Writing Beginner

What Is Creative Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 20 Examples)

Creative writing begins with a blank page and the courage to fill it with the stories only you can tell.

I face this intimidating blank page daily–and I have for the better part of 20+ years.

In this guide, you’ll learn all the ins and outs of creative writing with tons of examples.

What Is Creative Writing (Long Description)?

Creative Writing is the art of using words to express ideas and emotions in imaginative ways. It encompasses various forms including novels, poetry, and plays, focusing on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes.

Bright, colorful creative writer's desk with notebook and typewriter -- What Is Creative Writing

Table of Contents

Let’s expand on that definition a bit.

Creative writing is an art form that transcends traditional literature boundaries.

It includes professional, journalistic, academic, and technical writing. This type of writing emphasizes narrative craft, character development, and literary tropes. It also explores poetry and poetics traditions.

In essence, creative writing lets you express ideas and emotions uniquely and imaginatively.

It’s about the freedom to invent worlds, characters, and stories. These creations evoke a spectrum of emotions in readers.

Creative writing covers fiction, poetry, and everything in between.

It allows writers to express inner thoughts and feelings. Often, it reflects human experiences through a fabricated lens.

Types of Creative Writing

There are many types of creative writing that we need to explain.

Some of the most common types:

  • Short stories
  • Screenplays
  • Flash fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction

Short Stories (The Brief Escape)

Short stories are like narrative treasures.

They are compact but impactful, telling a full story within a limited word count. These tales often focus on a single character or a crucial moment.

Short stories are known for their brevity.

They deliver emotion and insight in a concise yet powerful package. This format is ideal for exploring diverse genres, themes, and characters. It leaves a lasting impression on readers.

Example: Emma discovers an old photo of her smiling grandmother. It’s a rarity. Through flashbacks, Emma learns about her grandmother’s wartime love story. She comes to understand her grandmother’s resilience and the value of joy.

Novels (The Long Journey)

Novels are extensive explorations of character, plot, and setting.

They span thousands of words, giving writers the space to create entire worlds. Novels can weave complex stories across various themes and timelines.

The length of a novel allows for deep narrative and character development.

Readers get an immersive experience.

Example: Across the Divide tells of two siblings separated in childhood. They grow up in different cultures. Their reunion highlights the strength of family bonds, despite distance and differences.

Poetry (The Soul’s Language)

Poetry expresses ideas and emotions through rhythm, sound, and word beauty.

It distills emotions and thoughts into verses. Poetry often uses metaphors, similes, and figurative language to reach the reader’s heart and mind.

Poetry ranges from structured forms, like sonnets, to free verse.

The latter breaks away from traditional formats for more expressive thought.

Example: Whispers of Dawn is a poem collection capturing morning’s quiet moments. “First Light” personifies dawn as a painter. It brings colors of hope and renewal to the world.

Plays (The Dramatic Dialogue)

Plays are meant for performance. They bring characters and conflicts to life through dialogue and action.

This format uniquely explores human relationships and societal issues.

Playwrights face the challenge of conveying setting, emotion, and plot through dialogue and directions.

Example: Echoes of Tomorrow is set in a dystopian future. Memories can be bought and sold. It follows siblings on a quest to retrieve their stolen memories. They learn the cost of living in a world where the past has a price.

Screenplays (Cinema’s Blueprint)

Screenplays outline narratives for films and TV shows.

They require an understanding of visual storytelling, pacing, and dialogue. Screenplays must fit film production constraints.

Example: The Last Light is a screenplay for a sci-fi film. Humanity’s survivors on a dying Earth seek a new planet. The story focuses on spacecraft Argo’s crew as they face mission challenges and internal dynamics.

Memoirs (The Personal Journey)

Memoirs provide insight into an author’s life, focusing on personal experiences and emotional journeys.

They differ from autobiographies by concentrating on specific themes or events.

Memoirs invite readers into the author’s world.

They share lessons learned and hardships overcome.

Example: Under the Mango Tree is a memoir by Maria Gomez. It shares her childhood memories in rural Colombia. The mango tree in their yard symbolizes home, growth, and nostalgia. Maria reflects on her journey to a new life in America.

Flash Fiction (The Quick Twist)

Flash fiction tells stories in under 1,000 words.

It’s about crafting compelling narratives concisely. Each word in flash fiction must count, often leading to a twist.

This format captures life’s vivid moments, delivering quick, impactful insights.

Example: The Last Message features an astronaut’s final Earth message as her spacecraft drifts away. In 500 words, it explores isolation, hope, and the desire to connect against all odds.

Creative Nonfiction (The Factual Tale)

Creative nonfiction combines factual accuracy with creative storytelling.

This genre covers real events, people, and places with a twist. It uses descriptive language and narrative arcs to make true stories engaging.

Creative nonfiction includes biographies, essays, and travelogues.

Example: Echoes of Everest follows the author’s Mount Everest climb. It mixes factual details with personal reflections and the history of past climbers. The narrative captures the climb’s beauty and challenges, offering an immersive experience.

Fantasy (The World Beyond)

Fantasy transports readers to magical and mythical worlds.

It explores themes like good vs. evil and heroism in unreal settings. Fantasy requires careful world-building to create believable yet fantastic realms.

Example: The Crystal of Azmar tells of a young girl destined to save her world from darkness. She learns she’s the last sorceress in a forgotten lineage. Her journey involves mastering powers, forming alliances, and uncovering ancient kingdom myths.

Science Fiction (The Future Imagined)

Science fiction delves into futuristic and scientific themes.

It questions the impact of advancements on society and individuals.

Science fiction ranges from speculative to hard sci-fi, focusing on plausible futures.

Example: When the Stars Whisper is set in a future where humanity communicates with distant galaxies. It centers on a scientist who finds an alien message. This discovery prompts a deep look at humanity’s universe role and interstellar communication.

Watch this great video that explores the question, “What is creative writing?” and “How to get started?”:

What Are the 5 Cs of Creative Writing?

The 5 Cs of creative writing are fundamental pillars.

They guide writers to produce compelling and impactful work. These principles—Clarity, Coherence, Conciseness, Creativity, and Consistency—help craft stories that engage and entertain.

They also resonate deeply with readers. Let’s explore each of these critical components.

Clarity makes your writing understandable and accessible.

It involves choosing the right words and constructing clear sentences. Your narrative should be easy to follow.

In creative writing, clarity means conveying complex ideas in a digestible and enjoyable way.

Coherence ensures your writing flows logically.

It’s crucial for maintaining the reader’s interest. Characters should develop believably, and plots should progress logically. This makes the narrative feel cohesive.


Conciseness is about expressing ideas succinctly.

It’s being economical with words and avoiding redundancy. This principle helps maintain pace and tension, engaging readers throughout the story.

Creativity is the heart of creative writing.

It allows writers to invent new worlds and create memorable characters. Creativity involves originality and imagination. It’s seeing the world in unique ways and sharing that vision.


Consistency maintains a uniform tone, style, and voice.

It means being faithful to the world you’ve created. Characters should act true to their development. This builds trust with readers, making your story immersive and believable.

Is Creative Writing Easy?

Creative writing is both rewarding and challenging.

Crafting stories from your imagination involves more than just words on a page. It requires discipline and a deep understanding of language and narrative structure.

Exploring complex characters and themes is also key.

Refining and revising your work is crucial for developing your voice.

The ease of creative writing varies. Some find the freedom of expression liberating.

Others struggle with writer’s block or plot development challenges. However, practice and feedback make creative writing more fulfilling.

What Does a Creative Writer Do?

A creative writer weaves narratives that entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

Writers explore both the world they create and the emotions they wish to evoke. Their tasks are diverse, involving more than just writing.

Creative writers develop ideas, research, and plan their stories.

They create characters and outline plots with attention to detail. Drafting and revising their work is a significant part of their process. They strive for the 5 Cs of compelling writing.

Writers engage with the literary community, seeking feedback and participating in workshops.

They may navigate the publishing world with agents and editors.

Creative writers are storytellers, craftsmen, and artists. They bring narratives to life, enriching our lives and expanding our imaginations.

How to Get Started With Creative Writing?

Embarking on a creative writing journey can feel like standing at the edge of a vast and mysterious forest.

The path is not always clear, but the adventure is calling.

Here’s how to take your first steps into the world of creative writing:

  • Find a time of day when your mind is most alert and creative.
  • Create a comfortable writing space free from distractions.
  • Use prompts to spark your imagination. They can be as simple as a word, a phrase, or an image.
  • Try writing for 15-20 minutes on a prompt without editing yourself. Let the ideas flow freely.
  • Reading is fuel for your writing. Explore various genres and styles.
  • Pay attention to how your favorite authors construct their sentences, develop characters, and build their worlds.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to write a novel right away. Begin with short stories or poems.
  • Small projects can help you hone your skills and boost your confidence.
  • Look for writing groups in your area or online. These communities offer support, feedback, and motivation.
  • Participating in workshops or classes can also provide valuable insights into your writing.
  • Understand that your first draft is just the beginning. Revising your work is where the real magic happens.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to rework your pieces.
  • Carry a notebook or digital recorder to jot down ideas, observations, and snippets of conversations.
  • These notes can be gold mines for future writing projects.

Final Thoughts: What Is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is an invitation to explore the unknown, to give voice to the silenced, and to celebrate the human spirit in all its forms.

Check out these creative writing tools (that I highly recommend):

Read This Next:

  • What Is a Prompt in Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 200 Examples)
  • What Is A Personal Account In Writing? (47 Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Short Story (Ultimate Guide + Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Romance Novel [21 Tips + Examples)

Creative Primer

What is Creative Writing? A Key Piece of the Writer’s Toolbox

Brooks Manley

Not all writing is the same and there’s a type of writing that has the ability to transport, teach, and inspire others like no other.

Creative writing stands out due to its unique approach and focus on imagination. Here’s how to get started and grow as you explore the broad and beautiful world of creative writing!

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is a form of writing that extends beyond the bounds of regular professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature. It is characterized by its emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or poetic techniques to express ideas in an original and imaginative way.

Creative writing can take on various forms such as:

  • short stories
  • screenplays

It’s a way for writers to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a creative, often symbolic, way . It’s about using the power of words to transport readers into a world created by the writer.

5 Key Characteristics of Creative Writing

Creative writing is marked by several defining characteristics, each working to create a distinct form of expression:

1. Imagination and Creativity: Creative writing is all about harnessing your creativity and imagination to create an engaging and compelling piece of work. It allows writers to explore different scenarios, characters, and worlds that may not exist in reality.

2. Emotional Engagement: Creative writing often evokes strong emotions in the reader. It aims to make the reader feel something — whether it’s happiness, sorrow, excitement, or fear.

3. Originality: Creative writing values originality. It’s about presenting familiar things in new ways or exploring ideas that are less conventional.

4. Use of Literary Devices: Creative writing frequently employs literary devices such as metaphors, similes, personification, and others to enrich the text and convey meanings in a more subtle, layered manner.

5. Focus on Aesthetics: The beauty of language and the way words flow together is important in creative writing. The aim is to create a piece that’s not just interesting to read, but also beautiful to hear when read aloud.

Remember, creative writing is not just about producing a work of art. It’s also a means of self-expression and a way to share your perspective with the world. Whether you’re considering it as a hobby or contemplating a career in it, understanding the nature and characteristics of creative writing can help you hone your skills and create more engaging pieces .

For more insights into creative writing, check out our articles on creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree and is a degree in creative writing worth it .

Styles of Creative Writing

To fully understand creative writing , you must be aware of the various styles involved. Creative writing explores a multitude of genres, each with its own unique characteristics and techniques.

Poetry is a form of creative writing that uses expressive language to evoke emotions and ideas. Poets often employ rhythm, rhyme, and other poetic devices to create pieces that are deeply personal and impactful. Poems can vary greatly in length, style, and subject matter, making this a versatile and dynamic form of creative writing.

Short Stories

Short stories are another common style of creative writing. These are brief narratives that typically revolve around a single event or idea. Despite their length, short stories can provide a powerful punch, using precise language and tight narrative structures to convey a complete story in a limited space.

Novels represent a longer form of narrative creative writing. They usually involve complex plots, multiple characters, and various themes. Writing a novel requires a significant investment of time and effort; however, the result can be a rich and immersive reading experience.


Screenplays are written works intended for the screen, be it television, film, or online platforms. They require a specific format, incorporating dialogue and visual descriptions to guide the production process. Screenwriters must also consider the practical aspects of filmmaking, making this an intricate and specialized form of creative writing.

If you’re interested in this style, understanding creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree can provide useful insights.

Writing for the theater is another specialized form of creative writing. Plays, like screenplays, combine dialogue and action, but they also require an understanding of the unique dynamics of the theatrical stage. Playwrights must think about the live audience and the physical space of the theater when crafting their works.

Each of these styles offers unique opportunities for creativity and expression. Whether you’re drawn to the concise power of poetry, the detailed storytelling of novels, or the visual language of screenplays and plays, there’s a form of creative writing that will suit your artistic voice. The key is to explore, experiment, and find the style that resonates with you.

For those looking to spark their creativity, our article on creative writing prompts offers a wealth of ideas to get you started.

Importance of Creative Writing

Understanding what is creative writing involves recognizing its value and significance. Engaging in creative writing can provide numerous benefits – let’s take a closer look.

Developing Creativity and Imagination

Creative writing serves as a fertile ground for nurturing creativity and imagination. It encourages you to think outside the box, explore different perspectives, and create unique and original content. This leads to improved problem-solving skills and a broader worldview , both of which can be beneficial in various aspects of life.

Through creative writing, one can build entire worlds, create characters, and weave complex narratives, all of which are products of a creative mind and vivid imagination. This can be especially beneficial for those seeking creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree .

Enhancing Communication Skills

Creative writing can also play a crucial role in honing communication skills. It demands clarity, precision, and a strong command of language. This helps to improve your vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, making it easier to express thoughts and ideas effectively .

Moreover, creative writing encourages empathy as you often need to portray a variety of characters from different backgrounds and perspectives. This leads to a better understanding of people and improved interpersonal communication skills.

Exploring Emotions and Ideas

One of the most profound aspects of creative writing is its ability to provide a safe space for exploring emotions and ideas. It serves as an outlet for thoughts and feelings , allowing you to express yourself in ways that might not be possible in everyday conversation.

Writing can be therapeutic, helping you process complex emotions, navigate difficult life events, and gain insight into your own experiences and perceptions. It can also be a means of self-discovery , helping you to understand yourself and the world around you better.

So, whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, the benefits of creative writing are vast and varied. For those interested in developing their creative writing skills, check out our articles on creative writing prompts and how to teach creative writing . If you’re considering a career in this field, you might find our article on is a degree in creative writing worth it helpful.

