Chapter One of How to Write Creative Non-fiction by Donna Kakonge…More to Come with Membership

Welcome to your first chapter! As you go through each chapter you will be asked to complete optional assignments. While it is impossible for me to police you as you are completing these assignments, it is in your best interest as a writer to complete them. Most of your betterment as a writer will come through the completion of these short assignments. Similarly, at the end of most of our chapters, you’ll be asked to com- plete a final chapter assignment. These assignments are also optional but I will be re- viewing these ones, so make sure you take the time to complete them and you don’t simply rush to the next chapter. Remember, there are no timelines, so take your time and complete a chapter and all the chapter assignments before moving on to the next chapter. The only semi-mandatory assignment is the final assignment which will also be reviewed and critiqued by me if you wish.

In summary

1)    Each chapter has small optional assignments (not reviewed by me, but extremely helpful for progressing as a writer). You will see these throughout the ebook each being labeled as a “mid-chapter assignment”

2)   Most chapters have a final assignment which you can upload to your own personal website if you wish. If you submit your assignments on the weekend – you can email me to take a look at it.

3)   Successful completion of the ebook depends on the completion of a final assignment at the end of the ebook. This assignment is more complex and lengthy than the other assignments and will be reviewed by me.

Now, let’s talk about writing…

Memoir Writing

A good example of memoir writing can be found in your own journals or diaries. Think of the Diary of Anne Frank as a perfect example. A young Jewish girl tells her story of growing up during WWII. Along the same lines, think of Night by Elie Wiesel. An older Jewish man tells his story of growing up during WWII and the devastation it brought to his family.

You don’t need to go through a war to write your memoir. Cecil Foster’s Island Wings is a more comfortable tale of his life in the Caribbean. However, many of you may be living in war-like situations, have unusual stories to tell, have an extremely interesting family, have no family at all – there are so many situations you may live. Writing a memoir is about telling the tales of your life. Your life story is as unique as we are individuals.

Here is an overview of the steps in creating a good memoir:

  1. Defining emotional truth vs. factual truth
  2. Answering the “so what” factor in a positive way – why are you writing this?
  3. Methods of retrieving memory
  4. Choosing your story-telling styles
  5. Defining what the story is really all about
  6. Avoiding the shopping list type of narrative
  7. Avoiding the predictable
  8. Understanding the universal is also the particular

Details and examples of the above steps are provided below….read on!

Step one: Defining emotional truth vs. factual truth

From Writers Digest online ( Mimi Schwartz suggests eight keys to writing a good memoir in the article “From Memory to Memoir.” The first tip is emotional truth vs. factual truth. Schwartz quotes from Joan Didion who writes about her experiences during a New England summer in “On Keeping a Notebook”:

….perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow.

In the above excerpt, Didion is contrasting her emotional truth and the factual truth. Didion writes about her memories about how she felt that August in Vermont, not about what actually happened. There may be many moments of these types of experiences in your own writing through memoir.

An emotional truth is knowledge coming from your heart. It may not be accurate about past events, however, it feels true. It is indeed a truth because it was the way you were or still feel about a particular incident, yet there may not be any factual basis to your feelings.

For example, you may want to include in your memoir about your first car. It may feel to you that it was the “best car in the world.” However, it may have been a Russian Lada like mine was and is probably one of the worst cars ever made.

This brings us to the factual truth. The truth is I had a Russian Lada – it was white, a stick-shift with a black and blue stripe in the middle of the car. It got me from A to B, didn’t go fast so I didn’t have to worry about speeding tickets even when I floored it. It is true that it is probably one of the worst cars ever made. However, my emotional truth is it was one of the best cars I ever had.

Emotional truth is something that is still valid in a memoir. With the same principles of traditional journalism, the best way to go is to include a fair balance of emotional truth and factual truth in your memoir. Ultimately, the decision is yours and you could decide to only include factual truth for a story about your mission to cover the Iraq war, for example. However, the writing would have more depth with the added touches of emotional truths as well.

MID-CHAPTER ASSIGNMENT 1.1 (don’t forget, these are optional, non- graded assignments, but it is in your own best interest to complete them and share your work on your own personal websites)

Think of one memory from your past. Write down first your emotional truth about this memory, and then write the factual truth. The entire exercise should be about half a page. Below is an example of a memory I have of my younger years.

Example: An example of one of my earliest and clearest memories is seeing my Mom on a beach in St. Vincent & the Grenadines wearing a blue and white checkered bathing suit. She stood out from the beachgoers simply due to the size of the smile on her face during that day. I remember the waves crashing on the white sandy shore and  I distinctly remember hearing the beautiful music the ocean makes when  it crashes up against the ocean swimmers. The sounds of crashing waves mixed with youthful cries of joy.

Post your assignment on your personal website.

Step Two: Answering the “So What?” Factor in a Positive Way – Why are

You Writing This?

The second tip for memoir writing, according to Schwartz is what she calls the “so what?” factor. This is the assumption many writers fall into that no one would care to hear about their life. Many writers may suffer from problems with esteem, not understanding their stories are special and unique because everyone is special and unique. However, Schwartz offers this example from Pat Hampl’s description of taking piano chapters from “Memory and Imagination”:

When I was seven, my father, who played the violin on Sundays with a nicely tor- tured flair which we considered artistic, led me by the hand down a long, unlit corridor in St. Luke’s School basement, a sort of tunnel that ended in a room full of pianos. There are many little girls and a single sad boy were playing truly tortured scales and arpeggios in a mash of troubled sound. My father gave me over to Sister Olive Marie, who did look remarkable like an olive.

In this example, the “so what?” factor is answered by a resounding “so wonderful.”  The  writing  brings  us  directly  into  Hampl’s  life  as  a  young  girl  and perhaps since many of us have been through similar situations, we can relate. It is the fact as we encounter strangers and loved ones where we tell stories they may not have heard – we can often find “ourselves.” When that happens, you can have your reader hooked. You draw them in and you need not worry about the “so what?” factor – you find your answer through a common bond.

An example of a bad “so what” factor – something that perhaps no one would care about would be a shopping list style of writing from your journal.

I went to the store, picked up some milk and cereal, and then prepared breakfast at home. I flicked on the TV and watched all the morning talk shows. I had lunch, watched the afternoon soaps, went for a walk, and then went to bed.

The above is the kind of thing you want to avoid. It is natural most readers would say a resounding “so what?” to this type of narrative.

Discovering what is unique about your story and answering the “so what?” factor starts  with  asking  yourself  some  important  questions.  Here  are  some  to  get  you started, all centred around finding what makes you unique before you start to write your memoir.

