Use creative fiction elements in nonfiction book

Among the biggest mistakes beginning writers of nonfiction books make is to write text as if it were an encyclopedic rendering of information or an academic lecture. This straightforward, just-the-facts approach invariably comes off as dry and eventually will bore most readers.

Instead, you can use elements of creative fiction elements to pep up your nonfiction book. There are several different techniques used in novels and short stories that can work in nonfiction.

In a scene, you recreate an actual incident that occurred to you. For example, if writing a travelogue about driving cross country, you might tell about the time your tire went flat in the long expanse of empty Arizona desert and there is no cell phone service. You show rather than tell what occurred. The scene, however, must have a point to it. In the travelogue, it might be to suggest how even in our technological era in which we’re always plugged in, there still are places in America where one can be horribly helpless; showing this can deliver the message more powerfully than telling it.

Another technique is describing what a place, person or object looks like. These details usually appeal to our five senses. For example, in the travelogue, the author might describe how the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rises out of the horizon as approaching it from eastern Colorado. Such imagery gives the reader a sense of being there, of experiencing it with you.

Another creative fiction element that can be used is including a conversation between people. This helps bring alive the person the narrator is talking with. It works especially well if that person has a colorful personality and responds in an unanticipated way. Perhaps in the travelogue the conversation with an old timer at a gas station in a small Utah town is repeated; this could give a flavor of the area and show the difference in viewpoints of locals to those traveling through.

In fiction, the intensity increases as the story unfolds, as the reader waits to see how it all ends. This sense of anticipation also can be utilized in nonfiction. In the travelogue, the narrator may be trying to obtain a goal by driving across the country and saves the “holy grail” destination for last; suspense can be created by keeping the reader guessing if he actually will make it. Individual scenes and chapters also can be packed with suspense.

When using any of these techniques, always be sure that you’re being truthful about what occurred. Making up something so that the element works only undercuts the validity of your nonfiction work.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.