4 Steps to Start Creative Writing

Creative writing can seem daunting to beginners, but with the right approach, anyone can start their journey into this creative field. Here are some steps to help you start creative writing .

1. Finding Inspiration

The first step in creative writing is finding inspiration . Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. Observe the world around you, listen to conversations, explore different cultures, and delve into various topics of interest.

Reading widely can also be a significant source of inspiration. Read different types of books, articles, and blogs. Discover what resonates with you and sparks your imagination.

For structured creative prompts, visit our list of creative writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing.

Editor’s Note : When something excites or interests you, stop and take note – it could be the inspiration for your next creative writing piece.

2. Planning Your Piece

Once you have an idea, the next step is to plan your piece . Start by outlining:

  • the main points

Remember, this can serve as a roadmap to guide your writing process. A plan doesn’t have to be rigid. It’s a flexible guideline that can be adjusted as you delve deeper into your writing. The primary purpose is to provide direction and prevent writer’s block.

3. Writing Your First Draft

After planning your piece, you can start writing your first draft . This is where you give life to your ideas and breathe life into your characters.

Don’t worry about making it perfect in the first go. The first draft is about getting your ideas down on paper . You can always refine and polish your work later. And if you don’t have a great place to write that first draft, consider a journal for writing .

4. Editing and Revising Your Work

The final step in the creative writing process is editing and revising your work . This is where you fine-tune your piece, correct grammatical errors, and improve sentence structure and flow.

Editing is also an opportunity to enhance your storytelling . You can add more descriptive details, develop your characters further, and make sure your plot is engaging and coherent.

Remember, writing is a craft that improves with practice . Don’t be discouraged if your first few pieces don’t meet your expectations. Keep writing, keep learning, and most importantly, enjoy the creative process.

For more insights on creative writing, check out our articles on how to teach creative writing or creative writing activities for kids.

Tips to Improve Creative Writing Skills

Understanding what is creative writing is the first step. But how can one improve their creative writing skills? Here are some tips that can help.

Read Widely

Reading is a vital part of becoming a better writer. By immersing oneself in a variety of genres, styles, and authors, one can gain a richer understanding of language and storytelling techniques . Different authors have unique voices and methods of telling stories, which can serve as inspiration for your own work. So, read widely and frequently!

Practice Regularly

Like any skill, creative writing improves with practice. Consistently writing — whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly — helps develop your writing style and voice . Using creative writing prompts can be a fun way to stimulate your imagination and get the words flowing.

Attend Writing Workshops and Courses

Formal education such as workshops and courses can offer structured learning and expert guidance. These can provide invaluable insights into the world of creative writing, from understanding plot development to character creation. If you’re wondering is a degree in creative writing worth it, these classes can also give you a taste of what studying creative writing at a higher level might look like .

Joining Writing Groups and Communities

Being part of a writing community can provide motivation, constructive feedback, and a sense of camaraderie. These groups often hold regular meetings where members share their work and give each other feedback. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with others who share your passion for writing.

Seeking Feedback on Your Work

Feedback is a crucial part of improving as a writer. It offers a fresh perspective on your work, highlighting areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. Whether it’s from a writing group, a mentor, or even friends and family, constructive criticism can help refine your writing .

Start Creative Writing Today!

Remember, becoming a proficient writer takes time and patience. So, don’t be discouraged by initial challenges. Keep writing, keep learning, and most importantly, keep enjoying the process. Who knows, your passion for creative writing might even lead to creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree .

Happy writing!

Brooks Manley

Brooks Manley

define creative essay

Creative Primer  is a resource on all things journaling, creativity, and productivity. We’ll help you produce better ideas, get more done, and live a more effective life.

My name is Brooks. I do a ton of journaling, like to think I’m a creative (jury’s out), and spend a lot of time thinking about productivity. I hope these resources and product recommendations serve you well. Reach out if you ever want to chat or let me know about a journal I need to check out!

Here’s my favorite journal for 2024: 

the five minute journal

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Inspiring Ink: Expert Tips on How to Teach Creative Writing

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define creative essay

How to Write a Creative Essay: Useful Tips and Examples

creative writing

Essay creative writing is not always seen as fun by most students, but the realm of creative essays can offer an enjoyable twist. The inherent freedom in choosing a topic and expressing your thoughts makes this type of paper a creative playground. Engaging in composing a creative essay provides an opportunity to flex your creative muscles. Yet, if you're new to crafting compositions, it can pose a challenge. This article guides you through the steps to write an impressive creative essay, helping you navigate the process seamlessly. In a hurry? Our writing service is there for you 24/7, with guidance and practical help.

What Is a Creative Essay

A creative essay is a form of writing that goes beyond traditional academic structures, allowing the author to express themselves more imaginatively and artistically. Unlike formal essays, creative ones emphasize storytelling, personal reflection, and the exploration of emotions. They often incorporate literary elements such as vivid descriptions, dialogue, and poetic language to engage readers on a more emotional and sensory level. Follow our creative essay tips to experiment with style and structure, offering a unique platform to convey ideas, experiences, or perspectives in a captivating and inventive way.

To answer the question what does creative writing mean, it’s necessary to point out that it departs from traditional academic writing, offering a canvas for artistic expression and storytelling. It diverges from the rigid structure of formal writings, providing a platform for writers to infuse their work with imagination and emotion. In this genre, literary elements such as vivid descriptions and poetic language take center stage, fostering a more engaging and personal connection with the reader.

Unlike a poem analysis essay , this form of writing prioritizes narrative and self-expression, allowing authors to delve into their experiences and perspectives uniquely. It's a departure from the conventional rules, encouraging experimentation with style and structure. Creative essays offer a distinct avenue for individuals to convey ideas and emotions, weaving a tapestry that captivates and resonates with readers on a deeper, more sensory level.

define creative essay

Creative Writing Essay Outline Explained From A to Z

Moving on, let's delve into how to write a creative writing essay from s structural perspective. Despite the focus on creativity and imagination, a robust structure remains essential. Consider your favorite novel – does it not follow a well-defined beginning, middle, and end? So does your article. Before diving in, invest some time crafting a solid plan for your creative writing essay.

creative writing quotes

Creative Essay Introduction

In creative essay writing, the introduction demands setting the scene effectively. Begin with a concise portrayal of the surroundings, the time of day, and the historical context of the present scenario. This initial backdrop holds significant weight, shaping the atmosphere and trajectory of the entire storyline. Ensure a vivid depiction, employing explicit descriptions, poetic devices, analogies, and symbols to alter the text's tone promptly.

Creative Essay Body

The body sections serve as the engine to propel the storyline and convey the intended message. Yet, they can also be leveraged to introduce shifts in motion and emotion. For example, as creative writers, injecting conflict right away can be a powerful move if the plot unfolds slowly. This unexpected twist startles the reader, fundamentally altering the narrative's tone and pace. Additionally, orchestrating a fabricated conflict can keep the audience on edge, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Creative Essay Conclusion

Typically, creative writers conclude the narrative towards the end. Introduce a conflict and then provide its resolution to tie up the discourse neatly. While the conclusion often doesn't lead to the story's climax, skilled writers frequently deploy cliffhangers. By employing these writing techniques suggested by our write my college essay experts, the reader is left in suspense, eagerly anticipating the fate of the characters without a premature revelation.

Creative Writing Tips

Every student possesses a distinct mindset, individual way of thinking, and unique ideas. However, considering the academic nature of creative writing essays, it is essential to incorporate characteristics commonly expected in such works, such as:

how to become creative

  • Select a topic that sparks your interest or explores unique perspectives. A captivating subject sets the stage for an engaging paper.
  • Begin with a vivid and attention-grabbing introduction. Use descriptive language, anecdotes, or thought-provoking questions to draw in your readers from the start.
  • Clearly articulate the main idea or theme of your essay in a concise thesis statement. This provides a roadmap for your readers and keeps your writing focused.
  • Use descriptive language to create a sensory experience for your readers. Appeal to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell to enhance the imagery.
  • Play with the structure of your content. Consider nonlinear narratives, flashbacks, or unconventional timelines to add an element of surprise and creativity.
  • If applicable, develop well-rounded and relatable characters. Provide details that breathe life into your characters and make them memorable to the reader.
  • Establish a vivid and immersive setting for your narrative. The environment should contribute to the overall mood and tone.
  • Blend dialogue and narration effectively. Dialogue adds authenticity and allows characters to express themselves, while narration provides context and insight.
  • Revisit your essay for revisions. Pay attention to the flow, coherence, and pacing. Edit for clarity and refine your language to ensure every word serves a purpose.
  • Share your creative writing article with others and welcome constructive feedback. Fresh perspectives can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your storytelling.
  • Maintain an authentic voice throughout your essay. Let your unique style and perspective shine through, creating a genuine connection with your audience.
  • Craft a memorable conclusion that leaves a lasting impression. Summarize key points, evoke emotions, or pose thought-provoking questions to resonate with your readers.

Types of Creative Writing Essays

A creative writing essay may come in various forms, each offering a unique approach to storytelling and self-expression. Some common types include:

  • Reflects the author's personal experiences, emotions, and insights, often weaving in anecdotes and reflections.


  • Focuses on creating a vivid and sensory-rich portrayal of a scene, person, or event through detailed descriptions.
  • Tells a compelling story with a clear plot, characters, and often a central theme or message.


  • Encourages introspection and thoughtful examination of personal experiences, revealing personal growth and lessons learned.


  • Explores and explains a particular topic, idea, or concept creatively and engagingly.


  • Utilizes creative elements to persuade the reader to adopt a particular viewpoint or take a specific action.


  • These creative writing papers allow for the free expression of imagination, often incorporating elements of fantasy, surrealism, or speculative fiction.

Literary Analysis

  • Learning how to write a creative writing essay, analyze and interpret a piece of literature, and incorporate creativity to explore deeper meanings and connections.
  • Blends personal experiences with travel narratives, offering insights into different cultures, places, and adventures.
  • Focuses on creating a detailed and engaging portrait of a person, exploring their character, experiences, and impact on others.


  • Pushes the boundaries of traditional essay structures, experimenting with form, style, and narrative techniques.
  • Combines elements from different essay types, allowing for a flexible and creative approach to storytelling.

As you can see, there are many types of creative compositions, so we recommend that you study how to write an academic essay with the help of our extensive guide.

How to Start a Creative Writing Essay

Starting a creative writing essay involves capturing the reader's attention and setting the tone for the narrative. Here are some effective ways to begin:

  • Pose a thought-provoking question that intrigues the reader and encourages them to contemplate the topic.
  • Begin with a short anecdote or a brief storytelling snippet that introduces the central theme or idea of your essay.
  • Paint a vivid picture of the setting using descriptive language, setting the stage for the events or emotions to unfold.
  • Open with a compelling dialogue that sparks interest or introduces key characters, immediately engaging the reader in the conversation.
  • Incorporate a relevant quotation or epigraph that sets the mood or provides insight into the essay's theme.
  • Begin with a bold or intriguing statement that captivates the reader's attention, encouraging them to delve further into your essay.
  • Present a contradiction or unexpected scenario that creates a sense of curiosity and compels the reader to explore the resolution.
  • Employ a striking metaphor or simile that immediately draws connections and conveys the essence of your creative essay.
  • Start by directly addressing the reader, creating a sense of intimacy and involvement right from the beginning.
  • Establish the mood or atmosphere of your essay by describing the emotions, sounds, or surroundings relevant to the narrative.
  • Present a dilemma or conflict that hints at the central tension of your essay, enticing the reader to discover the resolution.
  • Start in the middle of the action, dropping the reader into a pivotal moment that sparks curiosity about what happened before and what will unfold.

Choose an approach to how to write a creative essay that aligns with your tone and theme, ensuring a captivating and memorable introduction.

Creative Essay Formats

Working on a creative writing essay offers a canvas for writers to express themselves in various formats, each contributing a unique flavor to the storytelling. One prevalent format is personal writing, where writers delve into their own experiences, emotions, and reflections, creating a deeply personal narrative that resonates with readers. Through anecdotes, insights, and introspection, personal essays provide a window into the author's inner world, fostering a connection through shared vulnerabilities and authentic storytelling.

Another captivating format is the narrative, which unfolds like a traditional story with characters, a plot, and a clear arc. Writers craft a compelling narrative, often with a central theme or message, engaging readers in a journey of discovery. Through vivid descriptions and well-developed characters, narrative articles allow for the exploration of universal truths within the context of a captivating storyline, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

For those who seek to blend fact and fiction, the imaginative format opens the door to vivid exploration. This format allows writers to unleash their imagination, incorporating elements of fantasy, surrealism, or speculative fiction. By bending reality and weaving imaginative threads into the narrative, writers can transport readers to otherworldly realms or offer fresh perspectives on familiar themes. The imaginative essay format invites readers to embrace the unexpected, challenging conventional boundaries and stimulating creativity in both the writer and the audience. Check out our poetry analysis essay guide to learn more about the freedom of creativity learners can adopt while working on assignments. 

Creative Essay Topics and Ideas

As you become familiar with creative writing tips, we’d like to share several amazing topic examples that might help you get out of writer’s block:

  • The enchanted garden tells a tale of blooms and whispers.
  • Lost in time, a journey through historical echoes unfolds.
  • Whispering winds unravel the secrets of nature.
  • The silent symphony explores the soul of music.
  • Portraits of the invisible capture the essence of emotions.
  • Beyond the horizon is a cosmic adventure in stardust.
  • Can dreams shape reality? An exploration of the power of imagination.
  • The forgotten key unlocks doors to the past.
  • Ripples in the void, an exploration of cosmic mysteries.
  • Echoes of eternity are stories written in the stars.
  • In the shadow of giants, unveils the unsung heroes.
  • Can words paint pictures? An exploration of the artistry of literary expression.
  • Whispers of the deep explore the ocean's hidden stories.
  • Threads of time weave lives through generations.
  • Do colors hold emotions? A journey of painting the canvas of feelings.
  • The quantum quandary navigates the world of subatomic particles.
  • Reflections in a mirror unmask the layers of identity.
  • The art of silence crafts narratives without words.
  • The ethereal dance explores movement beyond the visible.
  • Can shadows speak? Unveiling stories cast in darkness.

Examples of Creative Writing Essays

We've added a couple of brief creative writing essays examples for your reference and inspiration.

Creative Writing Example 1: Admission Essay

Creative writing example 2: narrative essay.

define creative essay

What Are the Types of Creative Writing Essays?

What is a creative writing essay, how to start a creative writing essay, what are some creative writing tips.

define creative essay

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What Is Creative Writing?

What Is Creative Writing? (Definition & 11 Best Steps)

Creative writing is the celestial dance of words, an art form that transcends the ordinary to forge literary constellations that illuminate the human experience.

At its core, creative writing is a cosmic exploration of imagination, a journey into the uncharted realms where storytelling becomes a vehicle for self-expression, creativity, and connection.

