, a dynamic force shaped by the echoes of the past and the untamed creativity of the present.

Origins in oral traditions

The origins of creative writing can be traced back to the rich tapestry of human storytelling woven through the fabric of oral traditions.

In the dim glow of ancient campfires, our ancestors spun tales that danced between reality and imagination, passing down knowledge, wisdom, and cultural identity from one generation to the next.

These oral narratives, often rooted in folklore and myths, were the heartbeat of communities, connecting individuals through shared stories.

From the captivating epics of Homer to the enchanting fairy tales whispered in the corners of the world, the oral tradition laid the foundation for the written word, embodying the essence of human creativity, imagination, and the innate desire to communicate through the power of narrative.

Development through literary movements

The historical journey of creative writing unfolds through the dynamic currents of literary movements, each a vibrant chapter in the evolution of human expression.

The Renaissance, a cultural rebirth, marked a pivotal shift as writers embraced the power of individual expression and departed from medieval constraints.

Romanticism followed, a tempest of emotion that stormed the structured landscapes of literature, championing nature, passion, and the sublime.

Modernism emerged as a bold departure from traditional forms, ushering in experimental narratives and fragmented perspectives that mirrored the complexities of the 20th century.

Today’s creative writing landscape, shaped by these movements, is a kaleidoscope of diverse voices and styles, a testament to the enduring influence of literary evolution on the human experience.

Elements of Creative Writing

Dive into the alchemy of creative writing, where the elements of storytelling blend and dance like cosmic particles in a celestial ballet.

Picture the plot and structure as the architectural skeleton, a blueprint for worlds yet to be born. Characters, like sentient constellations, come to life, breathing the very essence of authenticity into the narrative cosmos.

Amidst the vast expanse of setting and atmosphere, landscapes materialize like dreams, painting scenes that are both vivid and haunting.

Style and voice emerge as the enchanting melodies, each writer composing a unique symphony that resonates in the reader’s soul.

In this literary crucible, the elements fuse, giving birth to tales that are not just written but are crafted, where words become spells, and the act of creation is nothing short of magical.

Genres in Creative Writing

Step into the kaleidoscope of creative expression, where genres in creative writing are the vibrant hues that paint the literary canvas with boundless imagination.

Fiction, a realm where novel universes unfurl with every turn of the page, beckons explorers to traverse landscapes of intrigue and emotion.

Poetry, the language of the soul, weaves verses that resonate in the heart’s chambers, from the traditional sonnets to the avant-garde free forms that defy gravity.

Creative nonfiction becomes a literary mirror, reflecting the kaleidoscope of reality through memoirs and essays, blurring the lines between experience and artistry.

These genres are not mere labels; they are portals into worlds where storytelling transcends boundaries, and writers become architects of realms that captivate the mind, stir the emotions, and linger in the echoes of the reader’s imagination.

Fiction, the enchanting realm where the alchemy of words transforms imagination into reality, beckons readers into worlds unknown.

It is the literary tapestry where storytellers weave tales that dance on the precipice between reality and fantasy. Novels, the architects of this fantastical landscape, sculpt characters with palpable depth, crafting intricate plotlines that unfold like secrets waiting to be revealed.

From the classic works of timeless masters to the contemporary symphonies of emerging voices, fiction transcends time and space, inviting readers to escape the ordinary and venture into the extraordinary.

In this boundless expanse, emotions become tangible, and the echoes of imaginary footsteps resonate long after the last page is turned. Fiction is not merely a genre; it is a passport to alternate realities, a magic carpet that carries readers to places uncharted and emotions unexplored.

Poetry, the language of the heart and the echo of the soul, is an art form that transcends the boundaries of ordinary expression.

In the symphony of words, poets become maestros, conducting emotions and experiences into verses that sing with rhythm and grace.

From the structured elegance of traditional forms to the unbridled freedom of free verse, poetry captures the ineffable and distills it into the purest essence.

Every line is a brushstroke painting vivid imagery, and each stanza is a melody that resonates in the chambers of the reader’s spirit. Poets wield words like alchemists, transforming mundane moments into profound revelations.

In the delicate dance between language and emotion, poetry stands as a testament to the human capacity to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the beauty of finely crafted language and the endless possibilities of the poetic imagination.

Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction, a captivating blend of factual precision and artistic expression, serves as a literary bridge between the realms of truth and imagination.

In this genre, writers embark on a compelling journey of storytelling that mines the depths of reality to craft narratives as rich and engaging as any fiction.

From memoirs that illuminate the intricacies of personal experiences to thought-provoking essays that dissect the tapestry of the human condition, creative nonfiction is a mosaic of authenticity painted with the brushstrokes of literary finesse.

The genre encourages writers to artfully blur the lines between fact and narrative, weaving a tapestry that captures the essence of life in all its complexities.

It is a genre where truth is not merely recounted but elevated to the status of art, inviting readers to explore the profound and the ordinary with fresh eyes and a heightened appreciation for the power of storytelling.

What Is Creative Writing?

The Creative Writing Process

Embark on the enigmatic odyssey of the creative writing process, where inspiration is a clandestine muse that whispers in the stillness of creativity.

The inception, a cosmic spark, ignites the imagination, unleashing a torrent of ideas that cascade like shooting stars across the writer’s mind. The drafting phase is a dance with chaos, a raw manifestation of thoughts and emotions onto the blank canvas of the page.

Yet, the revision process emerges as the phoenix rising from the literary ashes, where words transform and refine, revealing the alchemical magic of refining ideas into a harmonious narrative.

Seeking feedback becomes a cosmic conversation, where the writer navigates the cosmos of criticism to unveil hidden constellations in their work.

The creative writing process is not a linear trajectory but a celestial dance , where writers traverse the nebulae of creativity, forging galaxies of prose and poetry that linger in the reader’s universe long after the final punctuation mark.

Idea generation, the pulsating heartbeat of the creative process, invites writers into the boundless cosmos of imagination.

It is an ethereal dance with inspiration, where sparks of creativity ignite the mind like constellations in the night sky. Whether drawn from personal experiences, fleeting observations, or the whispers of dreams, ideas are the raw stardust that writers mold into narrative galaxies.

The process is as unpredictable as a meteor shower, with writers navigating the celestial expanse to capture elusive fragments of brilliance.

From the quiet corners of introspection to the cacophony of the world, the art of idea generation transforms the mundane into the extraordinary, inviting writers to embark on a cosmic odyssey where every fleeting notion has the potential to blossom into a literary supernova.

Drafting and Revising

Drafting and revising, the twin constellations of the writing process, encapsulate the transformative journey of turning nebulous ideas into polished prose.

In the initial act of drafting, writers plunge into the creative abyss, weaving words into a tapestry of raw emotions and vivid imagery.

It is an untamed exploration, where the exhilarating rush of creation takes precedence over perfection. Yet, the true alchemy occurs in the refining crucible of revision. Like a sculptor chiseling away excess stone to reveal a masterpiece, writers meticulously carve and reshape their narratives.

It is a dance with words, a delicate balancing act of preserving the authenticity of the initial draft while enhancing clarity, coherence, and resonance.

Revision is not merely correction; it is the conscious evolution of a narrative, where every nuanced change breathes new life into the prose.

The tandem of drafting and revising, akin to the ebb and flow of cosmic forces, is the dynamic heartbeat that propels a piece of writing from its embryonic stages to the polished brilliance that captivates the reader’s soul.

Publishing and Sharing

Publishing and sharing mark the culmination of a writer’s odyssey, where the crafted words are prepared to venture beyond the solitary realm of creation.

It is a moment of revelation, where the manuscript, once a private universe, prepares to meet the wider cosmos of readership.

The publishing process, be it through traditional avenues or the burgeoning world of self-publishing, involves the meticulous preparation of the work for public consumption.

The act of sharing becomes a cosmic ripple, as the writer’s voice resonates across the literary landscape, forging connections with readers who may find solace, inspiration, or sheer enjoyment in the words.

It is a dance of vulnerability and courage, as writers release their creations into the literary cosmos, hoping their narrative constellations will find a home in the hearts and minds of others.

The symbiotic relationship between writer and reader transforms the act of publishing into a shared cosmic experience, where words transcend the individual and become part of a collective literary universe.

Challenges and Rewards of Creative Writing

Navigating the cosmos of creative writing reveals a celestial dance of challenges and rewards, where each word penned is a step into the cosmic unknown.

The challenges emerge like elusive comets, from the gravitational pull of writer’s block threatening to derail creativity, to the constant cosmic quest for a harmonious balance between originality and marketability.

Yet, these challenges are the cosmic forge that tempers the writer’s mettle, honing resilience and creativity in the crucible of adversity.

The rewards, akin to dazzling supernovae, illuminate the journey. The cathartic joy of crafting a sentence that resonates, the cosmic connections formed with readers who find solace or delight in the prose – these are the celestial jewels that make the struggles worthwhile.

In the vast expanse of creative writing, challenges and rewards orbit each other like binary stars, their gravitational pull shaping the unique trajectory of every writer’s cosmic odyssey.

Overcoming writer’s block

Writer’s block, that elusive shadow cast over the creative landscape, can feel like navigating a cosmic void where inspiration is but a distant star.

It is the gravitational force that stymies the flow of words and leaves the writer stranded in a sea of blank pages. Yet, overcoming writer’s block is an act of cosmic resilience.

Writers embark on a journey through the nebulae of creativity, employing various strategies to break free from the entangled cosmic web.

Whether it’s the cosmic power of free writing to unravel mental knots or the meteoric inspiration found in changing the writing environment, overcoming writer’s block becomes a transformative process.

It is the writer’s spacecraft pushing through the cosmic fog, a testament to the indomitable spirit that seeks to create even in the face of cosmic resistance.

In this dance with the muse, writers rediscover the cosmic symphony of their imagination and emerge from the creative void with newfound brilliance.

Balancing originality and marketability

In the cosmic dance of creative writing, striking the delicate balance between originality and marketability is akin to navigating the gravitational forces of two celestial bodies.

Originality, the pulsating core of creativity, propels writers into uncharted literary realms, forging unique constellations of thought and expression.

Yet, the cosmic reality of marketability orbits nearby, where commercial considerations seek gravitational stability.

It’s an intricate interplay; too much originality may risk veering into the obscure, while an excessive focus on marketability might compromise the authenticity of the creative vision.

Writers become cosmic architects, constructing narratives that not only resonate with their individual voice but also align with the gravitational pull of audience preferences.

Balancing these cosmic forces is a perpetual challenge, requiring writers to dance on the edge of innovation while staying tethered to the gravitational pull of a wider readership.

In this cosmic balancing act, writers discover the celestial equilibrium where originality and marketability harmonize, creating literary galaxies that captivate both the cosmos of creativity and the earthly realms of audience engagement.

Impact of Creative Writing on Society

Creative writing is the cosmic echo of the human soul, resonating through the annals of time and leaving an indelible imprint on the fabric of society.

It serves as a literary constellation, illuminating the collective consciousness with narratives that mirror, challenge, and redefine societal values.

From ancient epics that shaped cultural identities to contemporary works that spark revolutions of thought, creative writing is a cosmic force that fosters empathy, dismantles prejudices, and holds a mirror to the complexities of the human experience.

It is the catalyst for societal metamorphosis, a cosmic dance that encourages dialogue, fuels revolutions, and shapes the very contours of cultural evolution.

In the vast cosmos of creative expression, the impact of writing is not merely confined to the pages; it permeates the collective psyche, becoming a celestial force that guides, questions, and ultimately shapes the destiny of societies on this cosmic voyage through time.

Educational and Professional Opportunities in Creative Writing

Embarking on the cosmic odyssey of creative writing isn’t just a journey into the realms of imagination; it’s a launchpad to educational and professional constellations that illuminate diverse career trajectories.

Creative writing programs become celestial academies, nurturing literary supernovae through workshops, mentorship, and the exploration of narrative galaxies.

The academic pursuit of the craft transforms writers into cosmic architects, honing not only their creativity but also the analytical skills essential for dissecting the intricacies of language.

Beyond the academic cosmos, the professional opportunities in creative writing are as vast as the universe itself.

Writers may navigate the celestial waters of journalism, become starry-eyed screenwriters crafting cinematic adventures, or soar as literary explorers, publishing novels that leave an indelible mark on the literary cosmos.

In the intersection of education and profession, creative writing unfolds as a cosmic tapestry where words aren’t just written but become portals to boundless opportunities in the vast expanse of the literary universe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about What Is Creative Writing?

What exactly is creative writing, and how does it differ from other forms of writing.

Creative writing is the vibrant, expressive art of using words to craft narratives that go beyond mere conveyance of information. It stands apart by prioritizing imagination, self-expression, and often blurs the lines between reality and fiction.

How does the historical evolution of creative writing influence contemporary practices?

The historical journey of creative writing, from ancient oral traditions to the digital age, has shaped the very DNA of the craft. It influences contemporary practices by offering a rich tapestry of literary movements, styles, and themes that writers can draw inspiration from or subvert.