  • What’s your favorite breakfast meal?
  • Do you prefer working in the day, evening or night?
  • Do you have pets?
  • What’s your favorite color?
  • Do you speak other languages than your mother tongue?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • What do you tend to dream about at night? What do you daydream?
  • What are your nightmares? What do you worry about?
  • Do you have siblings?
  • What’s your favorite room in your home?
  • Do you prefer paper or a computer screen or both?
  • What’s your earliest and clearest memory?
  • Do you have a significant other and how do you feel about s/he?
  • Who’s your favorite celebrity?
  • What’s your favorite movie? Television show? Radio Show?
  • What’s your favorite website?
  • Who’s your best friend?
  • What gets you through the day?
  • What are your religious beliefs?
  • Who do you vote for?

These are just samples of some questions aimed at getting to the core of what makes you special. The important thing to note when you’re asking yourself the above questions is to ask yourself why? Why are you the way you are? Who or whom have been the important people to shape your life?


Write a one-page autobiography of yourself using the questions above to help determine how you are unique. Dig deep to discover unique parts of yourself. Post your assignment on your personal website.

You want to start the story with a beginning, middle and an end. Typically in this type of story structure, which will be explained more later, the middle is basically the climax, turning point of the story.

The assignment should be no more than one thousand words and focus on a powerful part of your life that seems symbolic of the most important chapter you’ve learned.

We’ll move onto step three.

Step Three: Methods of Retrieving Memory

The third point Schwartz mentions is retrieving memory. There are many things you can do to bring your memory to near-perfect recall.

For things which have happened recently, most of the time there are no problems in remembering information that would add to your memoir. However, for more distant events, you may have to draw upon photo albums, ask family members and friends, actually go back to that grade four classroom, visit the old house – whatever needs to be done to tell your story.

Hampl used these methods to recall the piano chapter:

When I reread what I had written just after I finished it, I realized that I had told a number of lies. I think it was my father who took me to meet my teacher – but maybe he only took me to meet my teacher and there was no actual chapter that day. And do I even know that he played the violin – didn’t he take up his violin again much later, as a result of my piano playing, and not the reverse…More: Sister Olive Marie did sneeze in the sun, but was her name Olive?

Again, you’ll notice that the above statement touches once more on the subject of emotional vs. factual truth. The key to writing a good memoir if this is what you would like is to start by keeping a journal. If you already do this – great – you’re one step ahead. If you don’t, it’s not too late to catch up, however, if you have children whom you would like to see make writing part of their lives – encourage them to keep a journal as well.

Try to spend as much available time you have each day writing down the day’s events, your thoughts and basically keeping a log of your life. Nowadays, many people even do this online and it’s become extremely popular to read what is known as “blogs.” We are going to have you start your own blog in an upcoming chapter and writing creative non-fiction for the Internet.

Julia Cameron in The Right to Write, also the author of The Artist Within, suggests that people who want to write keep what she calls “morning pages.” This involves getting up in the morning and writing in a style that Virginia Wolfe made famous called “stream of consciousness.” This involves completely uncensored writing

– just putting down all your thoughts.

If some of you are like me and find it hard to write long-hand as fast as you think

– try typing your words and keeping the notes on your computer. This way, you can come back to structure and edit the material later.


This is an assignment on prompting your memory recall.

Look at one of your older pictures and try to remember the events of that day or month. Try to remember what the weather was like. Try to remember the events in the world happening on that day. Try and remember any friends that you had then that you don’t have now or still have. Did you dress differently? Were your political views different?

For this assignment I want you to write a short one page or less on the person who you were then. It can include everything from a physical description to your philosophical standpoints. Try and capture the true essence of who you used to be and upload your assignment to your personal website.

We’ll move onto the fourth step.

Step Four: Choosing Your Story-telling Styles

Schwartz continues with her analysis of memoir writing by making the fourth point storytelling choices:

You can tell the same story in more than one way. A disastrous weekend, for ex- ample, may be told as tragedy or comedy, depending on how you feel about the material – and that may change over time. Family considerations are also a fac- tor. If you have to live with the people you are writing about, it’s hard to say, “I made that up. That’s not you!” when their names are the same. That’s why many writers, like Pam Houston, avoid memoir on delicate subjects, saying, “I write fic- tion to tell the truth.”

Fear of censure, however, can also be an imaginative trigger in memoir, helping to expand your perspective. You may portray the father you hate with more com- plexity, for example, thinking about what your mother, who loved him, will say.

More often, fear of censure can seduce you into Hallmark Card writing: “My fa- ther is my hero. Never a harsh word, never a bad piece of advice. I love him

100%, always have, always will….” Nice, but suspect. Human relations are com- plex; fathers are not like in “The Brady Bunch” – not every day, anyway.

Tragedy and Comedy:

This source comes from

In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Faustus wrestles with his mission in life, and what he wants to do for a living. He turns down medicine, as he can only prolong the inevitable. He turns down theology and the church because if all men are sin- ners, no matter what, what good does it do to worship and work to that end when he must fail in the end? Lastly, Faustus wrestles with science, but this too is

faulty in his eye, because there is only finite amount information to learn in the world. So Faustus turns to alchemy and signs a contract with Mephistopheles, one of the devil’s “henchmen”, for lack of a better word. In the end, Faustus is told that to be released from his 20 year contract and go to heaven eternally in stead of hell, he just must ask God for forgiveness; however, Faustus can not un- derstand nor accept how anyone, let alone God could forgive a man such as he who turned his back on him previously, so in the end, Faustus is dragged to Hell

for all time, because he could not humble himself and ask forgiveness of a greater being.

The tragedy is not just a sad story because that is simply sad, or unfortunate. This is my definition, which is not necessarily the correct one. This definition deals mainly with tragedy in literature.

Tragedy is when a character creates his or her personal and moral downfall and destruction of self and/or life that results from a single, limiting decision chosen with the understanding of other possible choices but with the feeling of having no choice, so that the character is left only to follow a choice that ends up in the character’s downfall. The character feels that they have no choice because of the extent of their environment that has affected them, rather than an innate flaw in their character. It is because the character understands that they have the choices but believe so firmly that they have none and this result in destruction, that there is tragedy. The character also does not believe that they are responsi- ble for their choices and actions, because the can only perceive one choice of ac- tion. This idea also evokes a feeling of empathy and astonishment from the reader because they are able to perceive that the character could have had a way out if they were not so intent on their purpose. With the end tending to result in unnecessary or sorrowful death or the character left with out resolution, the trag- edy is experienced by the reader.

Comedy on the other hand is something which arouses amusement or makes you laugh. If in the above example Faustus fate was be turned into a goat rather than go to hell, this is something that can arouse amusement and would turn the story into more of a comedy.

