Creative Writing in Non-Fiction

In the following pages you will find examples and excersises for writing non-fiction specifically geared for journalism students and non-fiction writers who are looking to improve their skills in writing. These pages give examples of creative and non-fiction writing, and allow you to compare the differences between them. Dialogue, an important element of voice, is also discussed, and you will find an interactive tutorial that will aid in refining dialogue skills.

Writing Creatively for Non-Fiction

As writers, we know different situations require different writing styles: technical, business, medical, but in reality all of us are creative writers because we create documents. However, there are occasions such as journalism when we can incorporate elements of creative writing and produce organic text, text that appeals to the senses.

Please read the following passages:

Pittsburgh was all alone too. Like a tough Polish kid with a homemade haircut, cap, knickers, and a broken tooth.

Honey and I checked into the Milner Hotel.

Those Milner Hotel rooms were beautiful, with high ceilings and fake fireplaces and the mirrored pictures with the flamingo bird. "A Dollar a Day and Servicemen Welcome." (Bruce 73)

The cable sags noticeably over the middle of the river; so when I cut loose from the outcrop, the car accelerates quicly under its own weight, rolling faster and faster along the steel strand, seeking the lowest point. It's a thrilling ride. Zipping over the rapids at twenty or thirty miles per hour; I hear an involuntary bark of fright leap from my throat before I realize that I'm in no danger and regain my composure. (Krakauer 175)

Zoe drove, and they said nothing for a long time. They listened to Tori Amos sing on the tapeplayer. When they would pass milage signs for Charlottesville, Zoe would say they were getting closer, but Nan wasn't interested. She stared through the window and thought about the way the land moved as they drove. She was drifting away from her blood, away from her body into the cold solace of sky and mountain and field. Clouds made the sky slate-gray. A thread of silver sewn to the horizon separated the sky from the mountains. The hills slept beneath a crochet of snow, and Nan wondered if they were dreaming.

There were cattle and power lines crossing the fields. Fences and splashes of trees. Small, tin roof homes and abandoned tobacco sheds speckled the land. Roadside fruit stands were closed for the winter, but listed the prices of apples from fall. There were houses lining the highway, and they passed one with a sign in front that said Jehovah's witnesses weren't allowed. (Campbell 1)

Fiction? Or non-fiction?

To be certain, one must know the actual body of work from whence the passages came. The first two passages are non-fiction. The third is fiction. Author, Robert Olmstead has shown this excersise to many of his classes. He believes, "it is all fiction once it is on the page." What is meant by this is that the elements of fiction can be used when writing non-fiction and vice-versa as we have seen in the above examples.


Situation: you are working on a feature article for a newspaper or a magazine, and you have to do an in-depth interview. Later, you will write your story from the notes and quotes given to you during your interview.

Writing a source (person) into a news article is very similar to character generation in a short story. You will want to include details about the person so that the reader is able to see the person you are writing about. However, you do not want to overwhelm the reader with so many details that he or she will lose interest. Therefore, include just enough details to allow the reader to see the character.

This can be done in a number of ways, but the best way to do it is to pay attention to the person you are interviewing. Include details such as what they looked like if you do not have a photographer to take pictures for you. Also, take notes on your surroundings. Where are you interviewing them? What does this place look like? What can you hear or smell? Remember, sense appeal is important to the reader so long as the reader is not overwhelmed by it.

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Works Cited

Bruce, Lenny. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Campbell, Allen. "Cancer." Unpublished, 1998.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Doubleday, 1996.

Created by Allen Campbell