Can anyone become a creative writer, or is it a skill reserved for a select few?

Absolutely anyone can become a creative writer! While innate talent can be an asset, the essence of creative writing lies in practice, exploration, and the willingness to cultivate one’s unique voice and perspective.

What are the key elements that make up creative writing, and how do they contribute to the overall narrative?

The elements of creative writing, such as plot, characterization, setting, style, and voice, are the building blocks that construct the literary cosmos. They contribute by creating immersive worlds, memorable characters, and distinctive narratives that resonate with readers.

How can one overcome writer’s block, a common challenge in creative writing?

Overcoming writer’s block is like navigating through a cosmic fog. Strategies include engaging in free writing, changing the writing environment, seeking inspiration from different mediums, or simply taking a cosmic break to recharge creative energies.

Is creative writing limited to novels and poetry, or are there other genres to explore?

Creative writing spans a diverse universe of genres. While novels and poetry are prominent, there’s also creative nonfiction, flash fiction, screenplays, and more. The cosmos of creative writing is vast and welcomes exploration.

How does one balance the fine line between originality and marketability in creative writing?

Balancing originality and marketability requires navigating a cosmic dance. It involves maintaining authenticity while considering the audience’s preferences, creating a celestial equilibrium where the writer’s unique voice resonates within a broader readership.

What educational and professional opportunities are available in the field of creative writing?

The educational galaxy offers creative writing programs and degrees, nurturing writers with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Professionally, opportunities range from traditional publishing avenues to scriptwriting, journalism, and the expansive realm of digital content creation.

In conclusion, creative writing is a cosmic odyssey, an ever-expanding universe of imagination, expression, and connection.

From its ancient roots in oral traditions to the dynamic currents of contemporary literary movements, creative writing has evolved into a diverse and influential art form.

It is a transformative process that involves the careful balance of elements, the exploration of various genres, and the persistent journey through the challenges and rewards of crafting narratives.

Creative writing is not confined to the realms of novels and poetry; it encompasses a vast cosmos of possibilities, from memoirs to screenplays, flash fiction to creative nonfiction.

As writers embark on this celestial exploration, they become architects of worlds, sculptors of characters, and composers of narratives that resonate across the collective human experience.

The educational and professional opportunities within this realm further amplify its significance, turning creative writing into both a personal pursuit and a communal force shaping the literary landscape.

In the grand celestial tapestry of human expression, creative writing emerges as a luminous constellation, inviting writers and readers alike to traverse the cosmic expanse of imagination and storytelling.

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What Is A Universal Statement In Writing? (Explained)

  • What Does Freeform Mean In Fanfiction?
  • How To Describe A Spaceship In A Story (10 Best Tips)
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Library Home

Elements of Creative Writing

what is fiction creative writing

J.D. Schraffenberger, University of Northern Iowa

Rachel Morgan, University of Northern Iowa

Grant Tracey, University of Northern Iowa

Copyright Year: 2023

ISBN 13: 9780915996179

Publisher: University of Northern Iowa

Language: English

Formats Available

Conditions of use.


Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Robert Moreira, Lecturer III, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on 3/21/24

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

As far as I can tell, content is accurate, error free and unbiased.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The book is relevant and up-to-date.

Clarity rating: 5

The text is clear and easy to understand.

Consistency rating: 5

I would agree that the text is consistent in terms of terminology and framework.

Modularity rating: 5

Text is modular, yes, but I would like to see the addition of a section on dramatic writing.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Topics are presented in logical, clear fashion.

Interface rating: 5

Navigation is good.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

No grammatical issues that I could see.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

I'd like to see more diverse creative writing examples.

As I stated above, textbook is good except that it does not include a section on dramatic writing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: One Great Way to Write a Short Story
  • Chapter Two: Plotting
  • Chapter Three: Counterpointed Plotting
  • Chapter Four: Show and Tell
  • Chapter Five: Characterization and Method Writing
  • Chapter Six: Character and Dialouge
  • Chapter Seven: Setting, Stillness, and Voice
  • Chapter Eight: Point of View
  • Chapter Nine: Learning the Unwritten Rules
  • Chapter One: A Poetry State of Mind
  • Chapter Two: The Architecture of a Poem
  • Chapter Three: Sound
  • Chapter Four: Inspiration and Risk
  • Chapter Five: Endings and Beginnings
  • Chapter Six: Figurative Language
  • Chapter Seven: Forms, Forms, Forms
  • Chapter Eight: Go to the Image
  • Chapter Nine: The Difficult Simplicity of Short Poems and Killing Darlings

Creative Nonfiction

  • Chapter One: Creative Nonfiction and the Essay
  • Chapter Two: Truth and Memory, Truth in Memory
  • Chapter Three: Research and History
  • Chapter Four: Writing Environments
  • Chapter Five: Notes on Style
  • Chapter Seven: Imagery and the Senses
  • Chapter Eight: Writing the Body
  • Chapter Nine: Forms

Back Matter

  • Contributors
  • North American Review Staff

Ancillary Material

  • University of Northern Iowa

About the Book

This free and open access textbook introduces new writers to some basic elements of the craft of creative writing in the genres of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The authors—Rachel Morgan, Jeremy Schraffenberger, and Grant Tracey—are editors of the North American Review, the oldest and one of the most well-regarded literary magazines in the United States. They’ve selected nearly all of the readings and examples (more than 60) from writing that has appeared in NAR pages over the years. Because they had a hand in publishing these pieces originally, their perspective as editors permeates this book. As such, they hope that even seasoned writers might gain insight into the aesthetics of the magazine as they analyze and discuss some reasons this work is so remarkable—and therefore teachable. This project was supported by NAR staff and funded via the UNI Textbook Equity Mini-Grant Program.

About the Contributors

J.D. Schraffenberger  is a professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of two books of poems,  Saint Joe's Passion  and  The Waxen Poor , and co-author with Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt of  The Necessary Poetics of Atheism . His other work has appeared in  Best of Brevity ,  Best Creative Nonfiction ,  Notre Dame Review ,  Poetry East ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Rachel Morgan   is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of the chapbook  Honey & Blood , Blood & Honey . Her work is included in the anthology  Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in American  and has appeared in the  Journal of American Medical Association ,  Boulevard ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Grant Tracey   author of three novels in the Hayden Fuller Mysteries ; the chapbook  Winsome  featuring cab driver Eddie Sands; and the story collection  Final Stanzas , is fiction editor of the  North American Review  and an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches film, modern drama, and creative writing. Nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, he has published nearly fifty short stories and three previous collections. He has acted in over forty community theater productions and has published critical work on Samuel Fuller and James Cagney. He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Contribute to this Page

what is fiction creative writing

How to Write Fiction

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Fiction Writing Fundamentals

First steps , key elements, how to write compelling stories, drafting and revising, how to share and publish your work, resources for teaching fiction writing, additional writing resources .

From the earliest cave paintings to Harry Potter, human beings have been fascinated by storytelling. Writing fiction, the act of "fashioning or imitating" according to the Oxford English Dictionary,  has played a part in that imaginative exercise for millennia. Through the written word, authors express ideas and emotions and share compelling narratives. This guide is a collection of dozens of links about the process of writing fiction that we have researched, categorized, and annotated. You'll learn how to define "fiction" and what its forms are, discover resources to help you write and publish stories, and find ideas for teaching creative writing.

The umbrella category of "fiction" covers short stories and 500,000-word Victorian novels, heart-pounding thrillers and epic poetry. Before you dive into the process of creating your own fiction, it’s important to know what the term means and what its main forms are. Below, you'll find resources to ground you in an understanding of fiction's history and many genres.

What is Fiction?

"Fiction" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia's entry on fiction offers a broad definition of the term, along with sections on fiction's formats, genre fiction, literary fiction, and links for further exploration.

"Memoir vs. Fiction" ( The Pen & The Pad )

This article from a writing website offers a short breakdown of the differences between memoir and fiction, including use of facts, protagonists and point of view, use of detail, and purpose.

"Fiction v. Nonfiction" (Criticalreading.com)

Dan Kurland's critical reading website offers a quick list of the differences between fiction and nonfiction, along with a list of the major categories of fiction writing.

"The Benefits of Fiction vs. Nonfiction" (Reddit)

This archived subreddit is filled with comments on the benefits of fiction and nonfiction, as well as the uses of these two different types of writing.

"What is Fiction?" (PBS Digital Studios via YouTube)

This eleven-minute video from the Idea Channel digs into the philosophical underpinnings of the term "fiction," outlining the differences between fiction and reality.

"Fiction Forms" (Wikipedia)  

This Wikipedia category page describes the different forms of fiction, from epistolary novels to blog fiction, with links to more information on each form.

The Forms of Fiction (Amazon)

This (lengthy) classic book by John Gardner and Lennis Dunlap breaks down the short story form into a series of different categories, explaining the differences between each one.

"Different Types of Fiction" ( The Writer's Cookbook Blog)

This blog post offers a fairly comprehensive list of the different types of fiction, organized in a way that “won’t make your head explode,” according to the author.

"The Meaning of Genre in Literature" ( Owlcation )

This article will help you understand the difference between form and genre, using the construction of a building as a useful analogy in comparing the two. 

"Defining Genre" ( The Editor's Blog )

This blog post provides an overview of what genre in fiction is, along with a link to a second post that touches on all the major genres in fiction.

"List of Writing Genres" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia’s list of genres is divided into those pertaining to fiction and nonfiction, with an explanation of how “genre” fiction differs from “literary” fiction.

"What’s Your Genre?: A High-Level Overview for Writers" (JaneFriedman.com)

This post from a publishing industry professional discusses the role genre plays in the book industry and how it affects categories, sales, and marketing.

"Sub-Genre Descriptions" ( Writer's Digest )

This post lists all of the various sub-genres within the major genre classifications, with a quick description of what they typically entail.

As the resources above make clear, works of fiction vary in length, form, and genre. Your piece might be 500 words (flash fiction) or 500,000 words (like some novels). You might choose to write a mystery, romance, or fantasy piece. Even within genres, authors write for different ages and audiences. You also need to decide on a point of view—should your story be told from the first person perspective, or from the vantage point of an omniscient narrator? The resources below will introduce you to the many choices writers of fiction must make.

How to Choose a Form

"Should You Write a Novel or Short Story" ( Writer's Digest )

This article lists five things you should keep in mind as you decide whether your story should be a full-length novel or a short story.

"How to Choose the Right Medium for Your Story" (Literary Hub)

This piece, authored by a film and television writer who also dabbles in other forms, discusses the different skill sets required for writing in each literary form, and the storytelling opportunities afforded by each one.

“Is it Better to Be a Short Story Writer or a Novelist?” (British Council)

This article by Northern Irish author Paul McVeigh weighs the pros and cons of writing short stories and novels, and describes the challenges of each.

"8 Reasons You Should be Writing Short Stories" (TCK Publishing)

This list, geared towards self-published or independently published writers, discusses the benefits of writing short stories—both for your craft, and your bottom line.

How to Pick a Genre

"What Type of Book Should You Write?" (Quizony)

Use this not-so-serious quiz about your favorite characters, opening lines, and more to help get you brainstorming on the type of book you should write.

"How to Choose a Genre When Writing" ( Writer's Digest )

In this post on the  Writer’s Digest  site, bestselling writer Catherine Ryan Hyde discusses how to choose a genre when writing fiction, and how that genre often chooses you.

How to Identify Your Audience

"How to Find Your Ideal Reader" ( The Book Designer )

This article by author Cathy Yardley discusses how to identify the audience for your fiction book by figuring out exactly what type of book you are writing.

"How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience" (JaneFriedman.com)

This post by writing coach and author Angela Ackerman offers tips for identifying the audience you’re writing for and connecting with your readers.

"Finding a Target Audience for Your Book in 3 Steps" ( Reedsy )

This post outlines the process of finding the “right” readers for your book, understanding their perspective, and figuring out how to connect to them via platforms like Goodreads.

"Do You Know Who Your Audience is?" ( Writer Unboxed )

This post from writer Dan Blank suggests that you choose your ideal audience before you start crafting your story. Blank emphasizes that most stories are  not  universal.

How to Choose a Perspective

"First, Second, and Third Person" (QuickandDirtyTips.com)

Grammar Girl reads this article by Geoff Pope, which is a no-nonsense guide to the different perspectives that writing can take, paired with a discussion of when each is commonly used.

"First-Person POV vs. Third-Person POV" (Youtube)

This short video from bestselling author K.M. Weiland focuses on deciding whether a first-person or third-person perspective is better for your book.

"1st vs 3rd Person—Which is Best?" ( Novel Writing Help )

This short post debunks some common misconceptions about when you “have to” use first or third person, with links to longer in-depth pieces on each perspective.

"What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?" ( Writer's Digest )

This article from the  Writer's Digest  site focuses on different writing perspectives and contains bulleted lists of the advantages and disadvantages of using each point of view.