It encompasses a diverse array of genres, from the poetic landscapes of verse to the intricate narratives of fiction and the introspective reflections of creative nonfiction.

Creative writing is both an ancient practice, rooted in the oral traditions of storytelling, and a contemporary force, shaped by the dynamic currents of literary movements and the digital age.

In this cosmic voyage of words, writers become cosmic architects, crafting worlds, characters, and emotions that resonate across the galaxies of human thought and emotion.

This exploration delves into the historical evolution, elements, genres, and the transformative process of creative writing, inviting both novice stargazers and seasoned explorers to embark on a literary odyssey through the cosmos of human imagination.

Table of Contents

What Is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is the process of expressing thoughts, ideas, and emotions through the artful use of language. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

Idea Generation

Start by brainstorming and generating ideas. This could be inspired by personal experiences, observations, or purely imaginative concepts.

Organize your thoughts and structure your writing. This might involve outlining the plot for a story, creating characters, or planning the flow of a poem.

Choosing a Form or Genre

Decide on the type of creative writing you want to pursue – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, or any other form.

Setting the Tone and Style

Define the tone and style of your writing. This could range from formal to informal, humorous to serious, depending on the intended effect.

Creating Characters or Themes

Develop characters, themes, or central ideas that will drive your narrative and engage your audience.

Begin writing your first draft. Allow yourself the freedom to explore ideas without worrying too much about perfection at this stage.

Review and revise your work. This involves refining your language, improving clarity, and ensuring your writing effectively communicates your intended message or story.

Pay attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Edit your work to eliminate errors and enhance overall readability.

Seek feedback from peers, writing groups, or mentors. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your work.

Make final adjustments based on feedback and your own revisions. Polish your creative writing until you are satisfied with the result.

Publishing or Sharing

Decide whether you want to share your work publicly. This could involve submitting it to literary magazines, self-publishing, or simply sharing it with friends and family.

Creative writing is a dynamic and iterative process, allowing for continuous refinement and exploration of ideas.

What Is Creative Writing?

Historical Evolution of Creative Writing

Embarking on a literary time-travel, the historical evolution of creative writing unfolds like an intricately woven tapestry, blending the whispers of ancient oral traditions with the bold strokes of individual expression that emerged during the Renaissance.

Picture storytellers captivating audiences with folk tales around ancient campfires, only to witness the metamorphosis into written words that took place during humanity’s transition from the spoken to the written word.

As the winds of change blew through literary landscapes, the Renaissance breathed life into personal narratives, and Romanticism embraced the turbulent storms of emotion.

Modernism then shattered conventional boundaries, paving the way for experimental forms that mirrored the tumultuous twentieth century.

Today, creative writing stands at the intersection of tradition and innovation, a dynamic force shaped by the echoes of the past and the untamed creativity of the present.

Origins in oral traditions

The origins of creative writing can be traced back to the rich tapestry of human storytelling woven through the fabric of oral traditions.

In the dim glow of ancient campfires, our ancestors spun tales that danced between reality and imagination, passing down knowledge, wisdom, and cultural identity from one generation to the next.

These oral narratives, often rooted in folklore and myths, were the heartbeat of communities, connecting individuals through shared stories.

From the captivating epics of Homer to the enchanting fairy tales whispered in the corners of the world, the oral tradition laid the foundation for the written word, embodying the essence of human creativity, imagination, and the innate desire to communicate through the power of narrative.

Development through literary movements

The historical journey of creative writing unfolds through the dynamic currents of literary movements, each a vibrant chapter in the evolution of human expression.

The Renaissance, a cultural rebirth, marked a pivotal shift as writers embraced the power of individual expression and departed from medieval constraints.

Romanticism followed, a tempest of emotion that stormed the structured landscapes of literature, championing nature, passion, and the sublime.

Modernism emerged as a bold departure from traditional forms, ushering in experimental narratives and fragmented perspectives that mirrored the complexities of the 20th century.

Today’s creative writing landscape, shaped by these movements, is a kaleidoscope of diverse voices and styles, a testament to the enduring influence of literary evolution on the human experience.

Elements of Creative Writing

Dive into the alchemy of creative writing, where the elements of storytelling blend and dance like cosmic particles in a celestial ballet.

Picture the plot and structure as the architectural skeleton, a blueprint for worlds yet to be born. Characters, like sentient constellations, come to life, breathing the very essence of authenticity into the narrative cosmos.

Amidst the vast expanse of setting and atmosphere, landscapes materialize like dreams, painting scenes that are both vivid and haunting.

Style and voice emerge as the enchanting melodies, each writer composing a unique symphony that resonates in the reader’s soul.

In this literary crucible, the elements fuse, giving birth to tales that are not just written but are crafted, where words become spells, and the act of creation is nothing short of magical.

Genres in Creative Writing

Step into the kaleidoscope of creative expression, where genres in creative writing are the vibrant hues that paint the literary canvas with boundless imagination.

Fiction, a realm where novel universes unfurl with every turn of the page, beckons explorers to traverse landscapes of intrigue and emotion.

Poetry, the language of the soul, weaves verses that resonate in the heart’s chambers, from the traditional sonnets to the avant-garde free forms that defy gravity.

Creative nonfiction becomes a literary mirror, reflecting the kaleidoscope of reality through memoirs and essays, blurring the lines between experience and artistry.

These genres are not mere labels; they are portals into worlds where storytelling transcends boundaries, and writers become architects of realms that captivate the mind, stir the emotions, and linger in the echoes of the reader’s imagination.

Fiction, the enchanting realm where the alchemy of words transforms imagination into reality, beckons readers into worlds unknown.

It is the literary tapestry where storytellers weave tales that dance on the precipice between reality and fantasy. Novels, the architects of this fantastical landscape, sculpt characters with palpable depth, crafting intricate plotlines that unfold like secrets waiting to be revealed.

From the classic works of timeless masters to the contemporary symphonies of emerging voices, fiction transcends time and space, inviting readers to escape the ordinary and venture into the extraordinary.

In this boundless expanse, emotions become tangible, and the echoes of imaginary footsteps resonate long after the last page is turned. Fiction is not merely a genre; it is a passport to alternate realities, a magic carpet that carries readers to places uncharted and emotions unexplored.

Poetry, the language of the heart and the echo of the soul, is an art form that transcends the boundaries of ordinary expression.

In the symphony of words, poets become maestros, conducting emotions and experiences into verses that sing with rhythm and grace.

From the structured elegance of traditional forms to the unbridled freedom of free verse, poetry captures the ineffable and distills it into the purest essence.

Every line is a brushstroke painting vivid imagery, and each stanza is a melody that resonates in the chambers of the reader’s spirit. Poets wield words like alchemists, transforming mundane moments into profound revelations.

In the delicate dance between language and emotion, poetry stands as a testament to the human capacity to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the beauty of finely crafted language and the endless possibilities of the poetic imagination.

Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction, a captivating blend of factual precision and artistic expression, serves as a literary bridge between the realms of truth and imagination.

In this genre, writers embark on a compelling journey of storytelling that mines the depths of reality to craft narratives as rich and engaging as any fiction.

From memoirs that illuminate the intricacies of personal experiences to thought-provoking essays that dissect the tapestry of the human condition, creative nonfiction is a mosaic of authenticity painted with the brushstrokes of literary finesse.

The genre encourages writers to artfully blur the lines between fact and narrative, weaving a tapestry that captures the essence of life in all its complexities.

It is a genre where truth is not merely recounted but elevated to the status of art, inviting readers to explore the profound and the ordinary with fresh eyes and a heightened appreciation for the power of storytelling.

What Is Creative Writing?

The Creative Writing Process

Embark on the enigmatic odyssey of the creative writing process, where inspiration is a clandestine muse that whispers in the stillness of creativity.

The inception, a cosmic spark, ignites the imagination, unleashing a torrent of ideas that cascade like shooting stars across the writer’s mind. The drafting phase is a dance with chaos, a raw manifestation of thoughts and emotions onto the blank canvas of the page.

Yet, the revision process emerges as the phoenix rising from the literary ashes, where words transform and refine, revealing the alchemical magic of refining ideas into a harmonious narrative.

Seeking feedback becomes a cosmic conversation, where the writer navigates the cosmos of criticism to unveil hidden constellations in their work.

The creative writing process is not a linear trajectory but a celestial dance , where writers traverse the nebulae of creativity, forging galaxies of prose and poetry that linger in the reader’s universe long after the final punctuation mark.

Idea generation, the pulsating heartbeat of the creative process, invites writers into the boundless cosmos of imagination.

It is an ethereal dance with inspiration, where sparks of creativity ignite the mind like constellations in the night sky. Whether drawn from personal experiences, fleeting observations, or the whispers of dreams, ideas are the raw stardust that writers mold into narrative galaxies.

The process is as unpredictable as a meteor shower, with writers navigating the celestial expanse to capture elusive fragments of brilliance.

From the quiet corners of introspection to the cacophony of the world, the art of idea generation transforms the mundane into the extraordinary, inviting writers to embark on a cosmic odyssey where every fleeting notion has the potential to blossom into a literary supernova.

Drafting and Revising

Drafting and revising, the twin constellations of the writing process, encapsulate the transformative journey of turning nebulous ideas into polished prose.

In the initial act of drafting, writers plunge into the creative abyss, weaving words into a tapestry of raw emotions and vivid imagery.

It is an untamed exploration, where the exhilarating rush of creation takes precedence over perfection. Yet, the true alchemy occurs in the refining crucible of revision. Like a sculptor chiseling away excess stone to reveal a masterpiece, writers meticulously carve and reshape their narratives.

It is a dance with words, a delicate balancing act of preserving the authenticity of the initial draft while enhancing clarity, coherence, and resonance.

Revision is not merely correction; it is the conscious evolution of a narrative, where every nuanced change breathes new life into the prose.

The tandem of drafting and revising, akin to the ebb and flow of cosmic forces, is the dynamic heartbeat that propels a piece of writing from its embryonic stages to the polished brilliance that captivates the reader’s soul.

Publishing and Sharing

Publishing and sharing mark the culmination of a writer’s odyssey, where the crafted words are prepared to venture beyond the solitary realm of creation.

It is a moment of revelation, where the manuscript, once a private universe, prepares to meet the wider cosmos of readership.

The publishing process, be it through traditional avenues or the burgeoning world of self-publishing, involves the meticulous preparation of the work for public consumption.

The act of sharing becomes a cosmic ripple, as the writer’s voice resonates across the literary landscape, forging connections with readers who may find solace, inspiration, or sheer enjoyment in the words.

It is a dance of vulnerability and courage, as writers release their creations into the literary cosmos, hoping their narrative constellations will find a home in the hearts and minds of others.

The symbiotic relationship between writer and reader transforms the act of publishing into a shared cosmic experience, where words transcend the individual and become part of a collective literary universe.

Challenges and Rewards of Creative Writing

Navigating the cosmos of creative writing reveals a celestial dance of challenges and rewards, where each word penned is a step into the cosmic unknown.

The challenges emerge like elusive comets, from the gravitational pull of writer’s block threatening to derail creativity, to the constant cosmic quest for a harmonious balance between originality and marketability.

Yet, these challenges are the cosmic forge that tempers the writer’s mettle, honing resilience and creativity in the crucible of adversity.

The rewards, akin to dazzling supernovae, illuminate the journey. The cathartic joy of crafting a sentence that resonates, the cosmic connections formed with readers who find solace or delight in the prose – these are the celestial jewels that make the struggles worthwhile.

In the vast expanse of creative writing, challenges and rewards orbit each other like binary stars, their gravitational pull shaping the unique trajectory of every writer’s cosmic odyssey.

Overcoming writer’s block

Writer’s block, that elusive shadow cast over the creative landscape, can feel like navigating a cosmic void where inspiration is but a distant star.

It is the gravitational force that stymies the flow of words and leaves the writer stranded in a sea of blank pages. Yet, overcoming writer’s block is an act of cosmic resilience.

Writers embark on a journey through the nebulae of creativity, employing various strategies to break free from the entangled cosmic web.

Whether it’s the cosmic power of free writing to unravel mental knots or the meteoric inspiration found in changing the writing environment, overcoming writer’s block becomes a transformative process.

It is the writer’s spacecraft pushing through the cosmic fog, a testament to the indomitable spirit that seeks to create even in the face of cosmic resistance.

In this dance with the muse, writers rediscover the cosmic symphony of their imagination and emerge from the creative void with newfound brilliance.

Balancing originality and marketability

In the cosmic dance of creative writing, striking the delicate balance between originality and marketability is akin to navigating the gravitational forces of two celestial bodies.

Originality, the pulsating core of creativity, propels writers into uncharted literary realms, forging unique constellations of thought and expression.

Yet, the cosmic reality of marketability orbits nearby, where commercial considerations seek gravitational stability.

It’s an intricate interplay; too much originality may risk veering into the obscure, while an excessive focus on marketability might compromise the authenticity of the creative vision.

Writers become cosmic architects, constructing narratives that not only resonate with their individual voice but also align with the gravitational pull of audience preferences.

Balancing these cosmic forces is a perpetual challenge, requiring writers to dance on the edge of innovation while staying tethered to the gravitational pull of a wider readership.

In this cosmic balancing act, writers discover the celestial equilibrium where originality and marketability harmonize, creating literary galaxies that captivate both the cosmos of creativity and the earthly realms of audience engagement.

Impact of Creative Writing on Society

Creative writing is the cosmic echo of the human soul, resonating through the annals of time and leaving an indelible imprint on the fabric of society.

It serves as a literary constellation, illuminating the collective consciousness with narratives that mirror, challenge, and redefine societal values.

From ancient epics that shaped cultural identities to contemporary works that spark revolutions of thought, creative writing is a cosmic force that fosters empathy, dismantles prejudices, and holds a mirror to the complexities of the human experience.

It is the catalyst for societal metamorphosis, a cosmic dance that encourages dialogue, fuels revolutions, and shapes the very contours of cultural evolution.

In the vast cosmos of creative expression, the impact of writing is not merely confined to the pages; it permeates the collective psyche, becoming a celestial force that guides, questions, and ultimately shapes the destiny of societies on this cosmic voyage through time.

Educational and Professional Opportunities in Creative Writing

Embarking on the cosmic odyssey of creative writing isn’t just a journey into the realms of imagination; it’s a launchpad to educational and professional constellations that illuminate diverse career trajectories.

Creative writing programs become celestial academies, nurturing literary supernovae through workshops, mentorship, and the exploration of narrative galaxies.

The academic pursuit of the craft transforms writers into cosmic architects, honing not only their creativity but also the analytical skills essential for dissecting the intricacies of language.

Beyond the academic cosmos, the professional opportunities in creative writing are as vast as the universe itself.

Writers may navigate the celestial waters of journalism, become starry-eyed screenwriters crafting cinematic adventures, or soar as literary explorers, publishing novels that leave an indelible mark on the literary cosmos.

