Unit 2: Creative Nonfiction


Unit Goal:

In this unit, writers will learn how to translate personal experience and research into effective pieces of creative nonfiction. As a community of writers, we will strive to define the term “creative nonfiction” by reading work across a broad spectrum of content and form, and from this learn how to read these pieces both as a scholar and as a creative writer. We will also delve into the ethical considerations that come into play when writing from “real” life. At the end of the unit, authors will produce a collection of creative nonfiction  that engages the reader with vivid imagery and characterization.

Essential Questions:

  • What is the difference between fiction and nonfiction?
  • What is “creative” about “creative nonfiction?”
  • Why are personal stories interesting to others? What makes them “universal?”
  • How does a writer gain access to memory? How can this memory be represented both accurately and aesthetically?
  • How do we characterize a strong “voice” in this genre?
  • How do writers effectively structure pieces in this genre?
  • What writerly techniques are most effective in this genre?

Unit Terms: 

nonfiction, genre, plot, imagery, details, characterization, tone, theme, feedback, revision, autobiographical

"You Are Not Yourself" by Diane Kruger 1981It is sometimes comforting to know that others seem to fail as often and as oddly as we do…and it is even more comforting to have such stories told to us with style, the way a writer has found to an individual expression of a personal truth.”              

Scott Walker, Editor Essays, Memoirs & Reflections



Exercise A: The Zen of Writing

Objective: Writers will close read and respond ideas about the importance of writing presented in the Preface of Ray Brandbury’s The Zen of Writing.

Exercise B: I don’t know why I remember

Objective: After reading to an excerpt from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, students will explore the importance of memory as raw creative material by responding to “I don’t know why I remember” prompt.  

Handouts: Student Sample, Mentor Text from from East of Eden

Exercise C: I am a camera

Objective: After reading Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye Berlin” students will notice the importance of point of view and render vivid details to describe a scene without trying to explain or interpret it as material for Creative Nonfiction piece.

Handouts:Handouts: Creative NonFiction Exercises A-C, Writer’s Confession by Junot Diaz, I am a camera

Exercise D: Things I was Taught/ Things I Wasn’t Taught

Objective: To elicit fresh and surprising insights into your relationship to family, friends, community, and the world.

Handouts: Ian McEwan’s Advice for Aspiring Writers,

Exercise E: I Want to Know Why

Objective: Identify interesting gaps in your understanding or knowledge in order to generate raw material for short stories.

Handouts: How to tell if you’re a writer, John Iriving, Student Sample

Exercise F: Where I’m From Story

Objective:  The exercise will help writers identify important characters from inner circle of friends and background characters that reveal a sense of place.

HandoutsCisneros on Search for Place and Fiction, Mentor text, Student Samples

Exercise G:  Where I’m From Poem

Objective:  This exercise will help elicit fresh and surprising insights into your relationship to friends, neighborhood, and community.

Handouts: Where I’m from by George Ella Lyon, Where Im From, Student Samples

FINAL PORTFOLIO: Creative Nonfiction Collection & Reading