Fiction writing can be broken down into a few key elements, including setting (where the story takes place), characters (who the story is about), dialogue (what characters say), plot (what happens in the story), and theme (what the story is ultimately about). Masterful fiction writers are able to incorporate each element seamlessly into a narrative whole. The resources in this section will help you get to know these terms.

"Setting" (Wikipedia)

This Wikipedia article offers a quick description of setting and its role, along with a comprehensive list of links to more about specific subtypes of setting.

"Setting: The Place and Time of Story" ( The Editor's Blog )

This blog post will help you learn what exactly setting accomplishes in fiction, including grounding characters. It discusses the different elements that make up setting.

"Discover the Basic Elements of Setting in a Story" ( Writer's Digest )

This post from Writer's Digest  offers a quick look at 12 of the important elements of setting. These include population, historical importance, and climate.

"Story Setting Ideas" ( Now Novel )

This blog post offers a few examples of effective settings, from J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts to the Victorian England of Charles Dickens's Hard Times .

"Dialogue" (Wikipedia)

This Wikipedia article provides a comprehensive overview of dialogue, including how it has been used historically in a variety of literary forms.

"What is Dialogue in Literature?" ( Writing Explained )

If you're looking for a short post offering both a definition and examples of dialogue, this is a good place to start. The post explains the difference between internal and external dialogue.

"Dialogue" ( The Editor's Blog )

Check out this post on what dialogue is and what it accomplishes. The article includes some tips at the end about best practices for writing dialogue.

"Dialogue Definition" (LitCharts)

The LitCharts guide to dialogue offers a definition of the term, and is followed by examples of successful dialogue in fiction and a brief discussion of dialogue’s function.

"Character (Arts)" (Wikipedia)

Head to Wikipedia for a succinct definition of fictional characters and an explanation of types (such as flat, round, dynamic, static, etc.).

"Types of Character in Fiction" (Lexiconic.net)

This list of common categories of characters in fiction includes protagonists and antagonists, and is accompanied by a quick list of ways that character can be revealed in a text.

"Seven Common Character Types" ( Fiction Factor)

Here, you'll find a list of seven types of characters commonly found in fiction, along with an explanation of the roles these kinds of characters typically play in the story.

"Characters in Fiction" (Little Bit of Lit via Youtube)

This eight-minute video defines "character," discusses types of characterization (such as indirect), and lists a few different character types.

"Plot (Narrative)" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia's entry on "plot" offers a definition of the term and a description of some common literary frameworks that writers can use.

"What is a Plot?" ( Writing Explained )

In this blog post, you'll find a concise explanation of the typical elements of plot, along with a discussion of its function, a few popular examples, and more.

"Plot" ( Literary Devices )

This article from a site devoted to explicating literary terms discusses the five main components of plot and offers a few examples of plot in literature.

"Plot Structure" (SlideShare)

SlideShare offers this 10-part slideshow on the different elements of plot (including exposition, rising action, and climax) and discusses some common conflicts in fiction.

"Theme (narrative)" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia's entry on theme introduces you to the term through a brief definition and a discussion of two separate techniques used in writing to express themes.

"Elements of Fiction: Theme" ( Find Your Creative Muse )

This blog post defines themes, explains how they are revealed, and gives some popular examples of how they are used in literature. It also offers some links to resources for writing fiction.

"A Handy Guide to the Most Common Themes in Literature" ( The Writers Academy Blog)

This post from the Penguin Random House writing blog defines theme and lists some common themes in literature. Learn about themes such as "crime doesn't pay" and "coming of age."

"Grasping Themes in Literature" (Scholastic)

Check out this round-up of common themes in literature, which is accompanied by lesson ideas and suggestions for other media that are helpful in teaching theme.

Now that you're familiar with the fundamentals of plot, character, setting, theme, and dialogue, you're ready to fashion these elements into a compelling narrative. The resources below offer questions and suggestions for worldbuilding, character development, crafting dialogue, and more. As you refine your writing skills, remember that even stories that seem effortlessly created involved hundreds of small choices on the author's part, and went through a number of drafts. 

How to Choose a Setting

"Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions" (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America)

Here, you'll find a comprehensive list of questions you can ask yourself about the setting you’re developing. These questions will help you flesh out your world's culture, rules, and norms.

Subreddit on Worldbuilding

You can discuss anything and everything about worldbuilding on this forum, from choosing character names to coming up with different governments for your world.

"7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding" ( Gizmodo )

This post lists common mistakes you can make in worldbuilding—choices that will knock readers out of the reading experience and make your characters seem pointless.

"World Building" (YouTube)

This video, one in a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson about writing novels, focuses on worldbuilding and how to do so successfully.

How to Write Engaging Dialogue

"Writing Dialogue: 10 Tips to Help You" (YouTube)

In this 17-minute video, graphic novelist and children's book author and illustrator Mark Crilley draws images as he explains his top 10 tips for writing engaging dialogue.

"Keys to Realistic Dialogue" ( Writer's Digest )

This piece is the first in a two-part post by author Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz on common problems in writing dialogue and how to fix them.

"Writing Dialogue: Tips and Exercises" ( Reedsy )

This post offers a series of eight tips on how to write dialogue, including Elmore Leonard's suggestion never to use verbs other than "said" to "carry dialogue." The post also includes four dialogue writing exercises for authors.

"Tips for Writing Dialogue" (Center for Fiction)

This post discusses the three forms of dialogue (summary, indirect speech, and direct quotation) followed by succinct advice on how best to write dialogue between characters.

How to Develop Characters

"8 Ways to Write Better Characters" ( Writer's Digest )

This in-depth article by writer Elizabeth Sims includes eight ways to help conceptualize your characters and delve deeper into their psyches.

"How to Build a Character" (Jtellison.com)

Get tips from  New York Times  bestselling author J.T. Ellison on how to build a compelling character, and hear insights on her own process for developing characters.

"How to Create a Character Profile" ( Writer's Write )

This article includes an extensive character checklist to help you flesh out your characters' background, hobbies, relationships, and more.

"Character Chart for Fiction Writers" (EpiGuide.com)

This printable, fill-in-the-blank chart from EpiGuide.com helps writers brainstorm about all aspects of their characters in order to get to know them.

How to Craft Plot

"'Save the Cat' Beat Sheet" (Tim Stout)

Based on the book Save the Cat! (originally for screenwriters), this post offers a list of the “beats” that each narrative must contain in order to tell its story most effectively.

The Moral Premise Blog: Story Structure Craft

This blog by producer Stan Williams, author of The Moral Premise , contains diagrams of different ways to structure a book, including his well-known “story diamond.”

"Novel in 30 Days Worksheet Index" ( Writer's Digest )

This Writer's Digest  post is a round-up of nine different worksheets you can download and use to help outline and plan your novel.

"How to Plot Your Novel Using Dan Harmon's Story Circle" (YouTube)

This 15-minute video describes how to use another popular plotting tool, Dan Harmon’s story circle (based off of Joseph Campbell’s book  The Hero with a Thousand Faces ), to plot your novel.

How to Choose and Use Themes

"How to Choose Good Themes for Stories" ( Now Novel )

Read these five tips on choosing the best themes for your story from the  Now Novel  site. Suggestions include matching themes with characters' personalities and goals and examining how great authors have treated similar ideas.

"When Choosing Themes, Write What You Don’t Know" ( The Write Practice )

This brief article will help you narrow down which theme you should choose to write about based on what issues you are interested in.

"Exploring Theme" ( Writer's Digest )

In this excerpt from the book  Story Engineering, hosted on the  Writer's Digest  site, Larry Brooks defines theme and explains why it is so important in writing.

"How to Choose and Build a Powerful Theme for Your Story" ( Well-Storied )

This page offers both a podcast episode and an article on how to pick the best theme for your story, and makes suggestions for how to thread that theme through a narrative.

Writing a short story or novel can be a labor-intensive process. Even once a full draft is complete, a writer is rarely ready to send it out into the world. Instead, successful writers spend time revising and editing their work with feedback from trusted readers. Below, you'll find resources to help you write a first draft, revise that draft, overcome writer's block, and prepare a final draft.

How to Write a First Draft

"10 Rules for Writing Fiction" ( The Guardian )

This collection of 10 top tips for writing fiction from famous writers (including Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Franzen) is based on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

The Writer Files (Rainmaker.fm)

This podcast features interviews with a variety of writers on their wring process, tricks, and tips, and how to tap into both creativity and productivity.

Writing Excuses Podcast

This podcast is hosted by four authors and has over ten seasons. It features 15-minute episodes that cover all parts of the writing process.

This program gives authors an alternative to a traditional Word program, and has helpful features like movable scenes, notecards, and tagging.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

"How to Beat Writer’s Block" ( The New Yorker )

This article from  The New Yorker  offers an introduction to the term “writer’s block” and ways that writers have combatted it successfully.

"Strategies for Overcoming Writer’s Block" (Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

This page from a college writing center looks at some ineffective and effective ways to combat writer’s block, along with a brief description of why it occurs.

"Other Strategies for Getting Over Writer’s Block" (Purdue OWL)

This article offers quick strategies for getting over writer’s block when drafting your novel, along with suggestions for how you can get started on a piece.

"How Professional Writers Beat Writer’s Block" ( The Writer)

Writermag.com rounded up these five interviews with leading professional authors on how they’ve learned to get past writer’s block.

How to Edit Your First Draft

"4 Levels of Editing Explained" ( The Book Designer )

This article touches on the different types of editing that a book requires. It is aimed towards writes looking to hire independent editors for developmental editing, copy editing, etc., but is helpful for anyone looking to improve a manuscript.

"Revision Checklist" (Nathan Bransford)

This checklist from popular blogger, writer, and former agent Nathan Bransford notes important things to keep in mind when revising your novel.

"Revision Techniques" ( The Narrative Breakdown )

On this podcast episode, Cheryl Klein (a senior editor at Arthur A. Levin Books who worked on Harry Potter ), details some of her revision techniques.

"A Month of Revision" ( Necessary Fiction )

This post focuses on the necessary steps in the revision process and a realistic timeline, and includes links to numerous other blog posts on revision at the bottom.

How to Prepare a Final Draft

"Editing Checklist" (ReadWriteThink)

Use this printable PDF as a checklist for both writers and peer editors when tracking any errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.

"How to Edit" ( Live Write Breathe )

This comprehensive editing guide for fiction writers contains instructions on carrying out all the major phases of revising a manuscript.

"How Do You Know When Your Book is Finished?" ( Electric Lit )

Here, the monthly advice column The Blunt Instrument offers suggestions for determining when works of fiction and works of poetry are “complete.”

"How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Submit?" ( Writer's Digest )

This article tackles the question of how to know when it's time to stop tweaking your work, and time send the manuscript into the world.

"How to Format a Fiction Manuscript for Submission" (YouTube)

This detailed 15-minute video explains how to format a manuscript using industry standards before sending it off to publishers and agents.

A number of options exist to get a writer’s work into the hands of readers. Writers can choose to share their work immediately with online communities, meet in person with critique partners, enter writing contests, hire an agent, or independently submit their work for publication online or in print. The resources below will help you evaluate your options and make an informed decision. 

Fiction Writing Communities

Wattpad is an online fiction-writing community where you can post and share your stories immediately, tagging them with plot elements or settings so other readers can find them and comment.

Like Wattpad, Figment is an online fiction-writing community where you can post your work, get feedback from other readers, and comment on others' work.

Absolute Write Water Cooler

On this online bulletin board, writers of all genres and experiences discuss writing, publishing, and everything in between. The site facilitates discussion by offering categories with forums, threads, and individual posts.

This forum, run by Amazon, is a place for writers to discuss their work and ask advice about promotion and self-publishing. You'll need to register in order to comment.

Fiction Writing Contests

"Writing Contests, Grants, and Awards" (Poets & Writers)

This searchable database of contests and more, from the nation's largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers, allows you to narrow by entry fee, genre, and deadline.

"31 Free Writing Contests" ( The Write Life )

This writing website offers a list of competitions in all different genres that have no entry fee for submission, but come with the possibility of a cash prize.

"Art and Writing Competitions" (Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth)

This list of art and writing competitions is geared toward younger writers, and contains links to each competition’s website. This link will direct you to the "creative writing" tab, but there are also options for journalism, essay, and visual arts competitions.

"Your Perfect Cover Letter" ( The Review Review )

This article discusses both how to craft and format a cover letter for a literary submission. It does so by walking you through a hypothetical example by "Emerging Writer."

How to Get a Short Story Published Online

Writers can use this resource to find short story markets, track their submissions, and find upcoming deadlines for short story markets.

"Where to Submit Short Stories" ( The Write Life )

Check out The Write Life 's round-up of 23 places accepting short stories, including prestigious and paying markets like The New Yorker .

"Literary Magazines" (Poets & Writers)

Here, you'll find a searchable database of literary magazines that accept short stories, with information on the magazines’ genres and reading periods.