In the intersection of education and profession, creative writing unfolds as a cosmic tapestry where words aren’t just written but become portals to boundless opportunities in the vast expanse of the literary universe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about What Is Creative Writing?

What exactly is creative writing, and how does it differ from other forms of writing.

Creative writing is the vibrant, expressive art of using words to craft narratives that go beyond mere conveyance of information. It stands apart by prioritizing imagination, self-expression, and often blurs the lines between reality and fiction.

How does the historical evolution of creative writing influence contemporary practices?

The historical journey of creative writing, from ancient oral traditions to the digital age, has shaped the very DNA of the craft. It influences contemporary practices by offering a rich tapestry of literary movements, styles, and themes that writers can draw inspiration from or subvert.

Can anyone become a creative writer, or is it a skill reserved for a select few?

Absolutely anyone can become a creative writer! While innate talent can be an asset, the essence of creative writing lies in practice, exploration, and the willingness to cultivate one’s unique voice and perspective.

What are the key elements that make up creative writing, and how do they contribute to the overall narrative?

The elements of creative writing, such as plot, characterization, setting, style, and voice, are the building blocks that construct the literary cosmos. They contribute by creating immersive worlds, memorable characters, and distinctive narratives that resonate with readers.

How can one overcome writer’s block, a common challenge in creative writing?

Overcoming writer’s block is like navigating through a cosmic fog. Strategies include engaging in free writing, changing the writing environment, seeking inspiration from different mediums, or simply taking a cosmic break to recharge creative energies.

Is creative writing limited to novels and poetry, or are there other genres to explore?

Creative writing spans a diverse universe of genres. While novels and poetry are prominent, there’s also creative nonfiction, flash fiction, screenplays, and more. The cosmos of creative writing is vast and welcomes exploration.

How does one balance the fine line between originality and marketability in creative writing?

Balancing originality and marketability requires navigating a cosmic dance. It involves maintaining authenticity while considering the audience’s preferences, creating a celestial equilibrium where the writer’s unique voice resonates within a broader readership.

What educational and professional opportunities are available in the field of creative writing?

The educational galaxy offers creative writing programs and degrees, nurturing writers with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Professionally, opportunities range from traditional publishing avenues to scriptwriting, journalism, and the expansive realm of digital content creation.

In conclusion, creative writing is a cosmic odyssey, an ever-expanding universe of imagination, expression, and connection.

From its ancient roots in oral traditions to the dynamic currents of contemporary literary movements, creative writing has evolved into a diverse and influential art form.

It is a transformative process that involves the careful balance of elements, the exploration of various genres, and the persistent journey through the challenges and rewards of crafting narratives.

Creative writing is not confined to the realms of novels and poetry; it encompasses a vast cosmos of possibilities, from memoirs to screenplays, flash fiction to creative nonfiction.

As writers embark on this celestial exploration, they become architects of worlds, sculptors of characters, and composers of narratives that resonate across the collective human experience.

The educational and professional opportunities within this realm further amplify its significance, turning creative writing into both a personal pursuit and a communal force shaping the literary landscape.

In the grand celestial tapestry of human expression, creative writing emerges as a luminous constellation, inviting writers and readers alike to traverse the cosmic expanse of imagination and storytelling.

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define creative essay

How to Write a Creative Essay: Your Fresh Guide

define creative essay

What Is a Creative Essay

In a world full of logic, facts, and statistics, being able to unleash your true creativity might seem like a fresh breath of air. Sometimes, all we need is to shut our minds, let our thoughts flow through, and immerse ourselves in endless imagination. To think about it, being able to let your imagination run wild yields something genuinely exceptional, an outcome that is not restricted to mundane reality which eventually opens a whole new universe of broadened horizons.

Now, imagine that you can bring together your unique thoughts onto a piece of paper and organize them in a specific format, so when one reads through it, one can easily follow your points while simultaneously being captured by your set of perspectives. Notice how there is an intersection between creativity and organization? These two do not have to be mutually exclusive. That's why in this article we intend to explain how you can put your creative thoughts into words, arrange these words into paragraphs and finally structure these paragraphs in a well-defined creative essay outline.

Now that we have your undivided attention let us briefly explain what is a creative essay and what kind of assignment it represents when you're given one. A creative essay is more than just throwing words on paper to reach a certain character limit. Such an essay assesses your ability to discover and clarify notions to your audience. In academic writing, creative essays can provide you the chance to showcase your research ability together with your vocabulary and composition skills.

Nearly all educational levels, including universities, need students to produce creative essays. When picking creative essay topics, you often have great flexibility. Your professor may give you a subject or category to specialize in, but you are allowed to choose any concept as long as it fits the specified area.

While having the flexibility to write about whatever you want is fantastic, the thought may also be somewhat intimidating. So, read on to get the key tips on how to write a creative essay, along with a step-by-step guide in the following paragraphs.

And if you ever pondered how to write in cursive , we've got you covered on that too!

Helpful Tips for Writing a Creative Essay

How to Write a Creative Essay

In case you were wondering, yes, there are some tactics for writing a creative essay that you may employ. Therefore let our college essay writer provide you with the following useful advice to make your creative essay examples more intriguing and unique:

  • Start Off Strong: Using an attention-grabbing introduction is a common piece of creative writing advice. One approach to achieve this is to open the narrative with a retrospect, which might throw off the timeline by bringing the audience back into the heart of the scene at the very start of the narrative.
  • Employ an Outline: Make an outline after you have a topic. Consider your favorite book by your favorite creator. Does it follow a clear framework? A solid start, body, and closing? Very likely, it does, and your essay needs to reflect that. Therefore, before beginning, devote some time to developing a creative writing essay outline.
  • Take Risks: Do it without hesitation. Often, writings that take chances and push limits end up being the most impactful. Don't be shy to experiment with different writing styles, a unique writing tone, or a subject that causes you to feel uneasy. Present your own ideas and allow them to make a statement.
  • Use Descriptive Language : Provide descriptive elements that show off your vocabulary to help others understand your creative essay ideas. Writing creatively is all about illuminating a scene with phrases. Employ descriptive words to evoke strong mental images in your audience. To assist your reader in visualizing the situation you're portraying, include sensory information such as vision, sound, flavor, sensation, and scent.
  • Use Extended Metaphors: An extended metaphor strategy is frequently used in creative writing. It could be better to use an analogy to communicate the idea by making parallels, which people find simpler to grasp than to struggle through attempting to lay out a difficult topic in a basic manner.
  • Edit Extensively: Few succeed on the first try. When you've finished the initial version, go back and review it to see whether your arguments are in the best sequence and if your writing truly stands to reason. In the era of technology, it's simple to cut and paste sections of your essay into where they would suit better to help your essay flow smoother. Remove everything that doesn't support your essay's main idea or topic.

How to Write a Creative Essay: Breaking Down a Creative Essay Outline

Apart from the tips above, you might need a step-by-step guide demonstrating essential writing steps. While creative essays adhere to an outline much like other types of essays, such as book review format , they use a slightly different framework known as the 3-Point Structure. This involves: The Setup -> Confrontation -> Resolution. Let's break down each component below:

How to Write a Creative Essay

  • Set Up: Generally stated in the introduction, the setup establishes the characters and their connection with one another. What are the predefined links between the main members? Give the readers enough information to begin making assumptions about how the narrative will evolve.
  • Confrontation: Written in the body, the narrative must have a Defining Moment. At this conflicting point, the calm sea becomes a violent storm. This turn of events could be foreshadowed by the plot's hints, or it might just happen out of nowhere. Your decision as the author will determine your actions. For instance, you can start implying that the storyline seems strange before returning to normal without making significant changes. Alternatively, the narrative can be moving along without incident when a significant event occurs, abruptly changing the course of the story.
  • Resolution: After the story's pivotal moment, the drama will have intensified and gradually subsided. There will eventually come a time when the tension picks back up and reaches a pinnacle. Now, this could either be revealed at the end of the narrative (a cliffhanger) or disclosed anywhere between the middle and the beginning. This also depends on you as the author.

Creative Essay Introduction

Establishing the scene in a creative essay opening is the first thing to be done in any storytelling. Provide a brief description of the area, the period of the day, and the history of the present situation. This opening setting is key because it establishes the atmosphere and flow of the whole storyline. Having said that, be sure to enliven the scene as much as possible to let the reader see it perfectly. Employ explicit descriptions; poetic devices, analogies, and symbols are excellent ways to change the tone of the text right away.

Creative Essay Body

The bodies are employed to advance the storyline and convey the message. But you may also employ these sections to switch up the motion and emotion. For instance, as the author, you may include the conflict immediately if the plot progresses slowly. The reader is taken aback by this, which alters the narrative’s tone and pace. Also, you might stage a phony conflict to keep your audience on edge.

Creative Essay Conclusion

Usually, the creative writers may wrap up the narrative in the end. Set up a conflict, then give the resolution to wind up the conversation. Most of the time, the ending won't lead to the story's climax, but many expert writers employ cliffhangers. Using such creative essay writing techniques, the reader might be kept in a state of suspense without revealing what happened to the characters.

Creative Essay Topics and Ideas

Before putting yourself into creative essay writing, you should pick among creative writing essays topics that you will be talking about. Here we got some fresh creative essay topics from our top college essay writer to make your choice easier:

  • Explain an event in your life that spiraled out of control and flipped its course.
  • Create a scenario that directs the end of the world.
  • Camouflage the concept of love in a story that is completely irrelevant.
  • Design in a story in which one person's beliefs or ideas helped reform the future of society.
  • Propose a scenario in the distant future in which technology controls all.
  • Describe something that you can't live without; it might be your hobby or a thing that you are dedicated to.
  • Express your thoughts about a topic that hurts you.
  • Imagine that you became invisible for one day. What would you do?
  • What would your reaction be if one day you woke up in someone else's body

Naturally, you can create one that is completely unique to you and the ideas that you form. These creative writing topics are here to get you started on the right path towards a brilliant story.

How to Write a Creative Essay

Creative College Essay Topics

Now that our coursework writers guided your curiosity through different creative writing tips and writing structure, you might fancy some topics for creative nonfiction essay to give you a more clear idea. Let us walk you through some inspirational creative essay titles:

  • 'Being My True-Self in Solitude' - Describe when you were completely alone and what lessons you took from it. Here you can examine the notion of isolation and how it may inspire your creativity. You can also discuss a solo excursion you undertook, a moment when you felt abandoned, or a period when you deliberately sought solitude to contemplate and refresh.
  • 'My Life's Soundtrack' - Talk about your favorite song or a piece of music that sums up your character or reflects your life. Your essay might examine a specific line of lyrics that speaks to your life experience. You can also describe how the beats and rhythm highlight a particular memory or challenge you overcame.
  • 'Dear Future Me' - In this essay letter, you can converse with your future self in 10 years. First, talk about your present self, what you're grateful for, and what you wish would go differently in the future. Ask your older self questions about how things have changed over these years, and reflect upon your main aspirations.
  • 'My Perfect Imperfections' - Recall a moment when you acknowledge your weaknesses or flaws. Appreciate the thought that imperfections are a normal and lovely aspect of human existence. You may also discuss overcoming self-doubt or a physical trait you used to detest but have come to adore.

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Example of a Creative Essay

Aldrine was already hitting his mid-30’s and the pressure from parents and peers was building up fast. While he admitted that marriage was an essential rite of passage, he was also keen not to marry an entirely incompatible partner with whom he would struggle all through adulthood. The father was already losing patience and several of his peers had been sent with threats that he would eventually be ostracized.

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Wrapping Up

As we come to an end, we hope you gained a clear insight into what is creative essay and how to write it. Some people will always find it simpler to write creative essays than others. Yet, by putting the tips above into practice, you should be in a strong position to generate work that you're happy with.

You could be left-brained, more comfortable with analytical thought processes than with eloquent language. In this case, you may embark on a journey with the help of our qualified paper writer team, who has produced a ton of creative college essay topics. We know that every creative essay is different, and each of our writers can vividly depict a scene that will astound you. Have some doubts? Buy essays online today and be assured of our promise!

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FAQs on Creative Essay Writing

If you feel like some questions were left unanswered, don't you feel disappointed just yet! Our dissertation writers for hire compiled the most frequently asked question on creative essay writing, so take a look for additional information:

What Are the 7 Types of Creative Writing?

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How Long Should a College Essay Be: Simple Explanation

define creative essay

The Art of Crafting Engaging and Unique Creative Essays

Hello there, dear reader! Are you ready to embark on a creative journey? In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of crafting engaging and unique creative essays. Writing essays doesn\’t have to be a dull and monotonous task; it can be an opportunity to unleash your creativity and express yourself in a distinctive way. Whether you\’re a student, a writer, or simply someone interested in sharpening your writing skills, you\’ll discover valuable insights and practical tips to help you create compelling and memorable essays. So, let\’s dive in and unlock the art of crafting essays that stand out!

Introduction to Creative Essays

Creative essays are a unique form of writing that allows you to express your thoughts, ideas, and emotions in an imaginative and artistic way. Unlike other types of essays, creative essays give you the freedom to explore different writing styles, experiment with language, and engage your readers through storytelling.

Understanding Creative Essays

Creative essays, also known as narrative essays, are personal and expressive pieces of writing. They often revolve around a specific experience, event, or story that the writer wants to share. The purpose of a creative essay is to captivate the reader\’s attention and evoke emotions through vivid descriptions, engaging dialogues, and well-developed characters.

Unlike academic essays that focus on analyzing or arguing a specific topic, creative essays aim to entertain, inspire, and connect with the reader on an emotional level. They allow you to delve into your inner world and explore your thoughts and feelings through imaginative storytelling.

The Importance of Creativity

Creativity is a fundamental aspect of writing creative essays. It enables you to bring your unique voice and perspective to your writing, making it more engaging and memorable. Creativity allows you to break free from conventional writing rules and experiment with different styles, techniques, and narrative approaches.

When writing a creative essay, creativity helps you to create vibrant and rich descriptions that transport the reader to a different time, place, or experience. It allows you to play with words, use figurative language, and paint vivid mental images in the reader\’s mind. By infusing your writing with creativity, you can make your essay come alive and leave a lasting impression on your readers.

Choosing a Topic

Choosing an engaging and unique topic is crucial to the success of your creative essay. A well-selected topic can spark your creativity and inspire you to write passionately. Here are some tips and techniques to help you choose a topic for your creative essay:

  • Personal experiences: Reflect on significant moments, challenges, or achievements in your life that have had a profound impact on you. These personal experiences can serve as a great starting point for a creative essay.
  • Imagination and daydreaming: Let your imagination run wild and explore the realms of your daydreams. Imagine fantastical scenarios, intriguing characters, or extraordinary settings that could become the foundation of your creative essay.
  • Observation and curiosity: Pay attention to the world around you and be curious about the people, places, and things that capture your interest. Observe the small details, unusual occurrences, or unique interactions that could inspire a captivating story.
  • Emotional exploration: Explore your emotions and delve into your deepest thoughts and feelings. Identify topics or themes that resonate with you on a personal level and that you feel passionate about sharing with others.