We’ll now move onto step five.

Step Five: Defining What the Story is Really All About

The fifth point Schwartz mentions is “What is this really about?” The fact something happened is not the only reason to write. It needs to amount to something. With the exclusion of a diary (although journals can make great sources for your writing) you still want to draw the reader into your story. You still want to include the important elements of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

This is something Mary Morris did when she wrote about her trip to the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall. She made sure the reader was actually on the trip with her:

The dining car looked more like a Chinese laundry than a restaurant – noisy, frenzied, boiling hot. Warm Chinese beer was being handed out and I grabbed one from the passing tray as everyone else seemed to do. The car was packed and I saw no seats, but then Pierre, the French saxophone player I’d met at the Mongolian embassy, waved me across the room, pointing to half a seat. “So,” he said, putting an arm around my shoulder, “you made it.”

The focus statement keeps you on a fairly even path in your writing. Rather than randomly telling stories that could give the impression of a series of non-fiction short stories that do not have a link – a focus helps to link your stories and give them purpose.

Here’s an example of a focus from the back cover of a biography called Nelson

Mandela by Mary Benson published in 1986:

Imprisoned since 1962, Nelson Mandela has become a legend in his own lifetime; the embodiment of the struggle for liberation in South Africa and a vital symbol of a new society. As the international campaign for his release grows, he and his wife, Winnie, continue to triumph over unremitting persecution.

In this timely and absorbing biography, Mary Benson describes Mandela’s life, work, and ideas from his childhood in the royal family of the Thembu people to his membership and eventual leadership of the African National Congress. Her book sheds important light on the man whose release is widely regarded as the essential first step towards averting catastrophe in that tragic land.

Now here’s an assignment for you.


To get to the heart of what the point of your memoir would be – write a half a page focus statement which summarizes your story, including the word “because.”

As a quick example: “I’m alive today because of the loving nature of my parents and siblings. They have been the true soldiers of armor keeping me out of harm’s way.”

That is a focus statement. The rest of your story would center on that statement of truth. Upload your focus statement to your personal website.

The next step is six.

Step Six: Avoiding the Shopping List Type of Narrative

Schwartz’s sixth point is to beware of the shopping-list narrative. She suggests a good exercise I will have you do for this section on a memoir.

Mid-Chapter Assignment 1.5

I would like you now to complete a short assignment. This assignment will not be graded but it will allow you to practice the skills you’ve learned above. This assignment will have you summarize your life in six pages. Make sure it’s stimulating. Here’s an example from one of Schwartz’s students, Nicole Ross:

We all have stories, I think, and the stories we tell are carefully chosen. There’s the story in which I dance on the table, am witty beyond belief, and everyone wants me. I’m also wearing a slinky black dress and fishnets. That’s the one I tell to attractive guys who look at me a certain way. There there’s the story I tell to my conservative grandparents about the latest fraternity party I went to – minus the alcohol, the cops in the bushes, and the dark-skinned guy looped in chains and reeking of Coolwater….

Upload your assignment to your personal website.

Step  Seven:  The seventh point Schwartz mentions is to avoid the predictable. Ultimately, you need to ask the question, “What is unexpected in my story?”

A good example of this comes from Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, where the man is a drunk, spending all his money on booze, but he still loves his family:

He staggered to me and hugged me and I smelled the drink I used to smell in America. My face was wet with his tears and his spit and his snot and I was hun- gry and I didn’t know what to say when he cried all over my head.

With this story, it becomes more than just a dead-beat Dad story.

You want to make sure you’re including the aspects of your story that make it unique. A lot of knowledge in this area comes from reading widely and especially other memoirs. By reading the good ones out there you will discover a keen sense of what makes a memoir great.

You may have experience of telling stories about your life to others and discovering from their reactions what aspects were unique to your life circumstances. Use this information to include in your memoir.

Step eight: The universal is in the particular

The final point Schwartz mentions is “the universal is in the particular”:

“We ate our Christmas meal and were happy and content” is bland compared to “We ate our Christmas goose stuffed with Nana’s chestnuts and laughed at Uncle Al who kept cracking walnuts, making shells fly across the room like missiles.” It is the particular that carries us back into the past, allowing us to connect small moments and see larger meanings. Through the particular, we also discover the imaginative powers that transform fact into artifact, factual truths into emotional truths, memory into a memoir. A surprise word or image appears, and suddenly we see our third-grade teacher in her silky, turquoise blouse and hear the exact conversation, without a tape recorder, of the young saxophonist on the train to Berlin.

Best of all, we can gain ride the Queens Metropolitan Bus in ripped jodhpurs and a bloody knee, like the old days.

There was a time in publishing when many people who did not traditionally publish books were locked out of the market because they were told their writing and their stories were not “universal” enough. That is changing widely with the likes of Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Salmon Rushdie and Wole Soyinka to name a few who are publishing widely.

A universal concept in writing means aspects of a story which every human in the universe can relate to. Stories about families, for example, love; work, school, etc. are experiences the majority of the literate world knows.

Conversely, the particular is something which may be obscure to many readers – such as ancient rituals in Africa, India, China or Rome. These are experiences many humans living today may not know about – but, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to read about it because these books sell and sell well.

Memoir writing was in vogue in the late 1990s and it was in great demand from publishing houses. It’s less popular now in terms of the type of writing that gets published. However, you will find that once you’ve been in the writing business long enough – everything that goes up comes down. As well, everything that down goes up.

If you would love to write your memoir – I will help you work on that and if you search hard enough – you will find a market for your work.

Personal Essay

The personal essay form of non-fiction writing is popular. It differs from memoir writing because they tend to be shorter pieces that are publishable in magazines, newspapers and online, rather than in books like memoir writing.

This writing can also be known as the “I” form of writing. When I went to journalism school, it was a cardinal sin to use the “I” word in any of my copy. This was true for all students. Now, things have changed and many publications want a first-person account of a story.

These essays can take a variety of formats. You could be telling the story of delivering your first child, quitting smoking, your romance with your partner, or what it’s like to grow up in Iran. As you can see, these essays can take on a variety of subjects and the ideas should come from you. Sometimes though, as we will discuss later, friends, family, and strangers can inspire you with great ideas too.

Personal essays are a brave thing to do. You may find that with challenging subjects, like writing about your divorce, it brings up all kinds of emotions and feelings. One of the ethics of good creative non-fiction writing is to tell the truth. If something hurts, write it.   You’ll be surprised how many readers will respect your honesty and sympathize or relate. If your style is to remain more reserved with your emotions, write in a balanced way. Many readers will respect how well you have seemed to find solutions for your problems.