"Get Inside the Top 30 Short Story Markets" ( Writer's Digest )

This top 30 list of the best outlets for short fiction is broken down by categories such as “Best Bets for Beginners” and “You’re in the Money.”

How to Get a Book Published in Print


On this website, you can search for agents by genre and see whether they are open to queries. You'll also find comments from writers on their response times.

Query Shark

Literary agent Janet Reid critiques queries on her blog, offering feedback on subsequent drafts until she gets to the point where she would have requested more material.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (Amazon)

This book on how to navigate publishing your book touches not only on traditional approaches, but also on new avenues like self-publishing, crowdfunding, and more.

Publishing 101: A First-Time Author’s Guide to Getting Published (Amazon)

This book by industry veteran Jane Friedman explains how editors evaluate your work, and how best to approach agents and editors in order to land a book deal.

Resources abound for designing creative writing classes at all levels. Classroom activities allow students to practice their skills on-demand, while homework exercises give students time to construct their narratives on their own time. Below, you'll find a curated list of lesson planning ideas from publishers, TED-Ed, Teachers Pay Teachers, and more.

Classroom Activities

"Writing Fiction" ( Teaching Ideas )

This education website offers lesson plans and ideas for teachers on all different topics within the fiction writing framework (and on a wide range of other subjects, as well).

"Resource Topics: Teaching Writing" (National Writing Project)

This page provides links to a number of resources for teaching different aspects of creative writing, including a conversation about the future of creative writing pedagogy.

"Creative Writing Lesson Plans" ( The English Teacher )

On this webpage, you'll find a list of short lesson ideas, each with related exercises, that teachers can use to shape their curriculum.

"Creative Writing Resources" ( TeacherVision )

TeacherVision hosts a list of printable fiction writing resources, broken down by grade level, that can be used to shape classroom activities.

"Creative Writing Resources and Lesson Plans" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This popular education website (designed by teachers, for teachers) has a section devoted to creative writing resources. You'll find lesson plans and activities that are searchable by price, resource type, and grade level.

Homework Exercises 

"Short Fiction: A Write It Activity" (Scholastic)

This activity includes interactive tutorials, exercises, message boards, links, and more—including an opportunity for students to submit their work at the end.

"365 Creative Writing Prompts" ( ThinkWritten )

This comprehensive list of short prompts (hosted by a website with tabs on publishing, author marketing, and writing prompts) will get students’ ideas flowing for a short exercise or a story.

What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (Amazon)

This handbook for writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter contains more than 75 exercises for writers of all levels of experience.

"Creative Writing Prompts That You Can Do In 10 Minutes" (TED-Ed blog)

Use this list of short creative writing prompts to generate ideas for writing. The text is excerpted from the book 642 Tiny Things to Write About .

A number of other resources exist for those looking to develop their writing skills. Consider participating in writing retreats, writing workshops devoted to publishing, and online creative classes, or reading books and listening to podcasts on the subject. The resources gathered here can help you grow as a writer, and will teach you more about the process of sharing your work.

In-person Creative Writing Classes, Workshops, and Retreats

Gotham Writers

This well-known organization provides both in-person classes in NYC and online writing classes led by writers on topics such as “How to Get Published” and “Novel Writing.”

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

This organization offers conferences and networking opportunities for writers of children’s and young adult literature. Other genre-specific writers’ organizations, such as the American Crime Writers League and Horror Writers Association, offer similar workshops. 

"Conferences and Residencies Database" (Poets & Writers)

Check out this database for a comprehensive list of conferences and residencies currently available. It is searchable by event type, state, price, and title.

"Guide to Writing Programs" (Association of Writers & Writing Programs)

This database of writing programs, including undergraduate programs and MFAs, is searchable by genre, state, and type of degree.

Online Creative Writing Classes and Workshops

National Novel Writing Month

This website is all about November’s NaNoWriMo, in which writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in one month. It contains forums, inspiration, and more.

Courses on Creative Writing (Coursera)

This site offers online classes where you can watch lectures, complete exercises, and even receive feedback for your work (depending on whether you choose a free or paid option).

"The Best Online Writing Courses" (TCK Publishing)

TCK Publishing offers this round-up of different creative writing courses. The webpage describes what you learn, who the instructor is, and what the cost is (many of them are free).

Brandon Sanderson Lectures (YouTube)

This YouTube "playlist" is made up of American fiction writer Brandon Sanderson's lectures for a course at BYU, which covers all aspects of working through a novel.

Top-rated Books on Creative Writing

You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Amazon)

Writer Jeff Goins covers a variety of topics on the writing life, including self-doubt, how to improve your writing, and how to get published.

Stephen King’s On Writing (Amazon)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft  is part memoir of Stephen King's life as a writer, and part “toolkit” for writers trying to improve their craft.

The Elements of Style (Amazon)

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White authored this no-nonsense guide to writing clearly and well. It covers the fundamentals of syntax. This book is now in its fourth edition.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Amazon)

This national bestseller from author Anne Lamot is comprised of a series of essays on the process of writing (from beginning to write to technical details) and her life as a writer.

Fiction Writing Websites

"How to Write Fiction" (WikiHow)

This fully illustrated guide to writing fiction includes sections on generating ideas, creating mindmaps for possible plotlines, and common pitfalls to avoid.

Writer’s Digest

The popular writing magazine Writer's Digest  hosts this website, which focuses exclusively on helping writers connect to the best writing resources, learn the craft of writing, and get published.

Writing Forward

This creative writing blog offers tips and tricks for writing, along with resources for online writing exercises, resources, and much more.

Literary Rambles

This website is devoted exclusively to providing information about children’s book authors, agents, and publishers. It includes interviews with many key industry players on what they’re looking for in a manuscript.

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  • Explanations and citation info for 40,694 quotes across 1929 books
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Creative Writing 101

Creative Writing 101

You love to write and have been told you have a way with words. So you’ve decided to give writing a try—creative writing.

Problem is, you’re finding it tougher than it looks.

You may even have a great story idea , but you’re not sure how to turn it into something people will read.

Don’t be discouraged—writing a compelling story can be grueling, even for veterans. Conflicting advice online may confuse you and make you want to quit before you start.

But you know more than you think. Stories saturate our lives.

We tell and hear stories every day in music, on television, in video games, in books, in movies, even in relationships.

Most stories, regardless the genre, feature a main character who wants something.

There’s a need, a goal, some sort of effort to get that something.

The character begins an adventure, a journey, or a quest, faces obstacles, and is ultimately transformed.

The work of developing such a story will come. But first, let’s look at the basics.

  • What is Creative Writing?

It’s prose (fiction or nonfiction) that tells a story.

Journalistic, academic, technical writing relays facts.

Creative writing can also educate, but it’s best when it also entertains and emotionally moves the reader.

It triggers the imagination and appeals to the heart.

  • Elements of Creative Writing

Elements of Creative Writing

Writing a story is much like building a house.

You may have all the right tools and design ideas, but if your foundation isn’t solid, even the most beautiful structure won’t stand.

Most storytelling experts agree, these 7 key elements must exist in a story.

Plot (more on that below) is what happens in a story. Theme is why it happens.

Before you begin writing, determine why you want to tell your story.

  • What message do you wish to convey? 
  • What will it teach the reader? 

Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme. Just tell the story, and let it make its own point.

Give your readers credit. Subtly weave your theme into the story and trust them to get it.

They may remember a great plot, but you want them thinking about your theme long after they’ve finished reading.

2. Characters

Every story needs believable characters who feel knowable.

In fiction, your main character is the protagonist, also known as the lead or hero/heroine.

The protagonist must have:

  • redeemable flaws
  • potentially heroic qualities that emerge in the climax
  • a character arc (he must be different, better, stronger by the end)

Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead. Perfect is boring. (Even Indiana Jones suffered a snake phobia.)

You also need an antagonist, the villain , who should be every bit as formidable and compelling as your hero.

Don’t make your bad guy bad just because he’s the bad guy. Make him a worthy foe by giving him motives for his actions.

Villains don’t see themselves as bad. They think they’re right! A fully rounded bad guy is much more realistic and memorable.

Depending on the length of your story , you may also need important orbital cast members.

For each character, ask:

  • What do they want?
  • What or who is keeping them from getting it?
  • What will they do about it?

The more challenges your characters face, the more relatable they are.

Much as in real life, the toughest challenges result in the most transformation.

Setting may include a location, time, or era, but it should also include how things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound.

Thoroughly research details about your setting so it informs your writing, but use those details as seasoning, not the main course. The main course is the story.

But, beware.

Agents and acquisitions editors tell me one of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make is feeling they must begin by describing the setting.

That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But a sure way to put readers to sleep is to promise a thrilling story on the cover—only to start with some variation of:

The house sat in a deep wood surrounded by…

Rather than describing your setting, subtly layer it into the story.

Show readers your setting. Don’t tell them. Description as a separate element slows your story to crawl.

By layering in what things look and feel and sound like you subtly register the setting in the theater of readers’ minds.

While they concentrating on the action, the dialogue , the tension , the drama, and conflict that keep them turning the pages, they’re also getting a look and feel for your setting.

4. Point of View

POV is more than which voice you choose to tell your story: First Person ( I, me ), Second Person ( you, your ), or Third Person ( he, she, or it ).

Determine your perspective (POV) character for each scene—the one who serves as your camera and recorder—by deciding who has the most at stake. Who’s story is this?

The cardinal rule is that you’re limited to one perspective character per scene, but I prefer only one per chapter, and ideally one per novel.

Readers experience everything in your story from this character’s perspective.

For a more in-depth explanation of Voice and POV, read A Writer’s Guide to Point of View .

This is the sequence of events that make up a story —in short, what happens. It either compels your reader to keep turning pages or set the book aside.

A successful story answers:

  • What happens? (Plot)
  • What does it mean? (Theme: see above)

Writing coaches call various story structures by different names, but they’re all largely similar. All such structures include some variation of:

  • An Inciting Incident that changes everything
  • A series of Crises that build tension
  • A Resolution (or Conclusion)

How effectively you create drama, intrigue, conflict, and tension, determines whether you can grab readers from the start and keep them to the end.

6. Conflict

This is the engine of fiction and crucial to effective nonfiction as well.

Readers crave conflict and what results from it.

If everything in your plot is going well and everyone is agreeing, you’ll quickly bore your reader—the cardinal sin of writing.

If two characters are chatting amiably and the scene feels flat (which it will), inject conflict. Have one say something that makes the other storm out, revealing a deep-seated rift.

Readers will stay with you to find out what it’s all about.

7. Resolution

Whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser like me (one who writes by the seat of your pants), you must have an idea where your story is going.

How you expect the story to end should inform every scene and chapter. It may change, evolve, and grow as you and your characters do, but never leave it to chance.

Keep your lead character center stage to the very end. Everything he learns through all the complications you plunged him into should, in the end, allow him to rise to the occasion and succeed.

If you get near the end and something’s missing, don’t rush it. Give your ending a few days, even a few weeks if necessary.

Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think about it. Sleep on it. Jot notes. Let your subconscious work. Play what-if games. Reach for the heart, and deliver a satisfying ending that resonates .

Give your readers a payoff for their investment by making it unforgettable.

  • Creative Writing Examples
  • Short Story
  • Narrative nonfiction
  • Autobiography
  • Song lyrics
  • Screenwriting
  • Playwriting
  • Creative Writing Tips

In How to Write a Novel , I cover each step of the writing process:

  • Come up with a great story idea .
  • Determine whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser.
  • Create an unforgettable main character.
  • Expand your idea into a plot.
  • Do your research.
  • Choose your Voice and Point of View.
  • Start in medias res (in the midst of things).
  • Intensify your main character’s problems.
  • Make the predicament appear hopeless.
  • Bring it all to a climax.
  • Leave readers wholly satisfied.
  • More to Think About

1. Carry a writing pad, electronic or otherwise. I like the famous Moleskine™ notebook . 

Ideas can come at any moment. Record ideas for:

  • Anything that might expand your story

2. Start small. 

Take time to build your craft and hone your skills on smaller projects before you try to write a book .

Journal. Write a newsletter. Start a blog. Write short stories . Submit articles to magazines, newspapers, or e-zines.

Take a night school or online course in journalism or creative writing. Attend a writers conference.

3. Throw perfection to the wind. 

Separate your writing from your editing .

Anytime you’re writing a first draft, take off your perfectionist cap. You can return to editor mode to your heart’s content while revising, but for now, just write the story.

Separate these tasks and watch your daily production soar.

  • Time to Get to Work

Few pleasures in life compare to getting lost in a great story.

Learn how to write creatively, and the characters you birth have the potential to live in hearts for years.

  • 1. Carry a writing pad, electronic or otherwise. I like the famous Moleskine™ notebook. 

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Are You Making This #1 Amateur Writing Mistake?

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Before you go, be sure to grab my FREE guide:

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Home » Language » English Language » Literature » Difference Between Creative Writing and Fiction Writing

Difference Between Creative Writing and Fiction Writing

Main difference – creative writing vs fiction writing.