Remember, the key to choosing a topic for your creative essay is to select something that excites you and allows you to express yourself authentically. By choosing a topic that resonates with you, you will be more motivated and invested in writing your essay, leading to a more engaging and impactful piece of work.

The Writing Process

When it comes to writing creative essays, having a solid writing process in place is crucial. This not only helps you stay organized but also allows you to fully unleash your creativity. In this section, we will delve into the different aspects of the writing process that will guide you towards crafting an outstanding creative essay.

Brainstorming Ideas

Before diving into the actual writing, it\’s important to spend some time brainstorming ideas. This step helps you generate a plethora of ideas that you can later develop into a captivating essay. To effectively brainstorm, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can let your thoughts flow freely.

There are numerous strategies you can employ to get those creative juices flowing. One strategy is freewriting, where you write continuously for a set amount of time without worrying about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. This helps bypass your inner critic and allows you to explore different ideas without hesitation.

Another useful strategy is mind mapping. Start by writing your central idea or theme in the center of a blank page, and then branch out with related ideas, characters, or settings. This visual representation can help you see connections between different elements and guide your essay\’s direction.

Furthermore, seeking inspiration from various sources can be highly beneficial. Read books, watch movies or documentaries, listen to music, or observe people in real life. You never know what might trigger an idea or spark your imagination.

Structuring Your Essay

Once you have a pool of ideas to draw from, it\’s time to structure your essay. This step involves organizing your thoughts in a logical and coherent manner. A well-structured essay not only makes it easier for your readers to follow but also enhances the impact of your story.

Start by outlining the key points or events you want to include in your essay. This can be in the form of a traditional outline or a more visual representation, such as a flowchart. Consider the order in which you want to present your ideas and how they connect with one another.

Introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion are the essential parts of any essay structure. In the introduction, grab your readers\’ attention with a captivating hook and provide a brief overview of what they can expect from your essay. The body paragraphs should further develop your ideas and provide supporting evidence or examples. Finally, in the conclusion, summarize your main points and leave readers with a lasting impression.

Remember to use smooth transitions between paragraphs to ensure a seamless flow of ideas. This will make your essay easy to read and understand.

Developing Characters and Settings

In a creative essay, characters and settings play a crucial role in engaging your readers\’ imagination and emotions. Developing well-rounded characters and vivid settings can breathe life into your essay and make it truly unforgettable.

To create compelling characters, think about their personalities, motivations, and background stories. Which experiences have shaped them, and how do they respond to the challenges they face in your essay? Give them unique traits and make their actions and dialogue authentic.

Additionally, settings provide a backdrop for your characters to come alive. Whether it\’s a bustling cityscape, a serene countryside, or a mysterious fantasy realm, your setting should be rich in detail. Describe the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations to transport your readers to the world you have crafted.

Researching real-life locations or drawing inspiration from other fictional worlds can help you create believable and immersive settings. Build a strong sense of place so that your readers can visualize themselves within the surroundings of your essay.

By focusing on these aspects, you can develop characters and settings that captivate your readers and make your creative essay truly come to life.

Writing Techniques

When it comes to writing creative essays, mastering the art of using various writing techniques is essential. These techniques can elevate your essay from ordinary to extraordinary, captivating your readers and leaving a lasting impression. In this section, we will delve into three important techniques: using vivid imagery, creating dialogue, and building suspense and tension.

Using Vivid Imagery

One of the most powerful tools in a writer\’s arsenal is the use of vivid imagery. By incorporating descriptive language, you can paint a picture in the minds of your readers, transporting them to the world you have created within your essay. To effectively use vivid imagery, consider the following tips:

  • Show, don\’t tell: Instead of stating that the sky is beautiful, describe the hues of orange and pink as the sun sets behind the distant mountains, casting a warm glow across the horizon.
  • Appeal to the senses: Engage your readers by appealing to their senses. Describe the scent of freshly baked bread, the sound of crashing waves, or the feeling of soft, warm sand between their toes.
  • Use metaphor and simile: Comparing two seemingly unrelated things can evoke powerful imagery. For example, \”Her laughter was like a melody, filling the room with joy.\”

By employing these techniques, you can create a vibrant and immersive experience for your readers, making your essay come alive.

Creating Dialogue

Dialogue plays a crucial role in bringing characters to life and moving the plot forward. When done effectively, it adds authenticity and depth to your creative essay. To master the art of creating engaging and realistic dialogue, consider the following tips:

  • Make it sound natural: Dialogue should flow naturally, reflecting how people speak in real life. Avoid lengthy monologues and focus on concise exchanges that reveal important information or develop characters.
  • Show character through dialogue: Dialogue is an excellent tool for revealing character traits, desires, and conflicts. Each character should have a distinct voice and use language that matches their personality.
  • Utilize subtext: Often, what is left unsaid can be just as important as what is said. Subtext adds depth and complexity to your characters\’ interactions, as they navigate hidden motives or unspoken tensions.

By implementing these techniques, you can create dialogue that is authentic, engaging, and propels your creative essay forward.

Building Suspense and Tension

No creative essay is complete without a healthy dose of suspense and tension. These elements keep your readers on the edge of their seats, eagerly flipping through the pages to discover what happens next. To master the art of building suspense and tension, consider the following techniques:

  • Establish a ticking clock: Create a sense of urgency by setting a deadline or impending event. This will heighten the suspense and keep your readers hooked, wondering if the protagonist will succeed in their race against time.
  • Reveal information gradually: Instead of unveiling everything at once, drip-feed information to your readers, leaving breadcrumbs of clues along the way. This builds anticipation and keeps them guessing.
  • Create unexpected twists and turns: Surprise your readers with unexpected plot twists, betrayals, or revelations. This injects excitement into your essay and keeps your readers engaged and invested.

By employing these techniques, you can create a gripping and suspenseful narrative that will captivate your readers from start to finish.

Mastering these writing techniques will undoubtedly elevate your creative essays, showcasing your skills as a storyteller. By using vivid imagery, creating engaging dialogue, and building suspense and tension, you can bring your ideas to life and leave a lasting impression on your readers.

Editing and Revising

Proofreading for Errors

One crucial step in the writing process is to carefully proofread your creative essay. This involves examining your work to identify and correct any grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that may detract from the quality of your piece. No matter how brilliant your ideas may be, such errors can make your writing appear unprofessional and distract your readers from fully engaging with your content.

When proofreading, it is essential to pay attention to details and review every sentence and paragraph. Start by checking for grammatical errors. Look for subject-verb agreement issues, inconsistent verb tenses, and incorrect word usage. Ensure that each sentence is structured correctly and contributes to the overall flow and meaning of your essay.

Spelling mistakes can also diminish the impact of your creative writing. Make sure to review your work for commonly misspelled words or typos. It can be helpful to use tools like grammar and spell-checkers to catch any errors that may have slipped through your own review.

Punctuation plays a vital role in conveying your ideas effectively. Take the time to examine your essay for correct punctuation usage. Ensure that you have used commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks appropriately. Proofread for consistency in your punctuation style and ensure that it aligns with the standard rules of English grammar.

Refining Your Language

Refining your language is another crucial aspect of editing your creative essay. By incorporating more sophisticated and clear language, you can enhance the overall quality of your writing.

First, consider the clarity of your ideas. Are your thoughts conveyed in a concise and understandable manner? Review your sentences and paragraphs to ensure they are clear and logical. Remove any unnecessary or confusing phrases that might hinder the flow of your writing. Aim for coherence and coherence and coherence coherence and coherence coherence coherence and coherence coherence and coherence.

Additionally, develop your vocabulary to add depth and nuance to your essay. Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for common words and expand your range of expression. However, be cautious not to overly rely on uncommon or technical terms if they disrupt the flow or comprehension of your writing. Strike a balance between using vivid and precise language and maintaining the overall accessibility of your essay.

Beyond clarity and vocabulary, consider the overall tone and style of your creative essay. Does it match the intended mood and atmosphere? Experiment with different sentence structures, figurative language, and descriptive techniques to create a unique and engaging piece. Make sure your writing reflects your creative vision and effectively communicates the emotions and ideas you want to convey.

Seeking Feedback

Feedback is invaluable when it comes to improving your creative essay. Seeking input from others can provide fresh perspectives and constructive criticism that can help enhance your writing.

Consider sharing your essay with trusted friends, peers, or instructors, and ask for their honest feedback. Be open to their suggestions and actively listen to their impressions. Keep in mind that feedback is subjective, so don\’t feel compelled to incorporate every single comment you receive. Instead, consider the different viewpoints and decide which changes align with your creative vision.

When seeking feedback, ask specific questions to guide the reviewers. For example, you might inquire about the clarity of your ideas, the effectiveness of your language, or the overall impact of your essay. By providing specific areas for evaluation, you can receive more targeted and helpful feedback to refine your work.

Incorporating feedback into your revision process is essential. Analyze the comments and suggestions you receive and implement the changes that align with your vision for the essay. However, be cautious not to lose your unique voice in the process. Strive to maintain the elements that make your creative essay distinct while incorporating improvements suggested by others.

By following these editing and revising techniques, you can polish your creative essay, ensuring it is free from errors, effectively conveys your ideas, and resonates with your readers. So, put your editing hat on and transform your writing into a masterpiece!

In this ultimate guide on writing creative essays, we have delved into the essential elements that will elevate your writing skills. By understanding the fundamentals and implementing various strategies, you can create exceptional and captivating essays that will hook your readers from the very beginning. So, let\’s recap the key points we have covered so far.

1. Understanding the Basics

The first step towards writing a creative essay is to understand the basics. This includes familiarizing yourself with the structure and components of an essay, such as the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Additionally, having a clear understanding of the essay prompt and identifying the main theme or message you want to convey is crucial.

Furthermore, it is essential to conduct thorough research on the topic to gather relevant information that will support your arguments and enhance the overall quality of your essay. This will enable you to provide accurate and well-informed ideas that engage your readers.

2. Developing a Compelling Narrative

A key aspect of writing a creative essay is the development of a compelling narrative. This involves creating a unique storyline or plot that will captivate your readers\’ attention and keep them engaged throughout the essay. You can achieve this by incorporating elements such as conflict, suspense, or unexpected twists and turns.

Furthermore, developing well-rounded and relatable characters is crucial in bringing your narrative to life. By giving your characters depth and complexity, you allow your readers to connect with them on a deeper level and become emotionally invested in the story.

Remember to use descriptive language and vivid imagery to enhance your narrative and create a sensory experience for your readers. This will enable them to visualize the setting and events of your essay, making it more memorable and impactful.

3. Refining your Language

In order to write a creative essay that stands out, you must pay attention to your language and writing style. Use figurative language, such as metaphors and similes, to add depth and richness to your writing. This will make your essay more engaging and allow you to express complex ideas in a creative and imaginative way.

Furthermore, vary your sentence structure and length to create rhythm and flow in your writing. This will prevent your essay from becoming monotonous and tedious to read. Experiment with different sentence types, such as simple, compound, and complex sentences, to add variety and express different ideas effectively.

4. Seeking Feedback

One of the most important steps in crafting a creative essay is seeking feedback from others. Share your essay with trusted individuals, such as teachers, peers, or writing groups, who can provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Be open to feedback and consider different perspectives. This will help you identify areas where your essay can be strengthened and refined. Revise and edit your essay based on the feedback you receive, ensuring that your ideas are clear, coherent, and effectively communicated.

5. Embracing Your Creativity

Lastly, embrace your creativity and let your imagination soar as you write your creative essay. Don\’t be afraid to take risks and think outside the box. Experiment with different ideas, perspectives, and writing techniques to create a truly unique and captivating piece of writing.

Remember that writing is a process, and it takes time and practice to develop your creative skills. Don\’t be discouraged by initial setbacks or challenges; instead, view them as opportunities for growth and improvement. With dedication and persistence, you can unleash your fullest potential as a creative writer.

In conclusion, this ultimate guide has provided you with the tools and strategies necessary to write exceptional creative essays. By understanding the basics, developing a compelling narrative, refining your language, seeking feedback, and embracing your creativity, you will be able to create essays that engage and captivate your readers. So, embark on this journey of creative writing, and let your imagination run wild.

Related posts:

  • When to Use Second-Person Point of View in Writing
  • When to Utilize Multiple Points of view in Writing and Creativity
  • Using Symbolism in Your Writing: When and How?
  • Crafting Captivating Travel Tales: A Guide to Engaging Travel Writing

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A Look Into Creative Writing | Oxford Summer Courses

Exploring the magic of creative writing with oxford summer courses.

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Defining Creative Writing

Creative writing , as taught at Oxford Summer Courses, is the process of crafting original and imaginative works of literature, poetry, prose, or scripts. It transcends conventional writing, encouraging individuals to explore language, structure, and narrative. Whether it's a heartfelt poem, a captivating short story, or a thought-provoking novel, creative writing allows us to communicate our unique perspectives and experiences with the world.

The Magic of Imagination

Creative Writing is a catalyst that sparks our creativity and empowers us to breathe life into our ideas on the page. With Oxford Summer Courses, aspiring writers aged 16-24 can embark on an extraordinary journey of creative expression and growth. Immerse yourself in the captivating realms of Oxford and Cambridge as you explore our inspiring creative writing programs. Teleport readers to distant lands, realms of fantasy and creation, introduce them to captivating characters, and craft new worlds through the transformative art of storytelling. Discover more about our creative writing course here . Unleash your imagination and unlock the writer within.

What Are the Different Types of Creative Writing?

Creative Writing comes in many forms, encompassing a range of genres and styles. There are lots of different types of Creative Writing, which can be categorised as fiction or non-fiction. Some of the most popular being:

  • Biographies
  • Fiction: novels, novellas, short stories, etc.
  • Poetry and Spoken word
  • Playwriting/Scriptwriting
  • Personal essays

At Oxford Summer Courses, students have the opportunity to delve into these various types of Creative Writing during the Summer School.

The Benefits of Creative Writing with Oxford Summer Courses

Engaging in Creative Writing with Oxford Summer Courses offers numerous benefits beyond self-expression. By joining our dedicated Creative Writing summer school programme, you would:

  • Foster self-discovery and gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts, emotions, and personal experiences.
  • Improve your communication skills, honing your ability to express yourself effectively and engage readers through refined language and storytelling abilities.
  • Enhance empathy by exploring diverse perspectives and stepping into the shoes of different characters, broadening your understanding of the world around you.
  • Gain new skills for further education or work, expanding your repertoire of writing techniques and abilities to enhance your academic or professional pursuits.
  • Nurture your creativity, encouraging you to think outside the box, embrace unconventional ideas, and challenge the status quo, fostering a life-long mindset of innovation and originality.

