Philip Gerard, author of Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (Story Press Books, 1996), defines a piece of writing as creative nonfiction if it contains the following five characteristics:
1. It shares a good, narrative story that contains a defined setting, a solid
plot, and strong characters.
2. It has an apparent subject and a deeper subject.
3. It tells a timely story that is also timeless.
4. It offers a sense of reflection on behalf of the author.
5. It pays careful attention to the craft of writing.
Here's an example of creative nonfiction from Maryland Voices:
Everything is Going to Be Okay
By Elizabeth Dobbins
The obscure night was illuminated by the blurred light all around me. As my family and I quietly drove down the thick, busy street filled with advertisements and insomniacs of the night, I drowsily awoke from my nap in the middle of the back seat. I felt like an outsider in this strange world of luminescence and people, and I momentarily forgot where I was. I didn't fully understand why we were going to the airport, but on that night, at 3 in the morning, Riyadh International Airport was where we were headed.
After what seemed like an eternity, the lights of the street began to decrease. Eventually the small street began to descend on a slight decline, and our Crown Victoria stopped slowly under a covered entrance. On my right, a blinding light shone through a set of double doors, and Arabic letters spelled out across the glass, along with the Saudi Arabia crest of a palm tree and two swords. As my sisters got out of the back seat of the car, I slid out as well, feeling the hard cement meet my little, sandaled feet. It was August in Saudi Arabia, but the night breeze was surprisingly cool and we welcomed it. I looked up to see my father talking to a Saudi man who took the keys to our car, and I was slowly ushered inside the brightly-lit building.
This airport seemed nothing like those in America. Saudi couples moved emotionlessly around the tiny airport lobby, and it looked like a hotel lobby more than an airport check-in. It was quiet here, and I saw a single check-in desk to the right of me which my father was standing at, checking us in. Ahead of the check-in desk was an up-escalator, and my mom began leading my two sisters and I toward it.
"Where is daddy?" I thought aloud.
My question hung in the thick, humid air, refusing to be answered. My sisters' eyes read that they wondered the same thing, but no one replied to me. My mother wouldn't meet my questioning, innocent eyes, and I felt completely helpless and desperate with anxiety.
Finally I found my father. As I was moving up the escalator, he stood at the bottom, waving. Even at 9 years old, I found the tears rolling down his cheek. He looked too strong in his military uniform, with metal stars screaming his bravery, and yet I saw him defenseless. Why was he standing at the bottom of the escalator? What was going on? Questions pressed against my brain, building pressure that forced hot tears to rip down my cheek.
Speechless, helpless, I watched him grow farther away. The evil, rough, soulless escalator tore my heart as it ground upward, increasing the distance between my father and me. I tearfully tried to choke words out of my mouth, but the knot in my throat suffocated me.
As the escalator leveled off at the top, I stepped off and continued to look over the edge, down at my father who kept waving. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard my name being called across the room by my mother who beckoned me over to be with her and my sisters. I tore my blurry eyes from my idol, my father, and slowly trudged over in misery. On my way across the room, a Saudi man touched my shoulder and smiled down at me. I had never seen him before but somehow I felt familiar warmth from him.
"Everything is going to be okay," he said to me in perfect English.
As soon as I felt his hand lift from my shoulder it seemed like he vanished, and I went over to my incomplete family, whom I noticed were crying too.
I knew why we were evacuating from Saudi Arabia. Terrorists had bombed American compounds and embassies in Daharan, a neighboring city to Riyadh, where our navy base was. All of the military families were ordered to go home by President Clinton, but the soldiers had to stay. Two years of my life were spent in Riyadh, and I wouldn't see my dad for an entire year after we left.
On the long, sleepless, uncomfortable plane ride home, I looked out over the moonlit ocean and dreamed of a bomb on the plane and how I didn't want to go home. There was no home waiting for me in America. My home was in Riyadh, in my American compound, playing with lizards and my foreign friends.
As I struggled to find myself in the midst of chaos and unfamiliarity, everything made sense to me. Now, in 2004, with that horrendous day of 9/11 three years behind us, I feel the pain of thousands deep in my remembering heart. I understand terror, and I empathize. Although 9/11 was one of the few times that middle-eastern based terror organizations targeted America, this evil has existed for centuries. In Saudi Arabia and in other countries, terrorist attacks shook foundations far before 9/11. Tragic and wasteful, terrorists can only succeed if they cause terror. The innocence of a child cannot protect anyone anymore.
To overcome terror and promote peace, we must be brave and help others as well as ourselves and not use terror tactics to eliminate terror.