Your personality should come through in a personal essay. It’s about speaking to the world in your voice through writing. A good editor will respect that.

Here’s an example of a personal essay from You can see from this format that knowing how to write a good personal essay can be helpful even with traditional college entrance essays:

Three times a week after school I go visit my dad. When I enter the hospital room where he has lain in a coma since his accident, my eyes often wander to the lone golf ball my mom placed at his bedside. Just six months ago, my father was driving a golf cart across the street that bisects the local golf choice when he was hit by a car. He suffered severe brain injury, and the doctors have ruled out any possibility of him waking up again. When I look at him lying in bed, frail but peaceful as if he were asleep, it’s hard not to dwell on the “what ifs”: what if he hadn’t played golf that day? What if he hadn’t been behind the fence when the black Camry plowed into it? What if I still had the chance to ask all those questions that choke me up when I see him in the hospital? I can’t pretend that I have developed enough distance from the event to draw conclusions about life, but I am already beginning to see myself in very different terms.

(** instructor’s comments: Notice the use of the universal in the particular above.)

Ironically, through this accident, dad has given a chance to face reality head- on. Before the accident, my relationship with him was warm but fraught with ten- sion. He never seemed satisfied with what I did and reprimanded me for every wrong step I took. He had strong opinions about my hairstyle, clothes, friends, and–above everything else–my academic performance. When I was not sitting at my desk in my room, he invariably asked me why I had nothing to do and told me I should not procrastinate. He stressed that if I missed my teenage years of studying, I would regret it later. He didn’t like me going out with my friends, so I often ended up staying at home–I was never allowed to sleep over at other stu- dents’ homes. All I remember from my past high school years is going to school and coming back home. I was confused by my parents’ overprotective attitude, because they emphasized independence yet never actually gave me a chance to be independent.

In terms of career, my dad often lectured me about which ones are acceptable and which are not. He worried incessantly about whether I would ever get into college, and he often made me feel as if he would never accept my choices. Rather than standing up for myself, I simply assumed that if I studied hard, he would no longer be disappointed in me. Although I tried hard, I never seemed to get it quite right; he always found fault with something. As if that weren’t

enough, he frequently compared me to my over-achieving older brother, asking me why I couldn’t be more like him. I must admit that at times I even questioned whether my dad really loved me. After all, he never expressed admiration for what I did, and my attempts to impress him were always in vain.

(** Instructors comments: This story becomes much more interesting when the complexities of this human relationship are explored. When you start reading the essay you don’t think they author would write anything critical of his father who is a coma. However, this story takes shape because it’s unpredictable and complex)

In retrospect, I don’t think I fully understood what he was trying to tell me.

These days, when I come home to an empty house, it strikes me just how depend- ent on my parents’ care and support I have been so far. Now that my dad is in the hospital and my mom is always working, I see that I must develop the strength to stand alone one day. And, for the very first time, I now realize that this is exactly what my dad was trying to make me see. I understand that he had a big heart, even though he didn’t always let it show; he was trying to steer me in the right di- rection, emphasizing the need to develop independence and personal strength.

He was trying to help me see the world with my own eyes, to make my own judg- ments and decide for myself what I would eventually become. When my dad was still with us, I took all of his advice the wrong way. I should not have worried so much about living up to my parents’ expectations; their only expectation of me, after all, is that I am myself.

In mapping out my path to achieving my independence, I know that education will allow me to build on the foundations with which my parents have provided me. My academic interests are still quite broad, but whereas I was once frus- trated by my lack of direction, I am now excited at the prospect of exploring sev- eral fields before focusing on a particular area. Strangely, dealing with my father’s accident has made me believe that I can tackle just about any challenge. Most importantly, I am more enthusiastic about my education than ever before. In embarking on my college career, I will be carrying with me my father’s last gift and greatest legacy: a new desire to live in the present and the confidence to han- dle whatever the future might bring.

Here’s is another example of a personal story essay that fits into the area of creative non-fiction:

I walked into the first class that I have ever taught and confronted utter chaos. The four students in my Latin class were engaged in a heated spitball battle. They were all following the lead of Andrew, a tall eleven-year-old African- American boy.

(**Notice in the very first sentence conflict is introduced. This helps grab the reader’s attention. Although the last essay was great, it was started off very poorly. We will speak very shortly on constructing good starting sentences).

Andrew turned to me and said, “Why are we learning Latin if no one speaks it? This a waste of time.”

I broke out in a cold sweat. I thought, “How on Earth am I going to teach this kid?”

It was my first day of Summerbridge, a nationwide collaborative of thirty-six pub- lic and private high schools. Its goal is to foster a desire to learn in young, under- privileged students, while also exposing college and high-school students to teaching. Since I enjoy tutoring, I decided to apply to the program. I thought to myself, “Teaching can’t be that difficult. I can handle it.” I have never been more wrong in my life.

After what seemed like an eternity, I ended that first class feeling as though I had accomplished nothing. Somehow I needed to catch Andrew’s attention. For the next two weeks, I tried everything from indoor chariot races to a Roman toga party, but nothing seemed to work.

During the third week, after I had exhausted all of my ideas, I resorted to a game that my Latin teacher had used. A leader yells out commands in Latin and the stu- dents act out the commands. When I asked Andrew to be the leader, I found the miracle that I had been seeking. He thought it was great that he could order the teacher around with commands such as “jump in place” and “touch the window.”

I told him that if he asked me in Latin to do something, I would do it as long as he would do the same. With this agreement, I could teach him new words outside the classroom, and he could make his teacher hop on one foot in front of his friends. Andrew eventually gained a firm grasp of Latin.

Family night occurred during the last week of Summerbridge. We explained to the parents what we had accomplished. At the conclusion, Andrew’s mom thanked me for teaching him Latin. She said, “Andrew wanted to speak Latin with someone, so he taught his younger brother.”

My mouth fell open. I tempered my immediate desire to utter, “Andrew did what?” I was silent for a few seconds as I tried to regain my composure, but when I responded, I was unable to hide my surprise.

Here’s another example of a Toronto-based essay from a book called Utopia: Towards a New Toronto, edited by Jason McBride and Alana Wilcox. The book is a collection of essays on how to make Toronto, Canada a better place. This excerpt comes from Philip Evans:

Rooftops, fence, trees, grass, sidewalk, grass, pavement, median, occasionally var- ied by discarded artifacts of clothing such as the all-too-familiar lone shoe, gar- bage of all sorts thrown from car windows and, of choices, roadkill: the greater part of my teenage years was spent staring down at the sidewalk.