Embracing the Journey

To embark on a journey of creative writing, embrace curiosity, take risks, and surrender to the flow of imagination. Write regularly, read widely, embrace feedback from tutors and peers at Oxford Summer Courses. Begin to experiment with styles and genres, and stay persistent in your course of action. The path of creative writing requires dedication, practice, and an open mind. Join us as we provide tips to help you start your creative writing journey and unleash your full creative potential under the guidance of industry professionals.

Creative Writing is a remarkable voyage that invites us to unleash our imagination, share our stories, and inspire others. It offers countless personal and professional benefits, nurturing self-expression, empathy, and creativity. So, grab a pen, open your mind, and embark on this enchanting journey of creative writing with Oxford Summer Courses. Let your words paint a vivid tapestry that captivates hearts and minds under the guidance of experienced tutors from Oxford and Cambridge. Join us as we explore the magic of creative writing and discover the transformative power it holds within through the renowned Oxford Summer Courses summer school.

Ready to study Creative Writing? Apply now to Oxford Summer Courses and join a community of motivated learners from around the world. Apply here .

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Home › Study Tips › Creative Writing Resources For Secondary School Students

What Is Creative Writing? Is It Worth Studying?

  • Published October 31, 2022

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As loose as the definition of Creative Writing is, it’s not always easy to understand. Sure, writing a story is Creative Writing. What about poems or personal essays?

Also, how does Creative Writing even help one succeed in university and career life? We empower our Creative Writing summer school students to grasp the power of creative writing and how to use it.

How? By giving them access to personalised tutorials with expert Creative Writing tutors from prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and Cambridge.

Creative Writing doesn’t have to be confusing or intimidating. In this article, we’ll take you through a simple explanation of what Creative Writing is and why it’s helpful and relevant.

What is Creative Writing? 

The simplest description of Creative Writing is what it’s not: it doesn’t revolve around facts like technical writing.

Technical Writing vs Creative Writing

You encounter technical writing in your daily life. You’ll find it in newspapers, journal articles, and textbooks. Do you notice how the presentation of accurate information is necessary in each of these mediums? 

Because the goal of technical writing is to explain or relay information as it is .  

But in creative writing, such is not the case. The primary goal of Creative Writing is not to present complex information for the sake of educating the audience. 

Instead, the goal is to express yourself. Should you want to share information via Creative Writing, the objective becomes persuading your readers to think about it as you do.

Hence, if you contrast Technical Writing and Creative Writing within this context,

  • Technical Writing: share information without biases
  • Creative Writing: self-expression of how one feels or thinks about said information.

If reducing personal opinion in Technical Writing is virtuous, in creative writing, it is criminal .

Self-Expression in Creative Writing

One must express oneself in Creative Writing to entertain, captivate, or persuade readers. Since Creative Writing involves one’s imagination and self-expression, it’s common for Creative Writers to say that they “poured a part of themselves” into their work. 

What are the different ways you can express yourself in Creative Writing?

Types of Creative Writing: 2 Major Types

The two major umbrellas of Creative Writing are Creative Nonfiction and Creative Fiction.

1. Creative Nonfiction

“Nonfiction” means writing based on actual events, persons, and experiences. Some forms of creative nonfiction include:

  • Personal Essay – here, the writer shares their personal thoughts, beliefs, or experiences.
  • Memoir – captures the writer’s memories and experiences of a life-changing past event.
  • Narrative Nonfiction – a factual event written in a story format.

2. Creative Fiction

The bulk of Creative Writing literature is found under the Creative Fiction category, such as:

  • Short Story – shorter than a novel, containing only a few scenes and characters.
  • Novel – a full-blown plot line with multiple scenes, characters, and subplots.
  • Poem – uses specific rhythm and style to express ideas or feelings
  • Play – contains dialogue and stage directions for theatre performances.
  • Screenplay – script to be used for film production (e.g. movies, video games.)

In short, Creative Fiction involves stories . Do you want more specific examples of Creative Writing? Then, you may want to read this article called “Creative Writing Examples.”

Why Is It Important to Learn Creative Writing? 

It’s essential to learn Creative Writing because of the following reasons:

1. Creative Writing is a valuable skill in school and work

As a student, you know well why Creative Writing is important. You submit written work in various situations, such as writing essays for assignments and exams. Or when you have to write a Personal Statement to apply for University. 

In these situations, your chances of getting higher grades depend on your ability to write creatively. (Even your chances of getting accepted into a top ranked creative writing university of your dreams!)

What about when you graduate? Do you use Creative Writing in your career? Convincing a recruiter to hire you via cover letters is an example of creative writing.

Once you’re hired, you’ll find that you need to write something up. It depends on your line of work and how often and complex your writing should be.

But mundane tasks such as writing an email response, coming up with a newsletter, or making a PowerPoint presentation involve creative writing.

So when you’ve practised your Creative Writing skills, you’ll find these tasks manageable. Even enjoyable! If you want to study creative writing at university, we put together what a-levels you need for creative writing .

2. Creative Writing enhances several essential skills.

Do you know that writing is thinking? At least that’s what the American Historian and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, David McCullough said.

Many people find Creative Writing challenging because it requires a combination of the following skills:

  • Observation
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Reasoning skills
  • Communication

Many of these skills make you a valuable employee in many industries. In fact, Forbes reports that:

  • Critical Thinking
  • and Emotional Intelligence

are three of the Top 10 most in-demand skills for the next decade. That’s why Creative Writing is a valuable endeavour and if you take it at university there are some great creative writing degree career prospects .

3. Creative Writing Is Therapeutic 

Do you know that Creative Writing has a significant beneficial effect on your mental and emotional health? 

A 2021 study in the Counselling & Psychotherapy Research reports that Creative Writing brought significant health benefits to nine people who worked in creative industries. Writing helped them in their cognitive processing of emotional difficulty. 

Result? Improved mood and mental well-being. 

A plethora of studies over the decades found the same results. Expressing yourself via creative writing, especially by writing in your daily journal, is beneficial for your mental and emotional health. 

4. You may want to work in a Creative Writing-related Career

Creative employment in the UK grows 2x faster than the rest of the economy. In fact, did you know that jobs in the creative industry grew by 30.6% from 2011 to 2018? 

Compare that to the average UK growth of 10.1% during the same period, and you can see the potential. 

How about in the US? The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 4% increase in employment for authors and writers from 2021 to 2031. Resulting in about 15,200 job openings yearly over the next 10 years.

The median yearly salary? It was at $69,510 as of May 2021. 

So if you’re considering a Creative Writing career, now would be a great time to do so!

How To Be A Creative Writer? 

You want to be a Creative Writer but don’t know where to start. Don’t worry! The best way to start is to learn from Creative Writing experts .

That’s why we ensure our Creative Writing summer school students have access to 1:1 personalised tutorials with expert Creative Writing tutors. 

Our Creative Writing tutors come from world-renowned universities such as the University of Cambridge and Oxford. So you’re in excellent hands!

Here you’ll learn creative writing tips and techniques , such as character creation and plot mapping. But the best part is, you’ll come out of the course having experienced what a Creative Writer is like!

Because by then, you’ll have a Written Portfolio to show for your efforts. Which you presented to your tutor and peers for receiving constructive feedback.

Another surefire way to start becoming a Creative Writer is by practising. Check out this article called “ Creative Writing Exercises .” You’ll begin building a writing routine if you practice these exercises daily. 

And trust us, every great writer has a solid writing routine!

Creative Writing is a form of self-expression that allows you to use your imagination and creativity. It can be in the form of personal essays, short stories, or poems. It is often used as an outlet for emotions and experiences. Start with creative writing by reading through creative writing examples to help get you in the mood. Then, just let the words flow daily, and you’re on the road to becoming an excellent Creative Writer!

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How to Write a Creative Essay in no Time: Topics & Example

define creative essay

Suffering from writer's block? Avoid panicking or thinking you are not talented enough to create something unique promptly since EssayService is here to give you custom essay help . Believe it or not, a lot of us have engaged in creative essay writing in one way or another at some point in our lives. In this article, we will define what is creative essay, while also exploring fun, interactive ways that one may use to surpass the difficulties of picking up good creative paper topics. Alternatively, you can always buy essay samples directly on our website in case you need good creative essay examples.

What is a Creative Essay

Regarding trying to explain how to write a creative essay, it is best to define it to help us break down the concept. Such assignments will require the student to create an intriguing fictional scenario, which may be based on real events, designed to fit given criteria. Thus, simply put, one may say the secret to finding good creative essay titles can be found by letting our imagination run wild. As strange as it may seem at first to engage in such activities since academic papers are usually quite objective and factual, seeking to communicate concrete ideas or solid arguments clearly and concisely. However, as different and unrelated as the two may seem. First, it is important to realize that what they both have in common is a unique set of creative essay writing techniques capable of making the task much easier. Both factual and creative essays are meant to be read by experts in the field and the general population. Thus it is crucial to maintain their interest in the piece.

One thing to admire about the art of writing a creative essay is that it has survived the test of time as it has endured various schools of thought critiquing its existence. Thus, what experts from our writing paper service will be exploring in the article are the elements that have secured its survival and how you should apply them in college. Using these items accordingly will give you the best possible sources of inspiration. Now that we have a basic understanding of what this assignment requires, it is time to look at what kind of creative writing topics produce the best results.

what is creative essay

Popular Topics and Creative Paper Ideas

In case you have not been given any creative college essay prompts or have been looking for a starting point, here are some general ideas that could help guide you in the right direction.

popular topics

  • What if dinosaurs came back to life? What would we do as a response?
  • Walk us through what it felt like to fall in love for the first time . A more romantic approach to any creative college essay assignment.
  • Describe how you see the end of the world or explain why you think it is eternal?
  • Explore religious themes like the existence of God or Heaven and Hell. What makes you know these things are a certainty?
  • Create a scenario where a meteorite hit the earth , who knows what mysteries can be found near its remains.
  • Do you like detective stories? Maybe you should give it a try in a creative essay!
  • If World War 3 was to break out today whose side would you take and why? Is such a thing even reasonable after we have seen the result of two world wars already?
  • Let us say you just got back home, but everything has changed on the inside from the furniture to the bathroom. Looking through the house, you realize nobody is home. Nonetheless, your keys opened the door. What will happen next in our creative college essay?
  • What defines good and evil for us? More so who decides such a fact? Why is there such a controversy behind it?
  • Your body has been frozen for 100 years , but now the slumber has ended. What does the future look like 100 years from now? Would you try to find your family or explore the future thinking they are all gone?
  • If prose is not working out, why not try put your thought into rhymes? Poetry is a prevalent form of creative essay writing.

We hope these general ideas help shed some light on how one should begin exploring their creative essay writing ideas and turn them into fascinating topics for us all to enjoy reading. In the following sections, we will cover some effective tactics to use when tackling the assignment.

define creative essay

How To Combine the Art of Essay Writing and Storytelling?

We all have our unique gifts, however, if we find ourselves having writer's block or not knowing how to combine academic paper writing with the art of storytelling effectively then here's how it's done.

combine art

  • Explain to yourself the main idea of the creative college essay and the main character, whether the antagonist or protagonist. Does it all make sense and flow smoothly?
  • All academic assignments and creative essay topics must have an introduction and conclusion, they might be named or expressed differently, but the core idea does not change.
  • Character development and the conflicts between them serve as the main body of the piece and thus should have the same impact on the audience.
  • The creative essay topics use supporting characters the same way we use supporting arguments to help highlight a particular concept.
  • Make sure to connect all the creative paper ideas and components as you would the statistics in a business plan to show any existing correlations between the data in the discussion.
  • Another way to think about it is like a cause-and-effect essay that gets a little more imaginative than usual, filled with mythical characters and magical adventures.

Finding any means to make the assignment more relatable to oneself is the key to breaking it down into reachable goals. Nonetheless, keep in mind that it is vital to maintain the reader's interest throughout the paper. We hope some of these suggestions come in handy when tackling your creative college essay.

How To Tackle the Creative College Essay?

creative college

  • Identify your audience from the start.

Before one begins to set the tone in their creative college essay, it is vital to identify our audience as this helps narrow down the style that the piece should follow. Let us pause briefly and give it some consideration. To perform beyond expectation, we must find the means to keep the readers hooked and leave them wanting more. Thus, let us look at who our audience might be while putting our wits to the test with creative paper ideas.

In most cases, the audience will be our college/university lecturers or high school teachers, so there is not much to worry about. It is not an unknown fact that these professors often have to grade many creative writing essays, meaning they have a pretty good idea of what the result should look like. If they have set the prompts themselves, then even more so, they are anticipating a particular type of response. However, this is a chance to make your creative essay stand out from the rest. Keep in mind there is a very high possibility they might be slightly bored when they read your piece. Hence it is vital to capitalize on the opportunity. You know what they say, beat the iron while it's hot!

Lastly, a rather forgotten fact is the lecturers grading all these creative college essays are on a tight schedule, as grades need to be submitted by a particular date. With that in mind, professionals from different writing services like our write my essay service recommend revisiting your piece as often as possible before submitting it. That's because the examiners will likely not have the time or energy to go over poorly written passages and try to make sense of them all. One of the best ways to avoid this during the editing stage is by structuring the creative college essay sentences in a concise fashion that is easy to read and gets to the point without any hesitation.

  • Brainstorm potential creative essay topics or use the given prompts

Having a readily given prompt can be a great help in such a situation as one may develop their creative essay plot around it. Nonetheless, if you have to start writing from scratch, think of something that will most likely not be overused by everyone. It is often considered a good idea to bounce ideas off your classmates as it will help create something unique. If that does not give the desired result, try going into a quiet room and jotting down every creative idea you have. It might not sound like much, but it will generate a starting point that can later be defined and edited. Remember, these are just drafts.

  • Always record your thoughts

As previously mentioned, having a lot of variety is good in creative essay writing since it allows you to explore various possibilities for the story and its plot. Thus, even when having what seems to be an uninspired thought, write it down; it could come in handy later. Some of our greatest ideas often come at random moments, so be prepared when tackling such an assignment.

  • Grab the reader's attention using witty metaphors as well as interesting settings or locations

This is where things get tricky in our creative college essay assignment. It is not a mystery that we all like different things; it's why we can enjoy so many flavors of Ben n Jerry's ice cream. The same spectrum of variety should be included in our use of metaphors, allegories, and other literary elements to spice up our creative college essay. Some of the best places to take advantage of these are considered; for example, when trying to explain a rather complex meaning or comparison, one may use an analogy to convey the meaning better. Doing so helps the reader visualize the concept being explained, leading to the experience becoming more relatable and a tendency to become personally involved in the piece. In their creative college essays, some writers describe one of their characters as similar to a flowing river. When doing this, we can illustrate how obstacles throughout their journey might impede them, but just like the river, they will find a way to course right through it in time.

