Andreas Schroeder: "Creative" doesn't mean making it up
During the month of January we will be running creative nonfiction writing tips from members of the Creative Nonfiction Collective to give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition.
A troubling number of writers seem to think that the term “creative” in creative nonfiction gives them a license to invent or make up facts to enhance their stories. But in nonfiction, the reader should always be kept aware of any deviation from the facts. This can be done quite easily by using some variation of the conditional verb tense (“He may have thought; she probably felt”), or by giving the reader a heads-up that the narrative has shifted from the known record to author speculation or embellishment, or by including a foreword or afterword explaining what liberties the author has taken with the facts, and why. The main thing to avoid is the situation in which the reader experiences an entire work of creative nonfiction as fact (that being the definition of the genre, after all), only to discover in some later that the writer made a lot of it up.
Andreas Schroeder emigrated to British Columbia from Germany in 1951. He has made his living as a freelance writer for the past 43 years, writing books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and radio drama, as well as translations, journalism and literary criticism. He currently holds the Rogers Communications Chair in Creative Nonfiction (part-time) in the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program.