Like many Toronto suburbs, Brampton had an isolating quality for a resentful not-yet-old-enough-to-drive thirteen-year-old whose understanding of relentless housing farms was limited to an endless matrix of sidewalks. I remember count- ing 1,023 concrete sidewalk pavers on my way to school. After cutting through the catwalk at the end of my street, it was a thirty-minute stroll to school along a four-lane road of commuters. This was hardly a shared experience. On the way, there was a 7-Eleven where I could enjoy a moment of perceived freedom while sipping a cream-soda Slurpee and kicking a pop can as long as I could. The com- munity offered a pedestrian few features beyond these. Most of the time, I stared down at the sidewalk and drifted into my thoughts.

Developing a great opening:

I had a terrific professor when I was doing my undergraduate work at Carleton University named Dr. Catherine McKercher. The class she taught was in-depth reporting.

One of the most important things I learned from that class was how to develop a great opening for any story – which also applies to personal essays.

The tip she taught me is when you’re writing, every sentence should be complete within itself, but at the same time raising a question. This is the most important thing about the opening sentence.  After that,  you, the writer, must concentrate on answering the questions raised by the following sentences, as well as raising new questions to keep the reader on your side. This may sound odd, but the best way to demonstrate this is to use an example:

I waited for the bus for 20 minutes to head to my destination. Once the bus showed up I noticed it had the number 40 on it and remembered I was heading to 940 Lansdowne Ave. I was on my way for my first day of work.

You’ll see from this short example that the first sentence raises the question of where am I going? Also note, the sentence is still complete. The second and third sentences answer the question raised in the first sentence, but still, leave room for more interesting writing because the reader still hasn’t discovered the type of work I’m doing.

While all sentences are important, none is more important than you’re opening sentence. You need to grab the reader’s attention immediately. You can do this by adding suspense, shocking them, or ask questions they too want to be answered in the classic novel  “Notes From Underground” Dostoevsky surprises and shocks his readers by having his first-person narrator speak very lowly of themselves. He starts his novel with the following few sentences “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.”

In another example, the book “Complicated Kindness” by Miriam Toews starts off with the following opening.

“I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on the highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.”

As you can see, these opening few sentences help grab your attention and make you want to keep reading. Make sure when you are drafting your non-fiction writing pieces that you use the same methods to help create interest in your non-fiction pieces.


The personal essay is a shorter form of writing than the memoir style discussed earlier. In a personal essay, you can concentrate on a subject, an issue, express your opinions, etc. and it all comes from your personal point of view.

A memoir is different because as you’re telling the story of your life, it may involve many different characters and is based on aspects or a particular situation in your life. It’s “life writing,” your life. A personal essay is similar to the types of essays you may have had to do in school but from your viewpoint.


Below is an assignment to help you practice your skills with the personal essay format: This essay is not marked, but to complete it will help you to become a much better non-fiction writer.

  • Write a personal essay on your feelings towards the city or town you are currently living in. Describe the city or town as if it were a person. What characteristic does it posses? How has it helped you become who you are today? What are its weaknesses?

Your assignment should be about one page in length. When you’ve completed it upload it to your personal website.


These stories give you the chance to explore some of your areas of interest. Whether it is sports, popular culture, entertainment, community work, international development, science and technology,  cars,  etc.  – you can write  a story that will feature your interests.

One of the most important things most writers believe is to “write what you know.” Traditional journalists are often writing about things they may not know a lot about, but the good ones have done their research and still churned out a story on tight deadlines.

You don’t have to be an expert before writing a feature – the research tips I will teach you will help you become one before you start writing. Here are some examples to inspire you from William E. Blundell’s The Art and Craft of Feature Writing. This example comes from George Getschow in a 1980 piece on immigration from Mexico:

NAPIZARO, Mexico – An astonishingly effective U.S. trade program is operating in this rural hamlet of 1,200 people – but Uncle Sam knows nothing about it. He wouldn’t like it if he did Napizaro has street lights, new brick homes with TV antennas sprouting from their rooftops, a modern community center, and infirmary, and a new bullring name “North Hollywood California.” It is a fitting name. The money for the bull- ring and all the rest came from North Hollywood in exchange for Napizaro’s main export: its male population.

For decades this town has systematically sent its men north to work as illegal ali- ens in small plants and businesses in the California community, and for decades they have sent their pay home, part t earmarked for civic improvements.

“Our town is a monument to our workers. None of this would be possible without them,” says Augustin Campos, a 61-year-old town elder and an early migrant himself. It was Mr. Campos’s success in North Hollywood (the first year he went thereto work he earned $4,000, or more than all the Napizaro villagers’ combined) that attracted all the others North Hollywood, where they now work in a number of factories, including one started by a Napizaro villager.

The price of the new-found prosperity is high. Napizaro is a town of children, old men and lonely women. More than tree-quarters its 156 heads of household are in the States, and they return only briefly for the town festival in January if they can come home at all. After many years of such separation, they will finally re- turn for good to houses built with their savings, some of them stunning homes with landscaped courtyards and even saunas. “The boys want nice places to retire to,” Mr. Campos says. In Mexico, a nice place to retire to can be built for $8,000.

Napizaros’s wealth is an anomaly in poverty-stricken rural Mexico. It stems from the town’s unusual system of self-taxation and the willingness its men to spend so much of their lives away from their village. But the extent its migration is no anomaly. It is the norm. Pushed by poverty, pulled by the lure of jobs that pay at least 10 times what they can make here, men throughout rural Mexico are going north in numbers that may even exceed the highest estimates, about five million crossings a year, with some men making several crossings in the book of a year.

A journey through central Mexico shows town after town almost stripped of working-age males much of the year. In a country that, on the whole, can’t create enough jobs for its people, so great has the rural migration become that farm fields lie untended and local businesses suffer severe labor shortages. Now some skilled workers from the cities, lured by U.S. pay scales, are joining the northern migration too.

The story goes on in more depth, but this gives you a sense of all the research and writing that goes into doing feature articles. Before we geget toesearch, we’ll discuss another area of creative non-fiction writing – profiles – just before you do an assignment.


This assignment will have you complete a feature assignment on Honduras. It is one of the poorest countries in Central America, but also one of the most beautiful. It also suffers through one of the worlds worst AIDS outbreaks. I would like you to write a featured article on the country but you’re able to focus on whatever element you wish. For example, you could write it from a tourist standpoint; you could write about the AIDS problem, you could write about poverty, the culture, and food and so on.

Before you start writing however you need to research your topic. Feel free to use whatever sources you wish, but here are a few to get you started.  HONDURASINTRO.HTM – explores the AIDS problem through pictures *** There is some nudity on this site – Some information on visiting Honduras – CIA fact book. Information on history, politics, economy, and map.

