Responding to Creative Nonfiction

What is creative nonfiction? It’s a wide category of literature that tells true stories with dramatic flair and factual accuracy. Sometimes called narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction marries fiction-style storytelling with journalism and/or autobiographical writing.

Can cold-hard facts be told like fiction?

Absolutely. Truman Capote did it when he wrote In Cold Blood. Richard Wright did it when he wrote Black Boy. Laura Hillenbrand did it when she wrote Seabiscuit. Book authors, magazine writers, essayists, newspaper reporters, and bloggers do it all the time.

How do you critique creative nonfiction?

Plain facts alone don’t make successful creative nonfiction. To give thoughtful feedback on creative nonfiction drafts, consider these questions:

  • What is the underlying purpose of this piece (in a sentence or two)?
  • Does the opening captivate you and make you want to read more? Is there a better place to start? Why?
  • Does this piece feel more like a story or an essay? Why?
  • Does this include any mystery or surprise? Explain.
  • How is character revealed?
  • How much external “data” or factual information is woven in? What purpose does it serve?
  • Which scenes energize the story? Are scenes the right length? Should any be added, combined, or compressed?
  • Does dialogue energize the story? Is it easy to follow? Why?
  • Where is conflict or yearning?
  • What is the point of view (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person)? How does this affect the impact?
  • How would you describe the author’s voice/style/tone?
  • Does the author rely too much on certain length sentences or certain grammatical constructions? How? Where could they could be varied for impact?
  • Which sections are easiest to visualize? Why?
  • Where does the writer use specifics instead of generalities?
  • Are any sentences confusing?
  • Do any sections seem unnecessary, redundant, or distracting? Which ones would you cut, or compress?
  • Where do you find action verbs? Where can action verbs be used more?
  • Does this piece explore any “universal” themes? Are there any motifs?
  • What aspect of this piece is most interesting or compelling? Why?
  • Does this piece feel “complete”? Has it achieved its purpose? If not, what is missing?

Remember: A final edit should check for  appropriate punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, grammar, typos, and other “mechanical” issues.

This material was created for students of Ringling College of Art & Design CRWR 213. You are welcome to reuse it if you give appropriate attribution and link back to this page.

Last updated 11/3/216 © 2016 Wendy Lyons Sunshine. All rights reserved.