Friday, February 27, 2015

Facts + Poetry = Creative Nonfiction

In this series of Teaching Author posts, we’re discussing the areas of overlap between fiction and nonfiction. Today, I’m thinking about creative nonfiction.

What is Creative Nonfiction? According to Lee Gutkind (known as the “Father of Creative Nonfiction”), “The words ‘creative’ and ‘nonfiction’ describe the form. The word ‘creative’ refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”

One critical point about writing creative nonfiction is that creativity does not apply to the facts. Authors cannot invent dialog, combine characters, fiddle with time lines, or in any other way divert from the truth and still call it nonfiction. The creative part applies only to the way factual information is presented.

One way to present nonfiction in a compelling, vivid manner is to take advantage of the techniques of poetry. When I wrote the nonfiction picture book Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (gorgeously illustrated by Pam Paparone), I made a conscious effort to use imagery, alliteration, repetition, and onomatopoeia while explaining how seeds get around. When she called with the good news, the editor called it a perfect blend of nonfiction and poetry. Yippee, right?

Fiona Bayrock’s “Eleven Tips for Writing Successful Nonfiction for Kids” lists more helpful and age-appropriate methods for grabbing kids’ attention, starting with “Tap into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool!”

Marcie Flinchum Atkins has compiled a helpful list of ten Nonfiction Poetic Picture Books. She points out that these excellent books (including some by Teaching Authors friends April Pulley Sayre, Laura Purdie Salas, and Lola Schaefer) can be used in classrooms to teach good writing skills. We can all learn from such wonderful examples!

Heidi Mordhorst has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken


  1. I love this discussion, JoAnn! Almost as much as I love your books! Very nice!

  2. Thanks for this clear, concise explanation of Creative Nonfiction, JA, and the helpful links!

  3. Thank you, Bobbi! You're welcome, Marti! You guys are so kind!

  4. This is very helpful, JoAnn. I participated in the PB10for10 & there were many books that are worth a look for 'creative non-fiction'. I like the tip list, too. Thanks for sharing all the info.

  5. Love the way that creative nonfiction is highlighted here this week. Thanks for all the helpful links too!

  6. What a great little recast of things I already knew but hadn't properly considered! This idea enriches my own concept of poet as scientist--perfect timing for my kindergarteners' study of turtles.
    Thanks, JoAnn!

    My own favorite creative nonfiction is Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson.

  7. I'm so glad to hear this post was helpful! Heidi, the thought of kindergartners studying turtles makes me happy! I'll look up Pumpkin Circle.

  8. Thank you so much for the checklist... poetic nonfiction is enchanted reading, isn't it?

  9. Irene, yes, and the writing process is enchanting, too!

  10. Great post. And excellent way to approach nonfiction.


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