Your feature story should be about two pages long, have a sufficient title and a clear point of view. Don’t forget to complete a focus statement before starting this piece.

Once you are done, upload your work to your personal website. Good luck!


Usually the type of profiles many magazines are looking for include ones on the “rich and the famous.” If you could get a story on what Janet Jackson is up to lately, chances are you’ll find someone to publish your work.

However, there are many avenues to get profiles on “regular” people doing extraordinary things published. Such as, an educated pizza-maker, a doctor whom is the owner of twin dogs, a woman that lives on an island alone, etc. You get the idea.

Profiles can also be done on people who have ideas or are working on projects that help one person to everyone on the planet.

There is so much potential in what you could do as a profile, it’s endless. Really, the best yardstick in measuring what to do is to ask this question: Does this person

interest me? With a simple answer of “yes,” you know you’re on your way to writing a great profile.

Some of the best profiles written can be found in David Remnick’s Life Stories which are a collection of profiles from The New Yorker. This is selection is from Mark Singer called “Secrets of the Magus.” It’s a profile on the world-famous magician Ricky Jay:

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chi- cago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was per- forming magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

As you read, this is a great opening for a profile on Ricky Jay. The focus of the piece is on his experience as a magician and it opens with how skillful he is at his craft. The following paragraphs will give you a sense of how much work went into this article printed in the esteemed New Yorker:

One morning last December, a few days before Christmas, Jay came to see me in my office. He wore a dark-gray suit and a black shirt that was open at the collar, and the colors seemed to match his mood. The most uplifting magic, Jay believes, has a spontaneous, improvisational vigor. Nevertheless, because of he happened to be in New York we had made a date to get together, and I, invoking a journalistic imperative, had specifically requested that he come by my office and do some magic while I took notes. He hemmed and hawed and then, reluctantly, consented. Though I had no idea what was in store, I anticipated being com- pletely fooled.

At that point, I had known Jay for two years, during which we had discussed his theories of magic, his relationships with and opinions of other practitioners of the art, his rigid opposition to public revelations of the techniques of magic, and his relentless passion for collecting rare books and manuscripts, art, and other arti- facts connected to the history of magic, gambling, unusual entertainments, and frauds and confidence games.

SiThe singerad spent at least two years researching this story and gathering facts and information to fully know Ricky Jay. This is the kind of thing that makes creative non- fiction far different from traditional journalism, where in daily news you may come across a source that you only speak with for five minutes for a “sound bite.”

The most important thing to understand about writing a good profile is really getting to know your subject. Surface appearances add for colourful detail, but do not get to the heart of who a person really is.

Again, like I mentioned in the memoir exercise about digging for information to recall your memory – dig for information from your subject. If you have the time, take the time to get to know the person thoroughly so it’s a well-rounded account of their life.  Your  job  is  to  present  this  interesting  person  to  the  world  –  take  that  job seriously. Also, understand why you are telling this person’s story. Are you trying to break stereotypes? Are you bringing to light fantastic achievements? Are you uncovering  scandalous  truths?  Are  you  showing  both  sides  and  the  kaleidoscope nature that many of us have as relatively complex individuals.

And these things:

  • People will always try to show you their best sides – dig to know more
  • People sometimes don’t always remember all the details – be strategic with your questions
  • Interview friends and family

With  the  above  things  in  mind,  it’s  also  key  to  remember  that  when  you’re writing creative non-fiction for a magazine, newspaper or online – often you’re restricted by length and word count. There’s only so much you can do within a given page and word count – do your best and be fair!


Capturing a person’s essence on paper is one of the most magical things you can do. Make every effort to be fair to your subject, as well as fair to yourself as the writer by making sure you’re subject is coming clean with you.


Take someone from your everyday life and write a profile about them of one to two pages in length and post it to your personal website.


Theodore A. Rees Cheney says in his book Writing Creative Nonfiction the difference between traditional travel writing and creative nonfiction travel writing is:

They try their best to give us a vicarious sense of place – they give us its feel. The best travel writers also try to give us a feel for the place, but they don’t consider their purpose literary…..their nonfiction writing is creative and entertaining as it informs. The traditional travel writer transports us; the creative travel writer speaks of transport (Cheney, 248-249).

Hopefully, this is understood. There are many examples of this form in the book if you can get a hold it.

Creative non-fiction travel writing can also take the form of travelogues. This is where a journal comes in handy again. You may have taken notes about a particular place and how it made you feel in the world. A travelogue gives more of your personal reflection, rather than from a descriptive perspective.

This example of a creative non-fiction travel piece comes from Heather Greenwood-Davis who also writes travel pieces for The Toronto Star. The piece is called “Desert Rose” and it appeared in the December 2005 issue of Elle Canada:

Where: this affluent United Arab Emirates city is a safe haven in the Middle East, enjoying good relations with its neneighborsWith guaranteed sunshine, white, sandy beaches, international hotels and friendly locals, Dubai is a popular hot spot with Europeans.

Your guide: Canadian soprano Michelle Todd has performed at Ontario’s Shaw Festival and Stage West. She represented Canada twice at the Cantai Festival in Taiwan with Ensemble Resonance before moving to Dubai five years ago. Interna- tionally heralded for her acting and singing, Todd recently performed in Philadel- phia and will appear in England, New York and Tokyo in 2006.

The vibe: with its mix of nationalities and religions, “Dubai is a very cosmopoli- tan place,” says Todd. “Out of one million people, only about 18 percent are truly local.” Tolerance is the mantra here: disrespect of a person’s gender, religion, race or nationality is viewed as a hate crime. Dubai, an international business centre, is the most lenient city in the Middle East. While some local women choose to wear traditional long robes called abayas (often with Chanel under- neath), many do not. Expats visitors are allowed to dress any way they like, al- though covering up bare skin is mandatory in mosques.

Big picture: “Dubai is really struggling with its identity,” Todd says. “On the one hand, it’s very modern; on the other hand, it desperately wants to hold on to its Arabic way of life.” The result is nothing short of phenomenal, as the modern competes with the historic at every turn. The desert is minutes away from the high-tech downtown core, women in abayas shop alongside Gucci-clad fashion- istas, and New World fusion cuisine is just as accessible as the traditionalchicken shwarma and tabbouleh. Dubai is a city where the impossible is possible. If you can dream it, chances are it’s already under construction there, like the world’s tallest building or man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree. “The beauty of the architecture is highlighted by the art that is just as likely to be found on a street corner as in a museum,” Todd adds.

In this example, more description is used for Dubai. With the vibrant language and vocabulary used, Greenwood-Davis has been able to help the reader visualize being in the city. This is something you would want to accomplish in your own writing.

