If you've ever wanted to tell a true story using more literary techniques, then the genre you're exploring is creative nonfiction. Let's define creative nonfiction and then try some creative nonfiction writing prompts today.
What is creative nonfiction?
Creative nonfiction is a literary genre of writing that uses fiction techniques and stylistic choices to express real-life experiences. It depends on story elements especially, so everything you've learned about structure will serve you well in creative nonfiction.
It often includes personal essays, memoirs, biographies, and other related genres such as travel writing or food writing. Creative nonfiction writers strive to make their pieces engaging to readers with narrative techniques typically found in fiction, such as vivid descriptions and dialogue, but in addition to that, they approach their subject matter with a thoughtfulness about the larger meaning of experiences.
It's an extremely flexible form. You can begin by writing out a personal experience and then layering it with narrative or thematic elements. You can infuse your writing with poetic elements to make the writing more lyrical. The possibilities for your writing practice are endless.
Because of that, it's the perfect form for practicing new techniques and experimenting with your storytelling. You could use any nonfiction prompt, but let me give you a few to try today. Remember the one thing you want to do is tell a true story (or as true as you can tell it!).
And if you've always dreamed of writing a memoir, check out our full guide to writing a memoir here.
21 Creative Nonfiction Writing Prompts
1. Tell a personal story about a time you lost something that changed your life.
2. Relate a childhood experience where you felt locked out literally or figuratively.
3. Think about a road trip—maybe not the epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip, but a smaller one that surprised you with something on the way. Write about the vivid details and what defied your expectations.
4. Write about finding unexpected love or friendship.
5. Tell a story about the last time you felt at home.
6. Relate a time when you had to leave something important or precious behind.
7. Tell about a time you had to dig.
8. Write about the first time of drove or traveled alone and it changed you.
9. Tell about a painful or poignant goodbye.
10. Relate a favorite memory about a significant figure in your life.
11. Write the story of the most difficult decision you made in each decade of your life.
12. Tell the story of a birth: of a person, an idea, a business, a relationship.
13. Relate the most life-changing conversation you've had using only dialogue. (or stream-of-consciousness or alternating point of view)
14. Recreate the earliest significant experience you had with school or learning.
15. Write about a tiny object that changed your life.
16. Tell the story of an argument that ended in a surprising or unexpected way.
17. Recreate a scene where you had to defend yourself or someone else.
18. Share a story about trying something new (whether you failed or met success).
19. Write about the moment you knew you had to keep a secret.
20. Tell about a time you interacted, viewed, or read a piece of art and it changed you.
21. Share about a letter, email, or text that disrupted your life and caused you to change course.
Put your writing skills to the test
Now it's your turn. Dig into those childhood memories or visceral experiences that have made you who you are. Tell the story and then look for ways to explore literary technique as you revise.
Choose one of the prompts above and set your timer for fifteen minutes. Write the experience as vividly and direct as you can. Often, the magic of creative nonfiction comes in revision, so don't worry about focusing on too many stylistic choices at first.
When finished, share your creative nonfiction piece in the Pro Practice Workshop here, and encourage a few other writers while you're there.
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.