Effectively using these elements is just a part of hooking the reader. The next step is bringing the creative essay to life using fascinating settings and exotic locations bound to keep the audience interested. It is similar to seasoning a meal; it just doesn't taste the same without the perfect amount of added ingredients.

How To Structure A Creative Essay

College papers can have many structures, formats, and referencing styles in today's academic environment. However, if you have not been given a particular form to run with by the lecturer, then it is strongly advised to get acquainted with the three-act structure. What it does for our creative college essay is give it a basic skeleton to build our ideas. So without any further introduction, let's get into what this type of creative essay structure means.

For those who are not familiar with the three-act structure and what it entails regarding a creative college essay, do not worry since it is not extremely complicated if explained adequately. In essence, the role of such a format is to establish a plotline that will have all the necessary elements to produce the desired result from the audience. One can say they are similar to the acts of a play. However, in this case, the transition between scenes can be done differently according to the writer's vision.


The first stage of tackling creative essay ideas starts with creating a set-up. Here one should look to create a scene for the reader in which the main concept of the piece can be introduced without losing their interest. The best way to hook the audience is by having a compelling plotline and intriguing characters. Thus, the implications here for us when trying to develop the idea of our creative college essay are as follows:

  • Establish their background details.
  • Who are they?
  • Why are they relevant to us?
  • Are they related to each other? If so, then how?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is the determining factor in how we judge each character?

Our goal here is to use the opportunity to introduce the climax into the creative college essay story. Thus leading to a potential turning point which is always bound to occur in the plotline. Overall this section should have set the tone and the scene of the confrontation between the chosen characters.

The second stage of our creative essay's structure involves developing the previously mentioned battle into the center point of the piece. The main reason for doing so is that it creates a puzzle the main character or the protagonist must solve to achieve their goals. This usually occurs with numerous obstacles along the way trying to impede our hero's path due to the utter importance of the task at hand. A good creative essay example is always detective stories since they are filled with many trials and tribulations. For example, our private eye Desmond discovers something is wrong with a crime scene photo his partner has been describing as lacking in color. Who could have known that a shade of grey could hide so many things? Thus, by describing the situation in our creative college essay, we have not only involved the supporting characters in the main action but also showed Desmond, the protagonist, getting closer to figuring out the murder case.

And last but not least, being a favorite of many is the resolution of our story, where the action should reach its climax in a highly dramatic scene. This section looks to summarize and conclude the confrontation between the two rival characters in the creative college essay while subtly expressing your view on how it all transpired into the current events. Such an element is an opportunity to tie up any loose ends that might have been left unresolved throughout the story as they served the purpose of building up the climax. One may also choose to leave the conclusion open-ended as most due in the cases of sequel novels, films, books, articles, and even creative college essay topics.

What Other Types of Papers Involve Creative Writing

It is not a mystery that many academic assignments are often interlinked and can be quite similar. In the case of the creative essay, numerous types of papers borrow or share some of their elements, as was previously mentioned while we were exploring how to combine the art of storytelling with academic writing. So without any further adieu, here are some of the creative essay's family members:

The Narrative Essay

Such assignments are similar in the sense since they seek to tell a story that carries forth some form of a life lesson which can be expressed in the shape of an anecdotal tale. It is one of the closest cousins to the creative college essay as they both paint pictures with words at the highest level. The primary goal is to describe the plot and its progression while also enlightening the audience in one way or another.


The Admission Essay

It is important to note that the task does not get creative regarding the facts being presented such as where you attended high school, etc. but it does become relevant in the way one chooses to present himself to the examiner. Think about it, they have to read the same format and type of boring, lifeless applications over and over again. Help yours stand out by making it exciting to read through the use of the right metaphors and associations.

The Personal Essay

These types of papers are often quite hard to define since they are up to the individual to decide how they wish to express themselves. The piece is entirely focused on one's perception of self and the world, thus making it a free realm of artistic expression. Think of it as a very open-ended creative college essay

The Descriptive Essay

When tackling such a task the student is often asked to give an in-depth analysis of a particular object, event, individual, etc. Whatever the case may be examiners are looking to see a new angle on the issue, since all the controversy behind is what makes it so interesting. The assignment is designed to inspire creative essay writing through the use of descriptors and comparisons.


Creative Essay Example

In order to help you get ideas for your forthcoming creative writing essay, we supplied a sample of a short creative paper.

The next day, on a beautiful summer morning, Tyler and Paulo had been digging in grandma's back garden since she wanted to put up new chili peppers. Everything was going just fine, and they had made quick work of their task as soon it was time to go and play football in the park. Suddenly, Tyler hit something hard with the shovel and uncovered what was there. He yelled at Paulo to come over and give him a hand with the old rusty pipe that would mess up the crop. However, in minutes of them digging out what they thought was a pipe, an old dusty metal crested chest was uncovered from its hidden burial ground. Both paused for a second, wondering whether it would be a good idea to look inside. Tyler could not recall Nana ever mentioning anything special being back there. But without any hesitation, the boys made for the lock. Despite their initial curiosity, they halted when they saw something resembling an unnoticeable inscription due to the dirt this old chest had accumulated over the years. As they began reading what was written on the small golden engraved right next to the lock, the air slowly got colder and colder. 

Bonus: Printable Creative Writing Worksheet (PDF)


Color Version:

motivation person

Black & White Version:

character story

Get the Best Ideas From our Professional Essay Writers

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What is Creative Writing?

by Melissa Donovan | Dec 7, 2023 | Creative Writing | 20 comments

what is creative writing

What is creative writing?

Today’s post is an excerpt from the book  Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing . This is the entirety of the first chapter, “What is Creative Writing?” Enjoy!

Creative writing can be difficult to define.

Certainly, fiction and poetry are forms of creative writing, but what about journal writing, articles and essays, memoirs and biographies? What about textbooks and copywriting? Technical writing? Blog posts?

Where do we draw the line between what is creative writing and other types of writing?

Have you ever read the terms and conditions on a website? Ever browsed through an instruction manual? Surely, you’ve suffered through a boring textbook. While these types of writing might require some level of creativity, they are not usually considered creative writing.

It’s easy to glance at a poem and know that it’s a piece of creative writing, and it’s easy to flip through a legal document and know that it’s not.

So what is creative writing?

If a historical textbook is not creative writing, then wouldn’t that exclude other nonfiction works like memoirs and biographies from the creative writing category?

Not necessarily.

While nonfiction indicates that the writing is rooted in fact, it can be written with emphasis on language and craftsmanship and therefore creative. Creative nonfiction is a broad genre that includes memoirs and biographies, personal essays, travel and food writing, and literary journalism.

Ultimately, we each get to decide what is art and what is creative writing. Most of us will know creative writing when we experience it, either as a writer or as a reader.

In the big scheme of things, it may not be that important to go around labeling what is and isn’t creative writing, but it’s certainly worthy of a few brief moments of consideration. You can determine what creative writing is for yourself, but others might see things differently.

Do you differentiate between creative writing and other types of writing? Do you feel that copywriting (ads, commercials, etc.) can be classified as creative writing even though its purpose is strictly commercial? If most textbooks are not considered creative writing, does that mean a textbook can never be written creatively? Is writing creative because of how the writer approaches the project, or how the reader receives it?

What is creative writing to you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of  Ready, Set, Write.

Ready Set Write a Guide to Creative Writing



The act of creation, the literal source of the term creative, is an unbounded event that accepts a poorly whittled twig as company to the Mona Lisa. We have weakened that magnanimous gesture by listening to critics and marketers. That is the world, we are told, deal with it. Is it really?

The curse of the moniker “expert” is the finite limitations of experience. An expert can, truly, only judge a thing based on his personal experience. In many fields that is sufficient for a normalized event. You know a balanced perspective, what makes a pleasing composition, what pleases the ear, the pallet and the psyche. When something arises that does not fit the normal patterns, what then? Can you really use normal criteria to weigh it’s value? Experts do, of course, what choice do they have?

I have issue with kind and gracious critiques given so liberally to work the expert didn’t understand; but because the artist was renowned, and popular, it must be so. I read drivel, knowing it has been proclaimed a masterpiece, and laugh to myself. I study paintings that were little more than bovine scratching, and marvel at how highly prized it is, while brilliant groundbreaking work all around is ignored.

Creative writing – creative anything, is literally everything. Marketable work, is the term you are searching for. That has little to do with artistic merit, though some remarkable work does find it’s way to the light.

Melissa Donovan

Caliban, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe that a true expert will know when faced with work that is beyond their experience or expertise and will act accordingly. I know nothing about football, so if someone asked me to critique a football player’s performance on the field, I would politely decline.

Having said that, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some may hold more weight than others. For example, I care more about what a well-read person thinks of my work than someone who rarely or never reads any kind of literature. I too have read drivel that has been declared a masterpiece and it’s frustrating to me. It’s difficult to understand, for example, why a shoddy writer is putting out two novels a year and consistently appearing on the bestseller list and receiving rave reviews. Yet it happens all the time (and no, I’m not naming any names!).

You’re right, creative writing or creative anything is literally everything. However, that is subjective. Me? I don’t consider legal, medical, or scientific writing to be creative. I worked as a technical writer and there was nothing creative about it, although it did require considerable skill in terms of language and grammar.

Positively Present

Really great questions here. Creative writing is such a broad category that so many things can fall under it. I personally think that when I’m at work, writing work documents like memos, press releases, contracts, etc., I’m not being creative. When I’m writing on my blog, in my journal, or a story/novel, I’m using my creative writing skills. Now, if only I could get a job where I can use my creative writing all the time…. 😉

Wouldn’t it be exciting to make a full-time living with creative writing? Successful novelists and freelance writers are able to do that, as are screenwriters. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

J.D. Meier

Good stuff.

I think it’s words that make you think, feel, or act. It’s evocative. It’s clever in action. It’s looking at something a new way. I think the most evocative writing can win over the most evocative painting. Of course, it depends on whose eye the apple is in. It’s subjective and some of the most beautiful art is precisely divisive.

Ooh…evocative writing versus evocative painting. That would be quite a fight!


Interesting question! When somebody says “Creative writing,” I DO tend to think FICTION before anything else. Because that’s something that comes entirely from your own head. Whereas with non-fiction, you’re writing to a purpose or from a set of facts.

But the actual act of writing? Creative, either way.

Well, when it’s being done right. Because, of course, you can write a quick promotion on auto-pilot and have it be … fine. Routine. Run-of-the-mill. But the good ones? That give you that glow of satisfaction? Pure creativity, all the way!

I tend to immediately think fiction and poetry whenever people start talking about creative writing, but it turns out there’s a whole genre of nonfiction that is creative (and it has tons of sub-genres). For example, the memoir is quite popular right now. I guess it all has to do with how creative or literary your work is.

Danielle Ingram

Really interesting question, the differentiation between what is creative writing and what is not is extremely subjective.

In some ways I think that all writing is somewhat creative as it has emerged from the mind and the writer has had to think about what they are going to produce and how they are going to do it.

I can appreciate that novels and poems are more likely to be considered creative and perhaps even more worthy to be described as such.

I agree with you – we can bring creativity into just about anything we do (including any type of writing), but some forms of art require a little more creativity than others.

Clara Freeman

Anything that doesn’t make me ‘want’ to read it, is in my mind, non creative as in business manuals, contracts,academic materials, etc. But, written stuff that contains a story line, causes me to reflect, chuckle and ‘want’ to read more of the same would be the creative side of writing for me. Most times, I don’t think about the difference, I just naturally ‘feel’ it:)

Yes, it’s hard to think of the dry writing (business, manuals, contracts) as creative. I do believe there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Sarah L. Webb

I agree with everyone in terms of the question itself being worthy of contemplation. I think there’s a difference between noise and music, so I will say there is a distinction between creative writing and other types of writing, just as there is art and non-art.

To use the music analogy again, I think technical documents are like playing perfect scales. Kudos to those who have the skill to do that really well, but it’s not a creative act until someone rearranges those notes into something unique and pleasant.

Thanks for getting me thinking this evening. Give us more to contemplate.

Sarah, this is an excellent analogy. I wish I’d thought of it myself. Your examples of noise vs. music and technical documents being similar to playing scales are spot-on! Thanks so much for adding your ideas to this discussion.

Numanu Abubakar

Completely stunned and baffled! I am dangling in between the two worlds of what is and isn’t on creative writing arena. Does that mean any writing can be said creative and also not, depending how we passive the pieces of works we may come across?

I think it’s just a judgment call. Each of us gets to decide.

Richard Keith

I’m eighty-five years old and have only started writing in the past year or so. My writings have consisted of stories from my own life. My idea of creativity is to make those past experiences interesting. I’ve always been an avid reader of both fact and fiction. I relied heavily on self-help books while struggling with depression during my earlier years. Self-help books aren’t fiction, but I’ve found them to be creatively written.

Creative writing might also be described as, “making myself look pretty darn good” while telling tales of my past.

One of the great things about writing is that we can start it at any time in life. I have always found writing to be calming and therapeutic and a useful tool for self-expression. Thanks for sharing your experiences with writing, Richard.

Emmanuel O. Richard

Creative writing, literally focoses on the imaginative and true skillful arts of bring thoughts into words and actions. Thereby, imbues in readers the ability to critique on the applied skills levelled up by the writer in his or her works of art.

The purpose of creative writings varies. Some works are meant to entertain; others are meant to inform or inspire. While readers can certainly critique, that is actually not the common purpose from an author’s perspective. And most readers don’t get too deep into critiques. Most readers want to be entertained or learn something.

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  • 7 Techniques from Creative Writing You Can Use to Improve Your Essays

Image shows the Tin Man, Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.

You wouldn’t have thought that essays have much in common with creative writing.

You should also read…

  • How to Improve Your English Writing Skills
  • How to Write Dazzlingly Brilliant Essays

Creative writing, by definition, involves being ‘creative’: making things up, letting your imagination run wild. Essays are about being factual and objective, communicating ideas and arguments in the clearest way possible and attempting to enhance the reader’s knowledge, rather than their imagination. But while the literary devices and colourful tales we associate with creative writing are indeed out of place in an essay, these two very different kinds of writing actually have a few similarities. Above all, they’re both meant to be read by other people, and that means that they need to sustain the reader’s interest. So, are there any writing techniques you can borrow from creative writing to help make your essays more interesting and original? Yes there are, and in this article, we’re going to show you how. Before we start, if you’re interested in attending a summer school to help develop these skills , click the link.

1. Think about your reader

Image shows a stack of paper.