Here’s another example where in this one, the place is not as important as the action. The article talks about cycling holidays entitled “Tour de force.” It comes from The Toronto Star and is written by Sue Lebrecht:

Peter Wood remembers the day – and it wasn’t that long ago – when people would show up for a cycling vacation in dress shoes and jeans, not even packing a helmet.

“I remember one gentleman who would actually try to read a book while riding,” says Wood, who is a guide with Freewheeling Adventures.

But now that cycling has become a mainstream way to hit the road, “we don’t’ have any of that,” says Wood, head guide for the Nova Scotia cycling excursions company that has seen a gearing up of business since it started offering tours around Atlantic Canada back in 1987, and now overseas.

“People know what to wear and come prepared.”

Although that’s just the beginning of the piece, you can see that it discusses less about Nova Scotia and more about cycling and the equipment needed to ride. It’s filled with quotes and expert opinions that will guide the reader, just as I am your writing tour guide.

More tips on travel writing

Keep in mind travel doesn’t always have to mean boarding a plane, train or automobile to discover the great unknown. Sometimes you can discover that right where you live.

There might be an area of the city or town where you live you didn’t know about. There might be a historical landmark that would make an amazing story. Get in the practice of reading those plaques you find so carefully placed on landmarks. You may discover something worth sharing with the rest of your community, nation or the world.

Travel is expensive and not everyone can afford it or place it as a priority – however they still like to write about interesting places. If there’s a particular place you haven’t been to you would like to see – or you’ve been there and don’t remember it in detail – try contacting the consulate or embassy of the country and you may be able to write a story about a place based on the press material. Just make sure you’re working with an editor who will make it clear in the piece you didn’t actually visit the place, but these are things you find interesting about it.

As well, there is a good website that often has information for travel writers. You may be able to receive a paid trip in order to do your travel writing – just keep in mind this may colour your judgment of the place and you should state in the story it was a paid trip.

Check out:

When you have your own business as a creative non-fiction writer (or any writer keep in mind), you can write-off your travel expenses on your taxes in a country like Canada as long as you make an effort to publish the story you produce.

Meaning,  you  can  go  on  a  trip,  write  about  it  and  even  if  you  don’t  get  it published – but you try – this is tax-deductible. Check into the tax laws in your country to discover if you can benefit from this terrific Canadian law.

Back to the actual writing of the travel story I will attempt to address questions such as:

  • When do you describe place?


  • When should you describe the experience (action)?

In terms of when you should describe place, with creative non-fiction writing you really need to go with what interests you. Most likely, if it interests you, it will interest the reader. If you find a place fascinating and certain things capture your attention – make sure you share this with your readers.

When should you describe the experience (action)? Go with the same gut instincts.  Writing  is  a  wonderful  experience  where  you  actually  get  the  rare opportunity to fully perform from your head, heart and gut. This is about giving it your all. Sometimes it’s hard all the time, and then you have nothing left for yourself. However, make sure if you’re involved with a particular experience while you’re traveling and it stirs you – you share this with your readers.


Travel  writing  is  a  wonderful  way  to  share  your  experiences  with  a  wider audience as you see the world. If you don’t have the budget to travel, you can also experience travel writing through, as well as contacting the embassy or consulate where you live for the places you most like to discover.

Remember, you want to make sure your narrative in a travel piece is not in a shopping list style. You don’t want to write in such a way where you say: first we went here, then we went there, and then we went…this becomes boring to the reader. What makes you read a travel piece? I bet it’s when the writer actually gives his/her solid opinion about a place or thing and helps you to experience what they’re experiencing.

Don’t be afraid to write about emotions, thoughts, and any observations that you think would help the reader to fully understand what it’s like to be in Italy, Paris, Durban, Prague, Rio de Janeiro to name a few places. You want the reader to feel, think, smell, hear and taste what you have. Write from the gut.


Spend a bit of money getting on a tour bus in your town or city – or use public transit. Spend a day discovering the landmarks, historical sites, interesting restaurants, art galleries and museums, etc. Enjoy yourself. Take careful notes or bring a recorder or both. Make sure you prepare a two page story of your day in your town and post it to your personal website.

Now, we’ll move onto analysis and reviews.

Analysis and Reviews

There are all kinds of reviews that can be done: theatre, opera, dance and ballet, movies, video games, music, software programs, books and media in general. It’s also possible to review anything that you feel needs to be reviewed.

With reviews, you want to make sure you answer all the main questions of journalism: What is being reviewed? Why is it important? Where is this subject you’ve chosen and where can readers get access to it to form their own opinions? Who is involved? When has the event taken place, where is the publication, when is the release, etc.? As well as how will this affect your readers?

After you’ve done all that, you want to give your opinion on the subject you’re reviewing. Be honest – your dishonesty will not serve your audience. If you give them the aforementioned facts about the subject of your review, your analysis is something they can choose to agree or disagree.

Using  the  basic  elements  of  story-telling  which  we  will  discuss  in  the  next chapter, you can produce valuable work of creative non-fiction writing.

Here is a short book review from Canada’s Globe and Mail of December 10, 2005:

The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System By William K. Hart- mann and Ron Miller, Workman, 296 pages, $27.95

  • This is the completely updated and revised third edition of a terrifically de- tailed guide to the solar system. The fascinating tour includes more than 160 new, digitally enhanced paintings, as well as photos, maps and illustrations. A must for astronomy buss, students and anyone else who simply wants to know more about our heavenly neighbours in outer space.

Here is short movie review from Canada’s Globe and Mail of August 19, 2006:

The Devil Wears Prada ***

  • But God is in the details and a lucky thing too. In this adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s roman à clef about her stint at Vogue, it’s the details – an occa- sional line of dialogue that rises to the level of wit, a slight plot turn that under- mines our conditioned expectations, and especially a divinely nuanced perform- ance by Meryl Streep as the diva-devil – that saves the picture from itself, from the banality of such commonplace evils as a predictable story arc with a pat mes- sage. The redemption may not be celestial, but give thanks for small mercies – this is a breezy and enjoyable piece of pop entertainment. PG (June 30) – R.G.

Continue  to  read  many  reviews  in  newspapers  and  magazines  for  more examples. Hopefully, this gives you a sense of the potential of long and short reviews.

Here’s another sample review from the Handbook of Magazine Article Writing edited by Michelle Ruberg:

Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words Into Big Business by Alex Frankel


There’s no better example of language’s power in the marketplace than the actual brand names that appear there: Verizon, Accenture, Pontiac Aztek, Viagra. It’s clear that the right product names – no matter how manufactured-sounding or nonsensical equal big money for business.