Difference Between Creative Writing and Fiction Writing - infographic

What is Creative Writing

Creative writing can be broadly defined as any type of writing that is written with creativity. Various techniques and features such as narrative style, character development, diction , emphasis on emotions and feelings, imagery , etc. separate creative writing from other types of writing such as journalistic, academic, professional and technical forms of writing. Characters, settings , themes, motifs, dialogues , plot , style and point of view are the main elements of creative writing.

“Creative” doesn’t just refer to fiction – it doesn’t mean making up imaginary events or characters. Creative writing can include both fiction and nonfiction. Literary works such as novels, plays, poetry, biographies, short stories, and memoirs all fall under the category of creative writing. Feature stories in magazines or newspaper, which are about real events and real people, also fall into the category of creative writing.

Main Difference - Creative Writing vs Fiction Writing

What is Fiction Writing

Fiction can be defined as any story that is created in the imagination. Since they are created in imagination, they are not real stories. Therefore, fiction writing refers to writing stories using your imagination. Fiction is a subcategory of creative writing.  Novels, novellas , short stories, and dramas are some examples of fiction writing. However, memoirs, biographies , and feature stories, which fall under the category of creative writing, are not fiction since they are about real people and real events.

Difference Between Creative Writing and Fiction Writing

Creative Writing: Creative Writing can be defined as any type of writing that is written with creativity.

Fiction Writing: Fiction Writing can be defined as writing that involves imaginary events and characters.

Fiction vs Nonfiction

Creative Writing: Both fiction and nonfiction fall under creative writing.

Fiction Writing: Fiction writing does not involve real events or people.

Creative Writing: Novels, dramas, poetry, memoirs, autobiographies, feature stories, etc. are examples of creative writing.

Fiction Writing: Novels, dramas, short stories are examples of fiction writing.

Imagination vs Creativity

Creative Writing: Creative Writing does not require imagination.

Fiction Writing: Fiction Writing involves both creativity and imagination.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.

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What is creative nonfiction? Despite its slightly enigmatic name, no literary genre has grown quite as quickly as creative nonfiction in recent decades. Literary nonfiction is now well-established as a powerful means of storytelling, and bookstores now reserve large amounts of space for nonfiction, when it often used to occupy a single bookshelf.

Like any literary genre, creative nonfiction has a long history; also like other genres, defining contemporary CNF for the modern writer can be nuanced. If you’re interested in writing true-to-life stories but you’re not sure where to begin, let’s start by dissecting the creative nonfiction genre and what it means to write a modern literary essay.

What Creative Nonfiction Is

Creative nonfiction employs the creative writing techniques of literature, such as poetry and fiction, to retell a true story.

How do we define creative nonfiction? What makes it “creative,” as opposed to just “factual writing”? These are great questions to ask when entering the genre, and they require answers which could become literary essays themselves.

In short, creative nonfiction (CNF) is a form of storytelling that employs the creative writing techniques of literature, such as poetry and fiction, to retell a true story. Creative nonfiction writers don’t just share pithy anecdotes, they use craft and technique to situate the reader into their own personal lives. Fictional elements, such as character development and narrative arcs, are employed to create a cohesive story, but so are poetic elements like conceit and juxtaposition.

The CNF genre is wildly experimental, and contemporary nonfiction writers are pushing the bounds of literature by finding new ways to tell their stories. While a CNF writer might retell a personal narrative, they might also focus their gaze on history, politics, or they might use creative writing elements to write an expository essay. There are very few limits to what creative nonfiction can be, which is what makes defining the genre so difficult—but writing it so exciting.

Different Forms of Creative Nonfiction

From the autobiographies of Mark Twain and Benvenuto Cellini, to the more experimental styles of modern writers like Karl Ove Knausgård, creative nonfiction has a long history and takes a wide variety of forms. Common iterations of the creative nonfiction genre include the following:

Also known as biography or autobiography, the memoir form is probably the most recognizable form of creative nonfiction. Memoirs are collections of memories, either surrounding a single narrative thread or multiple interrelated ideas. The memoir is usually published as a book or extended piece of fiction, and many memoirs take years to write and perfect. Memoirs often take on a similar writing style as the personal essay does, though it must be personable and interesting enough to encourage the reader through the entire book.

Personal Essay

Personal essays are stories about personal experiences told using literary techniques.

When someone hears the word “essay,” they instinctively think about those five paragraph book essays everyone wrote in high school. In creative nonfiction, the personal essay is much more vibrant and dynamic. Personal essays are stories about personal experiences, and while some personal essays can be standalone stories about a single event, many essays braid true stories with extended metaphors and other narratives.

Personal essays are often intimate, emotionally charged spaces. Consider the opening two paragraphs from Beth Ann Fennelly’s personal essay “ I Survived the Blizzard of ’79. ”

We didn’t question. Or complain. It wouldn’t have occurred to us, and it wouldn’t have helped. I was eight. Julie was ten.

We didn’t know yet that this blizzard would earn itself a moniker that would be silk-screened on T-shirts. We would own such a shirt, which extended its tenure in our house as a rag for polishing silver.

The word “essay” comes from the French “essayer,” which means “to try” or “attempt.” The personal essay is more than just an autobiographical narrative—it’s an attempt to tell your own history with literary techniques.

Lyric Essay

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, but is much more experimental in form.

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, with one key distinction: lyric essays are much more experimental in form. Poetry and creative nonfiction merge in the lyric essay, challenging the conventional prose format of paragraphs and linear sentences.

The lyric essay stands out for its unique writing style and sentence structure. Consider these lines from “ Life Code ” by J. A. Knight:

The dream goes like this: blue room of water. God light from above. Child’s fist, foot, curve, face, the arc of an eye, the symmetry of circles… and then an opening of this body—which surprised her—a movement so clean and assured and then the push towards the light like a frog or a fish.

What we get is language driven by emotion, choosing an internal logic rather than a universally accepted one.

Lyric essays are amazing spaces to break barriers in language. For example, the lyricist might write a few paragraphs about their story, then examine a key emotion in the form of a villanelle or a ghazal . They might decide to write their entire essay in a string of couplets or a series of sonnets, then interrupt those stanzas with moments of insight or analysis. In the lyric essay, language dictates form. The successful lyricist lets the words arrange themselves in whatever format best tells the story, allowing for experimental new forms of storytelling.

Literary Journalism

Much more ambiguously defined is the idea of literary journalism. The idea is simple: report on real life events using literary conventions and styles. But how do you do this effectively, in a way that the audience pays attention and takes the story seriously?

You can best find examples of literary journalism in more “prestigious” news journals, such as The New Yorker , The Atlantic , Salon , and occasionally The New York Times . Think pieces about real world events, as well as expository journalism, might use braiding and extended metaphors to make readers feel more connected to the story. Other forms of nonfiction, such as the academic essay or more technical writing, might also fall under literary journalism, provided those pieces still use the elements of creative nonfiction.

Consider this recently published article from The Atlantic : The Uncanny Tale of Shimmel Zohar by Lawrence Weschler. It employs a style that’s breezy yet personable—including its opening line.

So I first heard about Shimmel Zohar from Gravity Goldberg—yeah, I know, but she insists it’s her real name (explaining that her father was a physicist)—who is the director of public programs and visitor experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Common Elements and Techniques

What separates a general news update from a well-written piece of literary journalism? What’s the difference between essay writing in high school and the personal essay? When nonfiction writers put out creative work, they are most successful when they utilize the following elements.

Just like fiction, nonfiction relies on effective narration. Telling the story with an effective plot, writing from a certain point of view, and using the narrative to flesh out the story’s big idea are all key craft elements. How you structure your story can have a huge impact on how the reader perceives the work, as well as the insights you draw from the story itself.

Consider the first lines of the story “ To the Miami University Payroll Lady ” by Frenci Nguyen:

You might not remember me, but I’m the dark-haired, Texas-born, Asian-American graduate student who visited the Payroll Office the other day to complete direct deposit and tax forms.

Because the story is written in second person, with the reader experiencing the story as the payroll lady, the story’s narration feels much more personal and important, forcing the reader to evaluate their own personal biases and beliefs.


Telling the story involves more than just simple plot elements, it also involves situating the reader in the key details. Setting the scene requires attention to all five senses, and interpersonal dialogue is much more effective when the narrator observes changes in vocal pitch, certain facial expressions, and movements in body language. Essentially, let the reader experience the tiny details – we access each other best through minutiae.

The story “ In Transit ” by Erica Plouffe Lazure is a perfect example of storytelling through observation. Every detail of this flash piece is carefully noted to tell a story without direct action, using observations about group behavior to find hope in a crisis. We get observation when the narrator notes the following:

Here at the St. Thomas airport in mid-March, we feel the urgency of the transition, the awareness of how we position our bodies, where we place our luggage, how we consider for the first time the numbers of people whose belongings are placed on the same steel table, the same conveyor belt, the same glowing radioactive scan, whose IDs are touched by the same gloved hand[.]

What’s especially powerful about this story is that it is written in a single sentence, allowing the reader to be just as overwhelmed by observation and context as the narrator is.

We’ve used this word a lot, but what is braiding? Braiding is a technique most often used in creative nonfiction where the writer intertwines multiple narratives, or “threads.” Not all essays use braiding, but the longer a story is, the more it benefits the writer to intertwine their story with an extended metaphor or another idea to draw insight from.

“ The Crush ” by Zsofia McMullin demonstrates braiding wonderfully. Some paragraphs are written in first person, while others are written in second person.

The following example from “The Crush” demonstrates braiding:

Your hair is still wet when you slip into the booth across from me and throw your wallet and glasses and phone on the table, and I marvel at how everything about you is streamlined, compact, organized. I am always overflowing — flesh and wants and a purse stuffed with snacks and toy soldiers and tissues.

The author threads these narratives together by having both people interact in a diner, yet the reader still perceives a distance between the two threads because of the separation of “I” and “you” pronouns. When these threads meet, briefly, we know they will never meet again.

Speaking of insight, creative nonfiction writers must draw novel conclusions from the stories they write. When the narrator pauses in the story to delve into their emotions, explain complex ideas, or draw strength and meaning from tough situations, they’re finding insight in the essay.

Often, creative writers experience insight as they write it, drawing conclusions they hadn’t yet considered as they tell their story, which makes creative nonfiction much more genuine and raw.

The story “ Me Llamo Theresa ” by Theresa Okokun does a fantastic job of finding insight. The story is about the history of our own names and the generations that stand before them, and as the writer explores her disconnect with her own name, she recognizes a similar disconnect in her mother, as well as the need to connect with her name because of her father.

The narrator offers insight when she remarks:

I began to experience a particular type of identity crisis that so many immigrants and children of immigrants go through — where we are called one name at school or at work, but another name at home, and in our hearts.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: the 5 R’s

CNF pioneer Lee Gutkind developed a very system called the “5 R’s” of creative nonfiction writing. Together, the 5 R’s form a general framework for any creative writing project. They are:

  • Write about r eal life: Creative nonfiction tackles real people, events, and places—things that actually happened or are happening.
  • Conduct extensive r esearch: Learn as much as you can about your subject matter, to deepen and enrich your ability to relay the subject matter. (Are you writing about your tenth birthday? What were the newspaper headlines that day?)
  • (W) r ite a narrative: Use storytelling elements originally from fiction, such as Freytag’s Pyramid , to structure your CNF piece’s narrative as a story with literary impact rather than just a recounting.
  • Include personal r eflection: Share your unique voice and perspective on the narrative you are retelling.
  • Learn by r eading: The best way to learn to write creative nonfiction well is to read it being written well. Read as much CNF as you can, and observe closely how the author’s choices impact you as a reader.

You can read more about the 5 R’s in this helpful summary article .

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Give it a Try!

Whatever form you choose, whatever story you tell, and whatever techniques you write with, the more important aspect of creative nonfiction is this: be honest. That may seem redundant, but often, writers mistakenly create narratives that aren’t true, or they use details and symbols that didn’t exist in the story. Trust us – real life is best read when it’s honest, and readers can tell when details in the story feel fabricated or inflated. Write with honesty, and the right words will follow!

Ready to start writing your creative nonfiction piece? If you need extra guidance or want to write alongside our community, take a look at the upcoming nonfiction classes at Writers.com. Now, go and write the next bestselling memoir!

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Sean Glatch

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Thank you so much for including these samples from Hippocampus Magazine essays/contributors; it was so wonderful to see these pieces reflected on from the craft perspective! – Donna from Hippocampus

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Absolutely, Donna! I’m a longtime fan of Hippocampus and am always astounded by the writing you publish. We’re always happy to showcase stunning work 🙂

[…] Source: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-complete-guide-to-writing-creative-nonfiction#5-creative-nonfiction-writing-promptshttps://writers.com/what-is-creative-nonfiction […]

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So impressive

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Thank you. I’ve been researching a number of figures from the 1800’s and have come across a large number of ‘biographies’ of figures. These include quoted conversations which I knew to be figments of the author and yet some works are lauded as ‘histories’.

