14 April, 2016


What is creative nonfiction?

Creative nonfiction is writing that focuses on personal experience rather than on dry data, while still being factually accurate. Some forms of creative nonfiction are memoirs and personal essays. A memoir is a historical or factual account written from a personal point of view and with personal knowledge, whereas a personal essay is more open and free-form, with more room for individual expression in structure, content, and topic.

Does my story need to be 100% true to the facts?

In creative nonfiction, an implied agreement forms between writer and reader that the story will stay true to the facts to a reasonable degree. Consider the genre as less reliant on fact-checking than journalism, but much more dedicated to the true story than a novel that claims to be merely ‘based on a true story’.

Creative nonfiction writers have the flexibility to enhance certain details, to prioritise some facts over others, but never to invent. The reader shouldn’t be in any real doubt that any part of your story didn’t actually happen.

How far is too far, when being creative with the truth?

Readers will understand that the story is, by nature, only the writer’s version of the events; even in more black-and-white nonfiction genres, like history or politics, concepts like bias and revisionism come into play. ‘History is written by the victors’, after all.

Many writers use disclaimers to communicate to their readers if they have chosen to take a few liberties with the truth, and will sometimes change the names of people and places for privacy reasons. For instance, you might change hair colour from blonde to black to respect an individual’s privacy. 

What if I can’t remember all the details?

Memory can be faulty. When memory fails or is fuzzy on the details, put your journalistic cap on and investigate: verify what facts you can, but remember that you’re looking to tell the best version of the story you can to represent the way you saw it.

What does all this mean for my 50 Stories submission? What are you looking for?

We’re looking for a report of what happened. Write in scenes, like you would read in a novel, but don’t invent anything. Lay the memory out in your own words, the way you saw it.

Tips for writing creative nonfiction for 50 Stories

Creative nonfiction requires a degree of formality, but you have the added freedom and creativity to explore personal aspects. Some things to consider:

  • Express your personal opinions
  • Focus on your UQ experience, the campus and its culture
  • Use first person pronouns (For example, ‘I attended UQ’)
  • Where possible, use active voice rather than passive voice 
  • Engage the senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste)

Fancy trying your hand at interviewing?



Further reading 

Bloom, Lynn Z. “Living to Tell the Tale: The Complicated Ethics of Creative Nonfiction.” College English 65.3 (2003): 276–289. Web.

Fitzgerald, Mark. “When does Creative Nonfiction Get Too Creative? Writers Blur the Line between Nonfiction and Fiction.” The Writer 115.11 (2002): 15–18. Web.

McCutchen, D.K. “The Art of Lying—Or Risking the Wrath of Oprah.” Fourth Genre 10.1 (2008): 147–151. Web.