Alex Frankel’s Wordcraft: The Art of Turing Little Words Into Big Business (Crown) offers a glimpse at the secretive world of professional namers – writers and marketers who invent the catchy product names that sometimes creep into the cultural lexicon.

How much work went into name Lunchables? What popular tech device went through such tentative incarnations as Banjo, GamePlan, Hula, and Sling? (AnswerBlackBerry). It’s astounding to learn how much trouble large corporations will go to (and how much money they’ll spend) to achieve the perfect brand name. The level of secrecy surrounding naming projects is also remarkable, a stare at the author’s skills at worming his way into them. Wordcraft, with its rele- vant observations about what happens when language, pup culture, and capital- ism intersect, is excellent journalism. It also might be the first book about brand marketing that’s actually fun to read.

Tips on How to Write a Review

The first and extremely important tip to writing a review – let’s use the example of a book – is to actually read it! Sounds simple, but there are many people who write reviews of books, plays, movies, etc. they haven’t even seen. I too have done this with a play which happened in Montreal but I didn’t actually see it.

I did write the article based on press material and used quotes from other newspapers that I hope actually saw it. I also stated in the story I had not seen the play. This makes doing this style of review far more ethical because the reader can more clearly know where you’re coming from.

Remember writing is a written dialogue with your readers. It is a form of broadcasting. The same way you would want to share your experience of a movie, a play, a book, a television show, etc. with your friends is the way you want to write the review.

It needs to have a beginning, middle and end (also known as BME) like many stories do. Usually reviews do not have an inverted pyramid format, especially when written for magazines. You don’t want to give away too many details so your readers will  not  want  to  discover  the  media  form  for  themselves.  However,  you  want  to caution them against some things and perhaps highly recommend others.

Understanding how to write a review is as simple as following the basic storytelling practices outlined in chapter two. That’s coming up, but for now let’s try an exercise that will probably help you to see how much basic storytelling is ingrained in you once we reach chapter two.

I wrote a review of Cecil Foster’s Island Wings for a weekly entertainment magazine called Hour in Montreal, Canada. The first thing I did was read the book. The second thing I did was start the story by giving a general outline of what the book is about – nothing far different from the information you can find on the back of a book jacket. Then, I moved into my analysis – which was balanced. There were things I liked about the book and things I didn’t.

There are reviews which “slam” things. Some people like this sort of review that would go as far as to call a piece of work “garbage.” Well, that’s their personality. What I’m trying to teach you here are the tenets of journalism which means you always have to keep your judgment fair and your mind open to any artistic piece which exists. Surely, your honesty is important in a review. However, you must remember that for every “crap” movie or book that may actually exist – there is at least one person out there who would like it. This is true, or it wouldn’t be open to the marketplace. This is why you need to keep an open mind with reviews and make sure you try to see some of the positive elements of a form of media.

Below are some examples of both positive and negative phrases you can use with different types of reviews. These examples should get you thinking about how to incorporate the proper language to describe particular products.

FOOD REVIEWS: Food reviews can include following recipes to test their effectiveness.

An example of a positive phrase: “A culinary theatre”. A negative phrase is “this is a place for the budget conscious eater, but at this “cheap eats” you pay for what you get.

BOOK REVIEWS: This involves reading a book and reviewing it.

An example of a positive phrase would be “this is a page-turner.” An example of a negative phrase is “this book will surely put you to sleep.”

RESTAURANT REVIEWS: Usually involves going to a restaurant and reviewing it on a star system. The more stars, usually out of five, the better the restaurant. You would review on everything from ambiance to service to the quality of the food.

An example of a positive phrase would be “the atmosphere of this restaurant makes  you  feel  like  you’re  eating  in  your  dream  dining  room.”  An  example  of  a negative phrase would be “if you have a lot of time to kill then you won’t mind the slow service.”

MOVIE REVIEWS: When you go to a movie, you would review it, similar to how you would a book.

An example of a positive phrase is “you’ll be thinking of this movie all year.” An example of a negative phrase is “it’s not worth the nine dollars.”

THEATRE REVIEWS: When seeing plays, you would review it similar to how you would a movie.

An example of a positive phrase would be “you’re sure to be left standing at the end of this fantastic play.” An example of a negative phrase is “try not to heckle the performers during the performance. You’ll be tempted to.”

TV SHOW REVIEWS: When watching a new television program, you would review it similar to how you would a play.

An example of a positive phrase would be “I anticipate you’ll be watching this show for many seasons to come.” An example of a negative phrase is “this show is what remote controls were made for.”


Review and analysis writing is enjoyable because it allows you to review and reflect on an art form and share your opinions with others. Please, try not to forget the power you have as a writer and make every effort not to abuse it – this could come back to haunt you. Try to note the positive things in any given review, even if you don’t like it. Alternatively, if you adore it – try to maintain a critical stance in your writing – not everyone will like what you like. Your job is to give your honest opinion in a balanced story.


Using the tools listed above write a well worded, high impact review on a movie you have seen recently. Don’t look at other reviews of the movie to help you write yours. Just use your own opinions and memory recall to remember the quality of the acting, the strength of the plot, the beauty (or lack of) in the cinematography and so on.

You’re review should be less than 230 words. Completed assignments can be uploaded to your personal website.


During this ebook and the ebook of your lifetime, you will probably have the opportunity to write about many different areas of writing mentioned here and not mentioned. This is just to give you a taste of the opportunities of where you can go with creative non-fiction.

The focus of this ebook is a lot like hard-news journalism, but it’s a new form of journalism which Robert S. Boynton coins in his book The New New Journalism. The lifestyle one can lead as a creative non-fiction writer will be discussed later.

For now, even if you are just brushing your skills, or completely new to all this – I have an assignment to make sure you’re taking in all this information.


Here it is laid out step-by-step:

  • Take any one form of the creative non-fiction writing styles mentioned and write a one page (max) story or review from your existing skills
  • Make sure you create a title or headline for your story or review – if stuck with one, read newspapers and magazines for ideas on style
  • If you know of a form of writing you would really like to try – go ahead! This ebook is about freedom. Just post your work on your personal website.

Just to let you know how I will be reviewing your assignment if you send me the

  • I’m looking to see what your skills are at this point so it gives me a sense of how much I will need to groom you throughout this ebook
  • The  mark  you  will  receive  will  be  a  simple  (low  –  needs  improvement, medium – shows promise, high – this man or woman can be a star writer)
  • Please don’t take the marking system personally and that’s something you will need to get used to with writing. It’s simply to give me a sense of what level you’re at, which I mentioned before.

With that – good luck on your first assignment to be reviewed!

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