Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creative Non-Fiction

Today is a better day than the last time I posted. Bruin, our Blue& Gold Macaw, is out of the hospital, taking his meds well, and is once again playing. Oh yes, and he and Shadow ( our African Gray parrot) are arguing like they usually do.

So let's talk a little about creative non-fiction. What is creative non-fiction, you ask? Well, let's see. First, it's a story. Second, it's factual. Third, it imparts information to your readers ( kids) without them realizing that they are actually learning something!

When I had my first creative non-fiction assignment, I wrote about the rainforest in the Amazon. I wrote from the POV of a young American boy on vacation with his parents. He was taking a tour of the rainforest, led by a young Indian boy who lived there. My MC learned all sorts of interesting things about the 4 layers of canopy in a rainforest and the different flowers and vines that grew in them. He also learned about one specific animal or bird that lived in each layer of the canopy. He learned the name of the animal or bird, what it looked like, what it ate, where it lived and why it lived in that specific part of the rainforest.

This was creative non-fiction ( CNF) because, first, it told a fictional story about the two boys, and second, because all the facts in the story were true.

When we write pure non-fiction, all we are doing is putting together specific facts about something in some kind of logical and/or cohesive form. It's usually dry, dull and boring reading, and why we all...but kids especially...hate reading it.

But when we write CNF, we create a fictional story around some type of facts. CNF should have a story arc, characters, setting, details and sometimes, even conflict and resolution. Suppose, for example, you were asked to write a non-fiction piece about the origin and development of carrousels. Now, you could get all the facts available from library books, journal articles and websites, sit down, put them in chronological order, and write your article. Factual, true, correct bibliography, and...what? Dull? Boring? Hmm...probably!

Suppose, instead, you got all your facts, times, dates, places, people involved, and then you wrote a story? Let's say a fantasy story about a young girl and boy who decide they are being picked on by their parents, so they run away. They hide in a forest, fall asleep, and are awakened by a horse neighing. But...the horse is WOODEN! So they start asking questions, and the wooden horse tells them about carrousels, and how he got tired of going around in circles so he ran away. The children tell him he should go home, so he leads them to the town where the carrousel is. He goes to the home of the man who carved him, and this man tells the children all about carrousels.

You work your facts and dates and times, etc. into the story the man ( who turns out to be one of the first horse carvers) is telling the children. The wooden horse might add a few things about his experiences with other horses carved by other people. Now...what do you have? A delightful fantasy about two children, one wooden horse, and a factual history about the origin of the carrousel. Doesn't that sound much more interesting that just a straight non-fiction article? ( Since I just wrote this article, I'm hoping the editor thinks its interesting !)

You can do this with just about anything that is true and factual...animals, people, places, "things," even something as dry and boring in real life as...gulp...math! All it takes, besides true and up-to-date information, is a little ingenuity and creativity on your part.

A book that really takes CNF to its highest point is An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly. The book is written from the POV of a caterpillar who became a female Monarch butterfly who has to migrate to Mexico, find a mate and reproduce. The book ends with the end of the Monarch's life. All the facts about what caterpillars eat, how they become butterflies, butterflies migrating in the autumn, mating and reproducing are there and true, but because the story is about a single butterfly, readers can identify with her and care about her.

The next time you want or need to write something that is non-fiction, give serious consideration to the creative aspect. Remember that your prime concern in writing NF for kids is to arouse their curiosity and interest in the subject you're writing make them ask questions: Why? What? How? When? You want them to get excited about the subject; to enjoy what they are reading as well as to learn from it. If they enjoy it they are going to retain the facts they learn longer, and will probably want to know even more about the subject.

Remember that when you are writing fiction, you are using your imagination and creativity; all you need to make writing NonFiction interesting and entertaining to you as well as your reader is this same imagination and creativity.

Are you up to it ?


  1. Mikki,
    I love this post. I learned so much about so much. Great job. I never really understood what creative non-fiction was and, being the shy, quiet soul that I am, I was a little embarrassed to admit I didn't know. I always wanted to ask, though. Thank you for addressing this subject.

    Now, I have a question for you. Would the 'Magic Treehouse' books be considered creative non-fiction? They are very interessting and they also impart quite a bit of factual information. Thank you, again, for sharing you knowledge. If you don't mind, I'm going to link this post to my blog, k? ~ Yaya

  2. Mikki,
    I wanted to tell you about a $75 prize being given away. Be sure to head over and read all about it. Hurry 'cause we only have until the 6th of November to enter. Hurry, hurry! ~ Yaya