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excellent guidelines inspiring me to write CNF thank you

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Last updated on Feb 20, 2023

Creative Nonfiction: How to Spin Facts into Narrative Gold

Creative nonfiction is a genre of creative writing that approaches factual information in a literary way. This type of writing applies techniques drawn from literary fiction and poetry to material that might be at home in a magazine or textbook, combining the craftsmanship of a novel with the rigor of journalism. 

Here are some popular examples of creative nonfiction:

  • The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
  • Intimations by Zadie Smith
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Creative nonfiction is not limited to novel-length writing, of course. Popular radio shows and podcasts like WBEZ’s This American Life or Sarah Koenig’s Serial also explore audio essays and documentary with a narrative approach, while personal essays like Nora Ephron’s A Few Words About Breasts and Mariama Lockington’s What A Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew also present fact with fiction-esque flair.

Writing short personal essays can be a great entry point to writing creative nonfiction. Think about a topic you would like to explore, perhaps borrowing from your own life, or a universal experience. Journal freely for five to ten minutes about the subject, and see what direction your creativity takes you in. These kinds of exercises will help you begin to approach reality in a more free flowing, literary way — a muscle you can use to build up to longer pieces of creative nonfiction.

If you think you’d like to bring your writerly prowess to nonfiction, here are our top tips for creating compelling creative nonfiction that’s as readable as a novel, but as illuminating as a scholarly article.

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Write a memoir focused on a singular experience

Humans love reading about other people’s lives — like first-person memoirs, which allow you to get inside another person’s mind and learn from their wisdom. Unlike autobiographies, memoirs can focus on a single experience or theme instead of chronicling the writers’ life from birth onward.

For that reason, memoirs tend to focus on one core theme and—at least the best ones—present a clear narrative arc, like you would expect from a novel. This can be achieved by selecting a singular story from your life; a formative experience, or period of time, which is self-contained and can be marked by a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

When writing a memoir, you may also choose to share your experience in parallel with further research on this theme. By performing secondary research, you’re able to bring added weight to your anecdotal evidence, and demonstrate the ways your own experience is reflective (or perhaps unique from) the wider whole.

Example: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Creative Nonfiction example: Cover of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking , for example, interweaves the author’s experience of widowhood with sociological research on grief. Chronicling the year after her husband’s unexpected death, and the simultaneous health struggles of their daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking is a poignant personal story, layered with universal insight into what it means to lose someone you love. The result is the definitive exploration of bereavement — and a stellar example of creative nonfiction done well.

📚 Looking for more reading recommendations? Check out our list of the best memoirs of the last century .

Tip: What you cut out is just as important as what you keep

When writing a memoir that is focused around a singular theme, it’s important to be selective in what to include, and what to leave out. While broader details of your life may be helpful to provide context, remember to resist the impulse to include too much non-pertinent backstory. By only including what is most relevant, you are able to provide a more focused reader experience, and won’t leave readers guessing what the significance of certain non-essential anecdotes will be.

💡 For more memoir-planning tips, head over to our post on outlining memoirs .

Of course, writing a memoir isn’t the only form of creative nonfiction that lets you tap into your personal life — especially if there’s something more explicit you want to say about the world at large… which brings us onto our next section.

Pen a personal essay that has something bigger to say

Personal essays condense the first-person focus and intimacy of a memoir into a tighter package — tunneling down into a specific aspect of a theme or narrative strand within the author’s personal experience.

Often involving some element of journalistic research, personal essays can provide examples or relevant information that comes from outside the writer’s own experience. This can take the form of other people’s voices quoted in the essay, or facts and stats. By combining lived experiences with external material, personal essay writers can reach toward a bigger message, telling readers something about human behavior or society instead of just letting them know the writer better.

Example: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison's widely acclaimed collection The Empathy Exams  tackles big questions (Why is pain so often performed? Can empathy be “bad”?) by grounding them in the personal. While Jamison draws from her own experiences, both as a medical actor who was paid to imitate pain, and as a sufferer of her own ailments, she also reaches broader points about the world we live in within each of her essays.

Whether she’s talking about the justice system or reality TV, Jamison writes with both vulnerability and poise, using her lived experience as a jumping-off point for exploring the nature of empathy itself.

Tip: Try to show change in how you feel about something

Including external perspectives, as we’ve just discussed above, will help shape your essay, making it meaningful to other people and giving your narrative an arc. 

Ultimately, you may be writing about yourself, but readers can read what they want into it. In a personal narrative, they’re looking for interesting insights or realizations they can apply to their own understanding of their lives or the world — so don’t lose sight of that. As the subject of the essay, you are not so much the topic as the vehicle for furthering a conversation.

Often, there are three clear stages in an essay:

  • Initial state 
  • Encounter with something external
  • New, changed state, and conclusions

By bringing readers through this journey with you, you can guide them to new outlooks and demonstrate how your story is still relevant to them.

Had enough of writing about your own life? Let’s look at a form of creative nonfiction that allows you to get outside of yourself.

Tell a factual story as though it were a novel

The form of creative nonfiction that is perhaps closest to conventional nonfiction is literary journalism. Here, the stories are all fact, but they are presented with a creative flourish. While the stories being told might comfortably inhabit a newspaper or history book, they are presented with a sense of literary significance, and writers can make use of literary techniques and character-driven storytelling.

Unlike news reporters, literary journalists can make room for their own perspectives: immersing themselves in the very action they recount. Think of them as both characters and narrators — but every word they write is true. 

If you think literary journalism is up your street, think about the kinds of stories that capture your imagination the most, and what those stories have in common. Are they, at their core, character studies? Parables? An invitation to a new subculture you have never before experienced? Whatever piques your interest, immerse yourself.

Example: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire

If you’re looking for an example of literary journalism that tells a great story, look no further than Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World , which sits at the intersection of food writing and popular science. Though it purports to offer a “plant’s-eye view of the world,” it’s as much about human desires as it is about the natural world.

Through the history of four different plants and human’s efforts to cultivate them, Pollan uses first-hand research as well as archival facts to explore how we attempt to domesticate nature for our own pleasure, and how these efforts can even have devastating consequences. Pollan is himself a character in the story, and makes what could be a remarkably dry topic accessible and engaging in the process.

Tip: Don’t pretend that you’re perfectly objective

You may have more room for your own perspective within literary journalism, but with this power comes great responsibility. Your responsibilities toward the reader remain the same as that of a journalist: you must, whenever possible, acknowledge your own biases or conflicts of interest, as well as any limitations on your research. 

Thankfully, the fact that literary journalism often involves a certain amount of immersion in the narrative — that is, the writer acknowledges their involvement in the process — you can touch on any potential biases explicitly, and make it clear that the story you’re telling, while true to what you experienced, is grounded in your own personal perspective.

Approach a famous name with a unique approach 

Biographies are the chronicle of a human life, from birth to the present or, sometimes, their demise. Often, fact is stranger than fiction, and there is no shortage of fascinating figures from history to discover. As such, a biographical approach to creative nonfiction will leave you spoilt for choice in terms of subject matter.

Because they’re not written by the subjects themselves (as memoirs are), biographical nonfiction requires careful research. If you plan to write one, do everything in your power to verify historical facts, and interview the subject’s family, friends, and acquaintances when possible. Despite the necessity for candor, you’re still welcome to approach biography in a literary way — a great creative biography is both truthful and beautifully written.

Example: American Prometheus  by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of American Prometheus

Alongside the need for you to present the truth is a duty to interpret that evidence with imagination, and present it in the form of a story. Demonstrating a novelist’s skill for plot and characterization, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s American Prometheus is a great example of creative nonfiction that develops a character right in front of the readers’ eyes.

American Prometheus follows J. Robert Oppenheimer from his bashful childhood to his role as the father of the atomic bomb, all the way to his later attempts to reckon with his violent legacy.



How to Develop Characters

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The biography tells a story that would fit comfortably in the pages of a tragic novel, but is grounded in historical research. Clocking in at a hefty 721 pages, American Prometheus distills an enormous volume of archival material, including letters, FBI files, and interviews into a remarkably readable volume. 

📚 For more examples of world-widening, eye-opening biographies, check out our list of the 30 best biographies of all time .

Tip: The good stuff lies in the mundane details

Biographers are expected to undertake academic-grade research before they put pen to paper. You will, of course, read any existing biographies on the person you’re writing about, and visit any archives containing relevant material. If you’re lucky, there’ll be people you can interview who knew your subject personally — but even if there aren’t, what’s going to make your biography stand out is paying attention to details, even if they seem mundane at first.

Of course, no one cares which brand of slippers a former US President wore — gossip is not what we’re talking about. But if you discover that they took a long, silent walk every single morning, that’s a granular detail you could include to give your readers a sense of the weight they carried every day. These smaller details add up to a realistic portrait of a living, breathing human being.

But creative nonfiction isn’t just writing about yourself or other people. Writing about art is also an art, as we’ll see below.

Put your favorite writers through the wringer with literary criticism

Literary criticism is often associated with dull, jargon-laden college dissertations — but it can be a wonderfully rewarding form that blurs the lines between academia and literature itself. When tackled by a deft writer, a literary critique can be just as engrossing as the books it analyzes.

Many of the sharpest literary critics are also poets, poetry editors , novelists, or short story writers, with first-hand awareness of literary techniques and the ability to express their insights with elegance and flair. Though literary criticism sounds highly theoretical, it can be profoundly intimate: you’re invited to share in someone’s experience as a reader or writer — just about the most private experience there is.

Example: The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of The Madwoman in the Attic

Take The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, a seminal work approaching Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Written as a conversation between two friends and academics, this brilliant book reads like an intellectual brainstorming session in a casual dining venue. Highly original, accessible, and not suffering from the morose gravitas academia is often associated with, this text is a fantastic example of creative nonfiction.

Tip: Remember to make your critiques creative

Literary criticism may be a serious undertaking, but unless you’re trying to pitch an academic journal, you’ll need to be mindful of academic jargon and convoluted sentence structure. Don’t forget that the point of popular literary criticism is to make ideas accessible to readers who aren’t necessarily academics, introducing them to new ways of looking at anything they read. 

If you’re not feeling confident, a professional nonfiction editor could help you confirm you’ve hit the right stylistic balance.

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What Is Creative Nonfiction?

By Lee Gutkind

I am often asked: “What is creative nonfiction?” Or, in some cases, “what the hell is creative nonfiction?”  The answer—or answers—can be complicated because creative nonfiction may mean different things to different people, a characteristic that makes this form so elusive and alluring.

On its very baseline creative nonfiction is a literary genre. Some people call it the fourth genre, along with poetry, fiction and drama. And it’s an umbrella term for the many different ways one can write what is called creative nonfiction. Memoir, for example, personal essay, biography, narrative history and long form narrative reportage may all fit under the creative nonfiction umbrella. Recently, as the genre has evolved, there have been offshoots to the genre like speculative nonfiction, auto(biographical) fiction, lyric essay, and the visual essay, to name only a few.

Writers who write creative nonfiction are very different in voice, orientation and purpose. But what they have in common is that they are, in one way or the other, writing true stories that provide information about a variety of subjects, enriched by relevant thoughtful ideas, personal insight, and intimacies about life and the world we live in.  And this scope and variety is exactly what makes creative nonfiction significant and, these days, so incredibly popular.

“Freedom” and “flexibility” are words I like to use when defining creative nonfiction, for the genre invites writers to push boundaries and open doors, offering them the opportunity to use all of the techniques of the fiction writer (or the poet)—dialogue, setting, description, inner point of view (seeing the world through the eyes of the person about whom they are writing)—in order to capture a reader’s attention and enlighten and intrigue them through nonfiction.

There are very few rules for writers of creative nonfiction. You can predict the future, speculate about the past, or imagine what could have happened or what someone might have been thinking, as long as you don’t violate the reader’s trust, and in the process your own credibility. There are, however, limits to the freedom and flexibility that make creative nonfiction so attractive and compelling—legal, ethical and moral issues that are challenging and, in many ways, impossible to clearly define. Freedom and flexibility—and daring—are governed by responsibility, not just to the people about whom we write, but to those who read and publish our work.

Nonfiction itself has had a bad rap in the literary world. For a long time, it was commonly believed that writing nonfiction was generally inferior to the writing of poetry and fiction. “Nonfiction is a pleasant way to walk,” Larry McMurtry once wrote, “but the novel puts one on horseback, and what cowboy, symbolic or real, would walk when he could ride?”

I remember reading this from McMurtry, who had written a great deal of nonfiction, in addition to his many novels and stories, and feeling more than a little annoyed and, at the same time, amused. He had to be joking, I thought. Or maybe he had just fallen off his horse. I pictured the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who became rich and famous for the line “I get no respect,” which in many ways has been the story of creative nonfiction in a nutshell-up until present day.

