How can something be factual but also creative? Is it possible to tell the tales of life's events accurately with embellishment? I believe so, but there is debate on how far the boundaries of truth can be extended. I define creative nonfiction has the construct of storytelling from a singular perspective which brings to life memories that would otherwise be forgotten.
Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" released in 1966, was one of the first nonfiction works to be of the new genre creative nonfiction or "new journalism." Capote crafts a compelling story of the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. The victims aren't just murder victims and the killers aren't simply killers. Capote manages to develop the people involved as characters readers become attached to. He creates a situation that invites thought and further investigation. "In Cold Blood" isn't a nonfiction book that says "this happened," "because this happened," "the end." There is color, connective language that engages the reader emotionally.
Writers creatively making non-fiction work do no need to stick to a formula or singular style. Often times the genre explores topics that do not agree. Eula Biss's "Notes from No Man's Land" is a collection of essays that blend traditional topics with those of a more provocative theme. Her essay, Time and Distance Overcome, beautifully correlates the invention of the telephone to the practice and horrific sport of lynching in America. These two topics discussed in another form of discourse wouldn't work very well in syntax. One is very technical while the other is historical and radical. But with the flexibility and transparency of creative writing, one could make a sensible essay of the two. Lines are blurred psychologically in creative non-fiction.
There are also no parameters. This can be challenging for a writer because it doesn't effectively answer the question, "why are you writing this?" And if that question cannot be answered, then the work begins to take the form of fiction. At least from the perspective of the reader. Capote's work was criticized by many editors and authors, one, because he really did not have a legitimate reason for writing "In Cold Blood." And two, some of his descriptions couldn't be accurately sourced. He wasn't from Kansas, he didn't know the family, and he had no personal experience of losing a loved one or family member to murder. He also didn't know the killers. Because his reasoning was unclear or non existent, some literary scholars considered the book fiction. He wrote it from his perspective only. It is officially considered creative non-fiction, but the debate is still up for discussion.
Creative non-fiction is typically gravid with scandal. Kathryn Harrison's, "The Kiss," is her story of an incestuous relationship with her biological father. Like with other works of non-fiction told creatively, readers demanded a reason for why show wrote the book. Because the details are so scandalous, the book actually received great criticism. But sometimes great work brings great grief.
I believe novice writers should explore and play with the genre of creative non-fiction. Young writers are often unsure of themselves. And the genre allows uncertainty. It allows truth to be bent along the lines of reality. And that always makes for a good read.