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Zoya Patel on putting creativity into non-fiction writing

Woman standing in front of an orange wall
30 April 2021

At the Library's Teen writing boot camp in April 2021, writer and editor Zoya Patel taught teens how to construct their ideas, research and opinions into compelling non-fiction writing. Here she shares some tips and reflections from the third boot camp on Thursday 29 April.

Although people often think of non-fiction writing as being dry in tone, creative non-fiction is a genre of writing that is always growing in popularity. There is a huge appetite for memoir, creative non-fiction essays or historical accounts that use narrative techniques to tell a story.

Creative non-fiction, in a nutshell, is non-fiction writing that employs techniques that are commonly associated with fiction writing.

For example, dialogue, scene-setting, characters, imagery, and metaphors. You might be relaying a real-life conversation that took place, but you write it as a dialogue between two people, incorporating what they were wearing, where they were, how their voices sounded, and any other mannerisms that help create a picture in the mind of the reader.

It’s also as much about the use of language as it is about the story you’re telling. Creative non-fiction may use more evocative language, and engage more imagery and metaphor than straight non-fiction.

Creativity is fundamental to all forms of writing, but when writing non-fiction, enhancing your writing by creating a more vivid experience for your reader can really help to get your message across in a stronger way.

As a memoir writer, I write creative non-fiction in the form of essays. I choose a particular theme, and then I construct a story around it, with a constant interplay between passages that are more creative and narrative-focused, and passages that are more reflective and that examine the ideas that I want to discuss.

Finding the right balance is key – every story is different, and working out the best formats and structures to bring your story to life can be a game of trial and error.

A good place to start is by reading other writers. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race is a great example of creative non-fiction, that uses narrative and poetic techniques to tell her experiences of growing up with racism. Or Anna Krien’s Into the woods is an amazing book about the environment, that is very creative and compelling.

More to explore