The addition of the word “creative” to nonfiction was at first controversial, but it gradually reversed the belief that nonfiction was somehow second class, a cut below poetry and fiction. It liberated all writers, journalists especially, releasing them from longstanding rules and boundaries that had been so restrictive and inhibiting.  For novelists, poets and essayists, “creative” encouraged experimentation and offered new avenues of expression. Scientists, physicians, engineers (Atul Gawande, Hope Jahren, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Henry Petroski, to name just a very few) were intrigued by the notion of being creative and began to write true stories that humanized and revealed the behind-the-scenes intimacies of their professions.  

The interest in true stories motivated and opened doors for others who were not writers by trade to share their life experiences, finding meaning in the process and fulfillment in the connections they forged with readers.

This transition—an awakening to the potential and power of nonfiction that allowed and encouraged creativity—did not happen overnight and was not without resistance and often bitter infighting. Change was difficult for the literary, journalistic and academic communities, steeped in tradition and long resistant to new ideas, to accommodate. Indeed, the resistance in some corners far exceeded the scale of the change itself.  The change was hardly drastic and was not really, when one looks back over the history of nonfiction, much of a change at all. Writers had been writing nonfiction that was creative and imaginative for centuries, familiar and famous names you will recognize–Daniel Defoe, George Orwell, Charles Dickens and many others—for centuries. The change, the adjustment that it precipitated, had much more to do with the approach or attitude toward nonfiction rather than its content and, of course, the idea that creative and nonfiction were not mutually exclusive. That change in approach and attitude is ongoing. The scope of nonfiction today, most especially what we call creative nonfiction, continues to evolve, informing and inspiring readers with stories that are true, compelling, revealing and always surprising.

“What is Creative Nonfiction” has been adapted from Lee Gutkind’s new book, The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble-Rousers, Outsiders and Ne’er-do-wells Created Creative Nonfiction,  to be published later this year by Yale University Press.

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About Lee Gutkind

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Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including  You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between ,  Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather,  and the award-winning , Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.


Lee's Latest Book

My Last Eight Thousand Days

This revealing, candid, and vivid portrait of one man’s view of aging written by the man who played a crucial role in establishing literary, narrative nonfiction in the marketplace and in the academy, examines male aging in a way we’ve not seen before.


Creative Writing Program Marks Three Decades of Growth, Diversity

Black and white photo shows old American seaside town with title 'Barely South Review'

By Luisa A. Igloria

2024: a milestone year which marks the 30 th  anniversary of Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program. Its origins can be said to go back to April 1978, when the English Department’s (now Professor Emeritus, retired) Phil Raisor organized the first “Poetry Jam,” in collaboration with Pulitzer prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass (then a visiting poet at ODU). Raisor describes this period as “ a heady time .” Not many realize that from 1978 to 1994, ODU was also the home of AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) until it moved to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The two-day celebration that was “Poetry Jam” has evolved into the annual ODU Literary Festival, a week-long affair at the beginning of October bringing writers of local, national, and international reputation to campus. The ODU Literary Festival is among the longest continuously running literary festivals nationwide. It has featured Rita Dove, Maxine Hong Kingston, Susan Sontag, Edward Albee, John McPhee, Tim O’Brien, Joy Harjo, Dorothy Allison, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sabina Murray, Jane Hirshfield, Brian Turner, S.A. Cosby, Nicole Sealey, Franny Choi, Ross Gay, Adrian Matejka, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ilya Kaminsky, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Jose Olivarez, and Ocean Vuong, among a roster of other luminaries. MFA alumni who have gone on to publish books have also regularly been invited to read.

From an initial cohort of 12 students and three creative writing professors, ODU’s MFA Creative Writing Program has grown to anywhere between 25 to 33 talented students per year. Currently they work with a five-member core faculty (Kent Wascom, John McManus, and Jane Alberdeston in fiction; and Luisa A. Igloria and Marianne L. Chan in poetry). Award-winning writers who made up part of original teaching faculty along with Raisor (but are now also either retired or relocated) are legends in their own right—Toi Derricotte, Tony Ardizzone, Janet Peery, Scott Cairns, Sheri Reynolds, Tim Seibles, and Michael Pearson. Other faculty that ODU’s MFA Creative Writing Program was privileged to briefly have in its ranks include Molly McCully Brown and Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley.

"What we’ve also found to be consistently true is how collegial this program is — with a lively and supportive cohort, and friendships that last beyond time spent here." — Luisa A. Igloria, Louis I. Jaffe Endowed Professor & University Professor of English and Creative Writing at Old Dominion University

Our student body is diverse — from all over the country as well as from closer by. Over the last ten years, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of international students who are drawn to what our program has to offer: an exciting three-year curriculum of workshops, literature, literary publishing, and critical studies; as well as opportunities to teach in the classroom, tutor in the University’s Writing Center, coordinate the student reading series and the Writers in Community outreach program, and produce the student-led literary journal  Barely South Review . The third year gives our students more time to immerse themselves in the completion of a book-ready creative thesis. And our students’ successes have been nothing but amazing. They’ve published with some of the best (many while still in the program), won important prizes, moved into tenured academic positions, and been published in global languages. What we’ve also found to be consistently true is how collegial this program is — with a lively and supportive cohort, and friendships that last beyond time spent here.

Our themed studio workshops are now offered as hybrid/cross genre experiences. My colleagues teach workshops in horror, speculative and experimental fiction, poetry of place, poetry and the archive — these give our students so many more options for honing their skills. And we continue to explore ways to collaborate with other programs and units of the university. One of my cornerstone projects during my term as 20 th  Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth was the creation of a Virginia Poets Database, which is not only supported by the University through the Perry Library’s Digital Commons, but also by the MFA Program in the form of an assistantship for one of our students. With the awareness of ODU’s new integration with Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) and its impact on other programs, I was inspired to design and pilot a new 700-level seminar on “Writing the Body Fantastic: Exploring Metaphors of Human Corporeality.” In the fall of 2024, I look forward to a themed graduate workshop on “Writing (in) the Anthropocene,” where my students and I will explore the subject of climate precarity and how we can respond in our own work.

Even as the University and wider community go through shifts and change through time, the MFA program has grown with resilience and grace. Once, during the six years (2009-15) that I directed the MFA Program, a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) university-wide review amended the guidelines for what kind of graduate student would be allowed to teach classes (only those who had  already  earned 18 or more graduate credits). Thus, two of our first-year MFA students at that time had to be given another assignment for their Teaching Assistantships. I thought of  AWP’s hallmarks of an effective MFA program , which lists the provision of editorial and publishing experience to its students through an affiliated magazine or press — and immediately sought department and upper administration support for creating a literary journal. This is what led to the creation of our biannual  Barely South Review  in 2009.

In 2010,  HuffPost  and  Poets & Writers  listed us among “ The Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs ” (better underrated than overrated, right?) — and while our MFA Creative Writing Program might be smaller than others, we do grow good writers here. When I joined the faculty in 1998, I was excited by the high caliber of both faculty and students. Twenty-five years later, I remain just as if not more excited, and look forward to all the that awaits us in our continued growth.

This essay was originally published in the Spring 2024 edition of Barely South Review , ODU’s student-led literary journal. The University’s growing MFA in Creative Writing program connects students with a seven-member creative writing faculty in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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“Community Matters Here”: Inside NC State’s Creative Writing MFA Program

When Meghan Tanaka was preparing to graduate from the University of Mississippi with a double major in English and philosophy in 2020, she knew she wanted to go on to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing with a specialization in poetry. What she didn’t know was which of the hundreds of MFA programs in the United States she should apply to. 

“It was one of my professors who suggested that I apply to NC State,” she recalls. “He recommended it because the program has really good faculty, and also because it’s smaller. Small class size means you get a lot of faculty attention.” 

Tanaka took her professor’s advice, and she’s glad she did. Now in her second year at NC State, Tanaka has flourished in the MFA program . The small classes taught by excellent faculty — including Dorianne Laux, whose sixth book of poetry, Only as the Day Is Long , was named a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry — are a big reason why, of course. But there’s also one other factor her professor didn’t know about: the sense of community that pervades the program from top to bottom.

“For me, community is what sets this program apart from the others,” she says. “It feels really good to know that you can talk with your professors and your classmates about life and writing and the scary stuff we’re all going through. You’ve got people you can lean on.” (You can read Tanaka’s poem “Stargazer” in the literary journal Pigeon Pages .)

Meghan Tanaka sits for a portrait outside on campus.

An Unlikely Pairing That Makes Good Sense

Although the casual observer might be surprised to discover an excellent graduate-level arts program at a world-class STEM university like NC State, the pairing actually makes sense when North Carolina’s rich literary history is taken into account. The state has been home to so many respected, beloved writers — including Thomas Wolfe, Zora Neale Hurston, David Sedaris, Jaki Shelton Green, Charles Frazier, Jill McCorkle, Randall Kenan, Lee Smith and Anne Tyler, to name only a very few — that it’s fitting for North Carolina’s largest university to host a program dedicated to continuing that legacy.

It also makes sense for a university whose mantra is Think and Do to feature a program devoted to tangible creative output, informed by a mixture of classroom instruction, peer support and faculty mentorship. The MFA is a two-year, 36-hour program comprising writing workshops, interdisciplinary coursework in academic subjects and a final thesis consisting of a book-length literary work supervised by a faculty advisor. The program has two tracks: fiction and poetry. All students admitted to the program receive full funding in the form of a graduate assistantship.

Since the program enrolled its first cohort of students in 2003, it has earned a national reputation for offering high-quality instruction while welcoming many different styles of writing, says Belle Boggs, director of the program. 

“Thanks to the vision and example of the program’s founders — John Kessel, Wilton Barnhardt, and John Balaban — we’ve been open to and inclusive of and excited about a wide variety of forms and genres since the very beginning,” Boggs says. “That celebration of a diversity of styles — postmodernism, traditional realism, gritty Southern fiction, science fiction — is not something you can get just anywhere. But we’ve been doing that a long time, perhaps longer than any other program out there.” 

The program’s openness to variety and experimentation has made it popular with prospective students, she says. 

Celebration of a diversity of styles — postmodernism, traditional realism, gritty Southern fiction, science fiction — is not something you can get just anywhere.

“Last year we received over 275 applications for 13 spots,” Boggs says. “That means we can be selective in recruiting really amazing, interesting writers who build a great community.” 

One of those new recruits is Rafeeat Aliyu, a first-year fiction writer from Kwara, Nigeria. Aliyu writes speculative fiction in the burgeoning Afrofuturist tradition. (You can see a list of Aliyu’s publications, and find links to many of them online, at her website .)

“I wrote my first story in primary school, about a family of ghosts, from the point of the view of the young ghost daughter,” Aliyu says. “I kept writing, and after undergrad I got a few stories published; but not many Nigerian magazines cater to what I write. Nigerians have always had these weird, fantastical stories about mermaids and things like that, but when it comes to literature, publishers mostly just go for literary fiction — writers like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” 

Rafeeat Aliyu sits for a portrait outside on campus.

Aliyu heard that Western markets might be more friendly to her work, and in 2018 she met an alum of NC State’s program who told her she should consider applying. Now that she’s been admitted to the program, she’s happy to have found such a welcoming artistic home at NC State. Aliyu is studying under the supervision of speculative fiction writer Cadwell Turnbull, author of the acclaimed new novel No Gods, No Monsters . Turnbull’s fiction has appeared in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 .

The Key: Rigor and Nourishment

Over on the poetry track, faculty member Eduardo C. Corral — whose second book, Guillotine , was longlisted for the National Book Award in 2020 — says NC State’s emphasis on community is what drew him here.

“My first book of poetry came out in 2012, and after that I started doing poetry readings at colleges all over the country,” he says. “I did 12 to 15 readings a semester for years. I saw a lot of different programs during that time. But when I came to NC State, right away I noticed that community matters here. And that’s important, because the key to making any writing workshop successful is two words: rigor and nourishment. You have to have both, working in tandem. And that only succeeds if the students respect each other. Community is what makes that kind of respect possible.”

Community is what sets this program apart from the others.

When asked what it’s like to teach poetry at a STEM school, Corral laughingly replies, “The undergrads will catch any mistakes I make in anything having to do with math — especially when it comes to grading! The percentages do have to add up to 100, you know?” 

He goes on to note that scientists and engineers are a naturally inquisitive bunch. “They’re trying to figure out how to make bridges safer, how to make energy systems more environmentally friendly; they’re problem solvers, and that lends itself to writing poetry. The trick is to remind them that there’s no equation for how to write poetry, so they have to draft a new set of questions for every poem. I help them focus on the questions, not just on the solutions.” 

