Friday, December 25, 2015

What is Creative Nonfiction?

by Senior Editor Mary Bast

What is creative nonfiction? In some ways it's like jazz: fact-based writing that has the quality of ragtime or classic or bebop or swing, played as the blues, or even with a cross-rhythm, and always with a moving inner voice.

Creative doesn't mean inventing. It means incorporating the styles and elements of good fiction, poetry, memoir, and essay. Creative nonfiction is writing-of-the-real, using devices such as sense of place, voice, and character development; as experimental as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact. 

Before he became the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Editor, Rick Sapp's Vanover's Luck was featured in Bacopa Literary Review 2014. The first sentence reads like fiction, the urge to dive in is so strong:
Even as he lies crumpled and bleeding at the base of a tree, his mouth full of Remington 2x4 shot pellets, John Vanover thinks of himself as a lucky man.
There's also compelling intrigue in John's knowing the exact make and size of the pellets. Has he shot himself? Or does he just know guns? 

We learn that Vanover was born in the Virginia hills and knows Appalachia's knolls and coves, its caves and creeks as well as he knew the path to the outhouse on a moonless night when he was young. 

Note the rhythm and literary style of the following paragraph:
Ask John about working the mines, the deep tunnels with air, he says, that smells like cold steel, mines so dark that a dream about life outside makes miners clench their eyes tight, mines that snake under unsuspecting farms, under deer and turkeys, under nesting field mice and the scowl of hawks and owls like burrowing worms and he says, his voice trailing off in tone and volume as if he is ashamed, "I loved it."
The author could have told Vanover's story in a more documentary form, and no doubt that would also have been well-written. 

But for Bacopa submissions, we're looking for creative nonfiction like Vanover's Luck: an aesthetic experience, the orchestration of a true story.


  1. I was wondering if there is some kind of general guide for no. of words, min and max?

  2. Do you mean for literary fiction in general, or for Bacopa Literary Review.