Alumni Making Their Mark

NC State’s MFA program has helped many outstanding writers find their voices. The program’s alumni include:

  • Threa Almontaser , whose first book of poetry, The Wild Fox of Yemen , won the 2020 Walt Whitman Award and was recently longlisted for the National Book Award.
  • Emily Cataneo and Arshia Simkin , who launched the Redbud Writing Project , an adult education writing school offering classes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, both in person and online.
  • Leila Chatti , whose debut poetry collection, Deluge , was published by Copper Canyon Press and won the Larry Levis Prize from Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • Noel Crook , whose debut poetry collection, Salt Moon , won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and was published by Southern Illinois University Press. 
  • Tyree Daye , whose debut poetry collection, River Hymns , earned the American Poetry Review ‘s Honickman First Book Prize. Daye was also a 2019 recipient of the prestigious Whiting Award in poetry, one of the largest and most prestigious awards given to emerging writers in the United States. Daye’s second poetry collection, Cardinal , was featured on the New York Times list of the best poetry of 2020. 
  • Kij Johnson , whose first collection of short stories, At the Mouth of the River of Bees , contained stories that won Nebula and Hugo Awards. Johnson now teaches at the University of Kansas.
  • Sarah Grunder Ruiz , whose debut romantic comedy, Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships , comes out this fall with Berkley/Penguin. Sarah teaches in NC State’s First Year Writing Program.
  • Alyssa Wong , who as a student in the program won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Short Story and the 2016 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction.

Boggs says many of the program’s alumni demonstrate a remarkable commitment to the program even after they graduate. “Alumni frequently come back for readings and workshops, and to mentor our students,” she notes. “For example, Cadwell Turnbull studied in the program under John Kessel and Wilton Barnhardt, and now he’s our newest faculty member. His addition to the program continues their teaching tradition and at the same time brings an important new voice into the program.”

Another alum is Therese Anne Fowler, whose fourth novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald , was a 2013 New York Times bestseller and was adapted into the Amazon TV show Z: The Beginning of Everything , starring Christina Ricci. Her latest novel, It All Comes Down to This , will be published in June 2022. 

The program’s famed openness to difference helped Fowler find her way into writing after she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology — not the typical academic preparation for a fiction writer, she notes.

“I came out of the social sciences and did not have a background in reading literature,” Fowler recalls. “For someone like that, who also has the desire to express themselves through fiction writing, it’s important to know you don’t have to be a literary scholar to get into the program.” 

Fowler says the most important thing she got out of the program was learning how to critique her own work. “I think you can learn to write without studying it the way we did in the program,” she says, “but because the workshops require you to assess and deconstruct and analyze other people’s work and then produce some kind of commentary on it, that process taught me how to do that for my own work. And gaining that ability helped me shorten the path from aspiration to success.” 

The Transformative Impact of Philanthropy

As successful as the program and its alumni have been, now it’s poised for even greater success thanks to Tony McLean Brown ’83 and his family, who earlier this year made a $1 million gift to support the MFA program. The gift marks the largest for a humanities department at NC State and one of the largest funded endowments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

“This gift is transformative,” said Dean Jeff Braden when the gift was announced. “Tony and his family are creating a legacy that will launch the careers of many gifted poets, novelists and other writers for years to come.”

Director Belle Boggs says the Browns’ generous gift will allow the program to greatly expand its efforts to recruit students from diverse backgrounds, likely doubling the impact of the program’s  diversity recruiting efforts.

Our students care deeply about their impact on the community.

Boggs says the Browns’ gift will also support the expansion of the program’s community engagement efforts. “Our students care deeply about their impact on the community,” she says, “and we’re exploring ways to support them in programs of outreach teaching, publishing and literary ventures that will positively affect the literary landscape of North Carolina and beyond.”  

For example, in 2016 poetry students Tyree Daye and Alabama Stone founded a literary outreach program called Street Smarts and the Arts that hosted informal poetry workshops with homeless youth in Raleigh. The program ended when funding cuts shuttered the homeless center where the workshops were held, but Daye and Stone created a record of the participants’ artistic achievements by publishing an anthology of the poetry produced in the workshops. 

The MFA program also sponsors an annual poetry contest and an annual fiction contest , both of which have no entry fee and are open to all North Carolina residents. The fiction contest, which is currently taking submissions, awards two prizes: 

  • The James Hurst Prize for Fiction ($500) is awarded to the best unpublished short story of no more than 5,000 words. 
  • The Shorter Fiction Prize ($250) is awarded to the best unpublished short story of no more than 1,200 words. 

The postmark deadline for entries in the fiction contest — hard copies only, no electronic submissions — is Oct. 15, 2021. Visit the fiction contest webpage for more details.

For prospective students who are interested in applying to the MFA program, Boggs says the program is first of all looking for students who have extraordinary talent. “But in addition to that talent and spark,” she says, “we also want people who are going to be generous, enthusiastic, constructive, supportive members of our community. We want people who want to be part of a team.”

Boggs says she couldn’t be more happy about having joined this particular team. 

“When I first came here as a visiting writer, not to be corny about it, but I fell in love with the program,” she says. “I love being on a big campus that offers cool events like the AV Geeks at the Hunt Library, lectures about public science, art exhibits, musical performances, so many amazing opportunities — but at the same time we have this small, tight-knit community of writers.”

If its history is any indication, this small program will continue to make a big impact on students, the university, the community and the literary landscape for a long time to come.

This post was originally published in NC State News.

More From Department of English

what is fiction creative writing


what is fiction creative writing

Behind the Camera 

Second-year ma in rhetoric and composition student, lydia elrod, awarded the witherspoon fellowship 2021 .

Monica N. Starkman M.D.

Writing Psychologically-Realistic Characters in Fiction

A psychiatrist-novelist reveals her writing methods..

Posted May 16, 2024 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

  • As readers, we usually want fictional characters to be both unique and psychologically realistic.
  • Psychiatrist-novelists have a well of clinical experience teaching them how people feel, behave, and grow.
  • Novelists have sometimes-unconscious reasons for choosing certain themes and characters to write about.

Source: Pexels/Pixabay

Good novelists create characters who are complex. unique, and have relatable human needs and feelings. Joyce Carol Oates is one of our best contemporary novelists, and has created a host of memorable characters. including a hippie, an imagined Marilyn Monroe, and a teenage boy. When she and I met and exchanged novels, she said: “You’re a psychiatrist and a novelist. What a great combination!”

There certainly are superb novelists who are also psychiatrists. Dr. Daniel Mason, for example, is both an inpatient psychiatrist and one of our finest contemporary writers of fiction. However, non- psychiatric physicians have also written psychologically rich characters. Dr. Abraham Verghese, for example, specializes in internal medicine. And many of the greatest novelists of all time who created complex characters: Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky were neither psychiatrists nor physicians.

So how, then, are psychiatrist novelists “a great combination"?

The advantages of being a psychiatrist-novelist

Humans are fascinated by other people and their behaviors. From earliest childhood , we listen to and read stories to show how people face challenging situations. We psychiatrists have an added advantage. In our clinical work, we are privileged to hear the most private thoughts and feelings of many people: their fears, the different ways they have tried to protect themselves in difficult and often traumatizing relationships and situations. We also see how they change and grow. When creating fictional characters, we have access to this well of knowledge to write imaginary but psychologically realistic people.

The challenges

When it comes down to the writing, though, physicians have a disadvantage. We're trained to write clinical case histories in a rigid format: presenting problem, history of present illness, past medical history, family history, and so on. This is totally unlike the process fiction authors must master to write characters that come alive on the page. We physicians must put aside that ingrained pattern of straightforward reporting if we are to write good fiction.

One psychiatrist-novelist’s process of writing

Is our process of writing fiction different from that of other novelists? What follows is my own method. I tend to think it is not; readers here may hazard their own guess.

Finding a topic gripping to the novelist

A novelist will spend countless hours in his/her imagination , even more writing sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, then even more rewriting. Because of this heavy expenditure of energy and time, we must find a topic that fascinates us so much we are willing (or needing) to invest the months and years necessary to write about it.

In my case, the idea for my novel of psychological suspense, The End of Miracles , came directly from my clinical work as a psychiatrist. Over a period of a few months, I was asked to see three women, each with an extended false pregnancy , a condition technically named pseudocyesis.

In addition to my clinical interest in evaluating and treating them, and my scientific interest in studying their hormone levels, I also thought: wouldn’t it be fascinating to write a novel in which, at some point, the main character develops pseudocyesis?

Why was this topic so appealing? Only during the course of writing did the realization of the likely roots of my fascination become apparent.

Having an overarching goal

I'd long harbored a creative need to write a novel. I also wanted to add an engrossing book to the world of literature in return for the pleasure I’ve received from reading fiction since my childhood. As a psychiatrist, I set myself additional goals . I wanted to show psychiatrists as they really are, not as the devious or incompetent stereotypes so often portrayed in books or films. I wanted to show that people who develop a serious mental illness are not that different from the rest of us.

Creating the characters

One method I used was to become an actor. I'd pretend to be a particular character and then "listen to" their inner monologue and dialogue. Probably the easiest chapters to write were about the psychiatrist in the novel. I simply imagined myself in my own office, sitting across from the main character, Margo, and having a therapeutic session with her.

Writing the psychological roots of behaviors

It was very important to me to make Margo’s thoughts and actions grow out of her psychology. Once I'd written enough to know her feelings and behaviors in the present, I added to prior chapters instances of thoughts and experiences that were roots of the current ones.

what is fiction creative writing

In the process of writing this way, I discovered a possible clue as to why I was so attracted to the theme of a false pregnancy. A memory came to mind: 5-year-old me seeing my mother very pregnant, seeing babies in fancy carriages, seeing women nursing their babies. Likely I wanted a baby then, too—yet never got to have one. But these women who’d developed false pregnancies with distended abdomens had found a solution to that problem! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Well, now I had.

Writing suspensefully

I’ve read many thrillers, and now used the techniques I’d observed in them to create tension and a page-turning experience for my own readers. In the most suspenseful sections, I kept chapter lengths short and hinted in their last sentences that something crucial was about to happen,

Sending the book out into the world

Publication was a joy mixed with an unexpected momentary sense of loss. In a way, it resembled what it’s like when a baby is born: for many months, you’ve had a private, intimate relationship, and then it ends. Similarly, when my novel was published, there was a brief sadness about sending it out into the world to make new relationships with its readers.

The audiobook re-creation

When we read a book, we're not actually reading the same book as its other readers. We filter what we see on the page through our own experiences and understanding of the world. With an audiobook, the narrator voices the story and the characters through their own response to the text.

For The End of Miracle 's Audible audiobook, I listened to many of their narrators read aloud sections of other books and of my own before choosing the one whose voice resonated best with the story. I would be entrusting this person to be a kind of co-creator with me. It’s been gratifying to read comments of those who’ve both read and listened, writing they very much liked the print version and loved the audiobook. Then, I am reassured that I made the right choice.

The effect on one listener, though, was unexpected and humorous. My teenage grandson wrote on his Facebook page: “After reading the novel I listened to the audiobook and it was a relief to hear the phrase ‘egg showered in sperm’ in someone else’s voice instead of my grandmother’s.”

Starkman, M. (2016) The End of Miracles: A Novel, She Writes Press.

Monica N. Starkman M.D.

Monica Starkman, MD is a professor of psychiatry emerita at the University of Michigan. Her novel The End of Miracles is a suspenseful story about a woman who unravels psychologically after harrowing infertility and a tragic miscarriage, the shocking choices she makes, and the psychiatrists and close ones who try to save her.

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May 2024 magazine cover

At any moment, someone’s aggravating behavior or our own bad luck can set us off on an emotional spiral that threatens to derail our entire day. Here’s how we can face our triggers with less reactivity so that we can get on with our lives.

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Writers' Workshop

Jayne anne phillips wins 2024 pulitzer prize for fiction.

Written by Sara Epstein Moninger

Phillips, who earned an MFA in 1978, was recognized for her novel Night Watch . The Pulitzer judges described the book as “a beautifully rendered novel set in West Virginia’s Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in the aftermath of the Civil War where a severely wounded Union veteran, a 12-year-old girl, and her mother, long abused by a Confederate soldier, struggle to heal.”

Yiyun Li, who graduated with a Master of Science in 2000 and two MFAs (fiction and nonfiction) in 2005, was a finalist in fiction for her book of short stories Wednesday’s Child . Li’s short stories and novels have won numerous awards, including the PEN/Hemingway Award for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for The Book of Goose . She currently serves as director of Princeton University’s creative writing program.

Additionally, two alumnae were recognized as finalists for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry:

Jorie Graham, who graduated with an MFA in 1978 and won a Pulitzer in 1996 for The Dream of the Unified Field , was named a finalist for To 2040 . Graham, one of the most celebrated poets of her generation, is a former longtime faculty member in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Among her poetry collections are The End of Beauty , Place , and Sea Change . She currently is the Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard University.

Robyn Schiff, who graduated with an MFA in 1999, was named a finalist for Information Desk: An Epic , a book-length poem in three parts set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Schiff, who has been a visiting faculty member in the UI Department of English, also is the author of Worth , Revolver , and A Woman of Property , which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She teaches at the University of Chicago and co-edits Canarium Books.

Pulitzer Prizes are awarded annually to honor achievements in journalism, literature, and music. See the full list of 2024 Pulitzer winners .


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