With creative writing, as with any kind of writing, your reader is your most important consideration. You need to know and understand whom you’re writing for if you’re to do a good job of keeping them interested. Let’s think for a moment about the kind of person you’re writing for when you’re writing an essay and what you need to do to write specifically for them:

  • Teachers or university lecturers – they’re going to be marking your essay, so it needs to answer the question effectively.
  • They’ve set the question and they probably have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to answer it – so be original and unpredictable; catch them by surprise with an unusual approach or structure.
  • They’re going to be reading many other responses to the same question – so they may well be bored by the time they get to yours. Keep them interested!
  • They’re probably going to be pressed for time – so they won’t have time to reread badly written passages to try to understand what you’re getting at. Keep your writing easy to read, succinct and to the point.

What all these points boil down to is the importance of keeping your reader interested in what you have to say. Since creative writing is all about holding the reader’s interest, there must be some lessons to be learned from it and techniques that can be applied within the more limited style constraints of the academic essay. We’ll now turn to what these are.

2. Three-act structure

Image shows Hamlet clutching a skull, with his father's ghost in the background.

The three-act structure is a writing device used extensively in modern writing, including for film and television dramas. These ‘acts’ aren’t as distinct as acts in a play, as one follows seamlessly on from another and the audience wouldn’t consciously realise that one act had ended and another began. The structure refers to a plotline that looks something like this:

  • Set-up – establishes the characters, how they relate to each other, and the world they inhabit. Within this first ‘act’, a dramatic occurrence called an ‘inciting incident’ takes place (typically around 19 minutes into a film) involving the principal character. They try to deal with it, but this results in another dramatic occurrence called a ‘turning point’. This sets the scene for the rest of the story.
  • Confrontation – the turning point in the previous ‘act’ becomes the central problem, which the main character attempts to resolve – usually with plenty of adversity thrown their way that hampers their efforts. In a murder mystery, for example, this act would involve the detective trying to solve the murder. The central character – with the help of supporting characters – undergoes a journey and develops their knowledge, skills or character to a sufficient degree to be able to overcome the problem.
  • Resolution – the climax of the story, in which the drama reaches a peak, the problem is overcome, and loose ends are tied up.

This structure sounds all very well for made-up stories, but what has it got to do with essay-writing? The key similarities here are:

  • The central argument of your essay is the equivalent of the main character.
  • The essay equivalent of the set-up and resolution are the introduction and conclusion.
  • The inciting incident in an essay encourages you to get to the point early on in the essay.
  • The equivalent of character development in the second act is developing your argument.
  • The equivalent of the supporting characters is the evidence you refer to in your essay.

So, applying the three-act structure to an essay gives you something like this:

  • Set-up – the introduction. This establishes what you’re talking about, setting the scene. The ‘inciting incident’ could be the introduction of evidence that contradicts a common theory, or the highlighting of a central disagreement in how something is interpreted.
  • Confrontation – you discuss the different problems surrounding the topic you’re writing about. You develop the argument using various bits of evidence, moving towards an overall conclusion.
  • Resolution – the conclusion. You summarise and resolve the argument with your own opinion, by coming down on one side or the other, having weighed up the evidence you’ve discussed. You could perhaps tie up loose ends by offering an alternative explanation for evidence that doesn’t sit with your conclusion.

Using this structure keeps you focused on the central point, and stops you from waffling, because everything you write is working towards resolving your argument. The use of the inciting incident in the first ‘act’ encourages you to get to the point early on in your essay, thereby keeping the reader interested. The principles of good plot-writing are centred around the connection between different events that show cause and effect, and this central tenet of the three-act structure has obvious parallels with the way in which essays work through presenting evidence in support of arguments.

3. An attention-grabbing opening

Image shows a painting of a group of people standing around the body of a murdered woman.

An oft-spouted piece of advice in creative writing is to use an attention-grabbing opening. One way of doing this is to start with a ‘flashback’, which could disrupt the chronology of events by transporting the reader directly back to the midst of the action, so that the story begins with maximum excitement. In a murder mystery, for instance, the writer might skip a slow build-up and instead use the murder itself to form the opening of the novel, with the rest of the story charting the efforts of the detective to uncover the perpetrator and perhaps telling the events prior to the murder in a series of flashbacks. The same principle can be applied to essays, though it’s easier to use in some subjects than others. To take an example, let’s say you were writing about how the First World War started. Rather than building up slowly with the various factors, an attention-grabbing opening could (briefly) describe the drama of the Battle of the Somme, perhaps citing some statistics about the number of men involved and killed, and quoting some war poetry about the horrors faced by the soldiers on the Front Line. Then, to introduce the purpose of the essay and launch into your argument about what started the war, a phrase such as, “It seems hard to imagine that all this began with…”. Alternatively, a rhetorical question: “But how did these tens of thousands of soldiers end up in the mud and horror of trench warfare? The story begins several years earlier, with…” It may not be the standard way of writing an essay, but you’ll certainly score points for originality and perhaps ruffle a few feathers.

4. Extended metaphors

Image shows Romeo and Juliet about to touch their palms together.

Creative writing often makes use of extended metaphors. For example, when Shakespeare wrote the passage in Romeo and Juliet referring to “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!” he was using an extended metaphor. With this in mind, it’s time to revisit a point we made in a previous article about writing more original essays , in which we argued that, rather than battling on with trying to explain a complex concept in a straightforward way, it might be easier to use an analogy to convey the meaning by drawing comparisons, which people find easier to understand. A metaphor is a kind of analogy, so the similarities with creative writing are strong here. In our previous article we used the example of radioactive decay. An analogy for this is the pressure with which water escapes from a hole in a bucket. It does so exponentially, just as radioactive substances decay exponentially. In both instances, the rate of a consumptive process depends on how much there is left of whatever is being depleted, which results in an exponential rate of decay. This concept is so much easier to explain using the analogy of water flowing from a hole in a bucket, as you give your reader something familiar to visualise in order to explain a concept with which they are unfamiliar.

5. Interesting details about setting and location

Image shows a statue of the Emperor Augustus.

Another way of keeping your reader interested is to bring your essay to life with details about setting and location, just as creative writers do. Essays can become quite dry if you focus solely on the academic problems, but you can make them more interesting by peppering them with details. This may not work quite so well for a scientific essay, but it’s certainly relevant for some humanities subjects, in particular English literature, history and archaeology. For example, an essay about the Roman emperor Augustus could mention that he lived a famously modest lifestyle, quoting details from Roman writers and archaeological evidence that support this: Suetonius mentions his “low bed” (interesting because of what it says about accepted standards of Roman beds!) and coarse bread and cheese diet, and the relatively small and non-lavish remains of his house on the Palatine Hill in Rome back up the idea of his having lived a modest life. Incidental details like these can actually prove to be more significant than you initially realise, and you can use them to build your argument; in the case of Augustus, for example, his modest lifestyle is particularly important when seen in the context of Rome’s troubled history with kings. As he gradually acquired more power and became Rome’s first emperor, he had to avoid coming across as being too ‘regal’, and the little details we know about his way of life are significant in light of this. So, not only have you brought your essay to life, but you’ve raised an interesting point, too.

Few writers get it right first time . Once you’ve written a first draft, read through it and think about whether the order of your points is optimal and whether what you’ve written actually makes sense. It’s easy in the age of computers to chop and change – you can simply copy and paste part of your essay into another part where it might fit better, and then make minor changes to your wording so that it flows. After you’ve finished editing, have a final read through and check that you’re happy with the wording. Don’t forget to proofread to ensure that your spelling and grammar is impeccable!

7. And finally… record your ideas

Image shows someone writing in a notebook.

Creative writers swear by having a notebook with them at all times, ready to jot down any ideas that suddenly spring to mind. You can adopt the same principle for your essay-writing, because you never know when the inspiration might strike. Have a think about your essay topic when you’re out and about; you’d be surprised what occurs to you when you’re away from your normal place of study. As you can see, there are more similarities between two apparently unrelated kinds of writing than you might have realised. It is, of course, possible to go too far with the creative writing idea when you’re essay-writing: literary devices aren’t always appropriate, and your essay still needs to retain objectivity and conform to the more formal conventions of academic writing. But there are certainly techniques to be borrowed from creative writing that will help your essays stand out from the crowd and give your teacher or lecturer a welcome break from the monotony of essay-marking.

See also our fabulous guide explaining more about ” What is Creative Writing ”.

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What is creative nonfiction? Despite its slightly enigmatic name, no literary genre has grown quite as quickly as creative nonfiction in recent decades. Literary nonfiction is now well-established as a powerful means of storytelling, and bookstores now reserve large amounts of space for nonfiction, when it often used to occupy a single bookshelf.

Like any literary genre, creative nonfiction has a long history; also like other genres, defining contemporary CNF for the modern writer can be nuanced. If you’re interested in writing true-to-life stories but you’re not sure where to begin, let’s start by dissecting the creative nonfiction genre and what it means to write a modern literary essay.

What Creative Nonfiction Is

Creative nonfiction employs the creative writing techniques of literature, such as poetry and fiction, to retell a true story.

How do we define creative nonfiction? What makes it “creative,” as opposed to just “factual writing”? These are great questions to ask when entering the genre, and they require answers which could become literary essays themselves.

In short, creative nonfiction (CNF) is a form of storytelling that employs the creative writing techniques of literature, such as poetry and fiction, to retell a true story. Creative nonfiction writers don’t just share pithy anecdotes, they use craft and technique to situate the reader into their own personal lives. Fictional elements, such as character development and narrative arcs, are employed to create a cohesive story, but so are poetic elements like conceit and juxtaposition.

The CNF genre is wildly experimental, and contemporary nonfiction writers are pushing the bounds of literature by finding new ways to tell their stories. While a CNF writer might retell a personal narrative, they might also focus their gaze on history, politics, or they might use creative writing elements to write an expository essay. There are very few limits to what creative nonfiction can be, which is what makes defining the genre so difficult—but writing it so exciting.

Different Forms of Creative Nonfiction

From the autobiographies of Mark Twain and Benvenuto Cellini, to the more experimental styles of modern writers like Karl Ove Knausgård, creative nonfiction has a long history and takes a wide variety of forms. Common iterations of the creative nonfiction genre include the following:

Also known as biography or autobiography, the memoir form is probably the most recognizable form of creative nonfiction. Memoirs are collections of memories, either surrounding a single narrative thread or multiple interrelated ideas. The memoir is usually published as a book or extended piece of fiction, and many memoirs take years to write and perfect. Memoirs often take on a similar writing style as the personal essay does, though it must be personable and interesting enough to encourage the reader through the entire book.

Personal Essay

Personal essays are stories about personal experiences told using literary techniques.

When someone hears the word “essay,” they instinctively think about those five paragraph book essays everyone wrote in high school. In creative nonfiction, the personal essay is much more vibrant and dynamic. Personal essays are stories about personal experiences, and while some personal essays can be standalone stories about a single event, many essays braid true stories with extended metaphors and other narratives.

Personal essays are often intimate, emotionally charged spaces. Consider the opening two paragraphs from Beth Ann Fennelly’s personal essay “ I Survived the Blizzard of ’79. ”

We didn’t question. Or complain. It wouldn’t have occurred to us, and it wouldn’t have helped. I was eight. Julie was ten.

We didn’t know yet that this blizzard would earn itself a moniker that would be silk-screened on T-shirts. We would own such a shirt, which extended its tenure in our house as a rag for polishing silver.

The word “essay” comes from the French “essayer,” which means “to try” or “attempt.” The personal essay is more than just an autobiographical narrative—it’s an attempt to tell your own history with literary techniques.

Lyric Essay

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, but is much more experimental in form.

The lyric essay contains similar subject matter as the personal essay, with one key distinction: lyric essays are much more experimental in form. Poetry and creative nonfiction merge in the lyric essay, challenging the conventional prose format of paragraphs and linear sentences.

The lyric essay stands out for its unique writing style and sentence structure. Consider these lines from “ Life Code ” by J. A. Knight:

The dream goes like this: blue room of water. God light from above. Child’s fist, foot, curve, face, the arc of an eye, the symmetry of circles… and then an opening of this body—which surprised her—a movement so clean and assured and then the push towards the light like a frog or a fish.

What we get is language driven by emotion, choosing an internal logic rather than a universally accepted one.

Lyric essays are amazing spaces to break barriers in language. For example, the lyricist might write a few paragraphs about their story, then examine a key emotion in the form of a villanelle or a ghazal . They might decide to write their entire essay in a string of couplets or a series of sonnets, then interrupt those stanzas with moments of insight or analysis. In the lyric essay, language dictates form. The successful lyricist lets the words arrange themselves in whatever format best tells the story, allowing for experimental new forms of storytelling.

Literary Journalism

Much more ambiguously defined is the idea of literary journalism. The idea is simple: report on real life events using literary conventions and styles. But how do you do this effectively, in a way that the audience pays attention and takes the story seriously?

You can best find examples of literary journalism in more “prestigious” news journals, such as The New Yorker , The Atlantic , Salon , and occasionally The New York Times . Think pieces about real world events, as well as expository journalism, might use braiding and extended metaphors to make readers feel more connected to the story. Other forms of nonfiction, such as the academic essay or more technical writing, might also fall under literary journalism, provided those pieces still use the elements of creative nonfiction.

Consider this recently published article from The Atlantic : The Uncanny Tale of Shimmel Zohar by Lawrence Weschler. It employs a style that’s breezy yet personable—including its opening line.

So I first heard about Shimmel Zohar from Gravity Goldberg—yeah, I know, but she insists it’s her real name (explaining that her father was a physicist)—who is the director of public programs and visitor experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Common Elements and Techniques

What separates a general news update from a well-written piece of literary journalism? What’s the difference between essay writing in high school and the personal essay? When nonfiction writers put out creative work, they are most successful when they utilize the following elements.

Just like fiction, nonfiction relies on effective narration. Telling the story with an effective plot, writing from a certain point of view, and using the narrative to flesh out the story’s big idea are all key craft elements. How you structure your story can have a huge impact on how the reader perceives the work, as well as the insights you draw from the story itself.

Consider the first lines of the story “ To the Miami University Payroll Lady ” by Frenci Nguyen:

You might not remember me, but I’m the dark-haired, Texas-born, Asian-American graduate student who visited the Payroll Office the other day to complete direct deposit and tax forms.

Because the story is written in second person, with the reader experiencing the story as the payroll lady, the story’s narration feels much more personal and important, forcing the reader to evaluate their own personal biases and beliefs.


Telling the story involves more than just simple plot elements, it also involves situating the reader in the key details. Setting the scene requires attention to all five senses, and interpersonal dialogue is much more effective when the narrator observes changes in vocal pitch, certain facial expressions, and movements in body language. Essentially, let the reader experience the tiny details – we access each other best through minutiae.

The story “ In Transit ” by Erica Plouffe Lazure is a perfect example of storytelling through observation. Every detail of this flash piece is carefully noted to tell a story without direct action, using observations about group behavior to find hope in a crisis. We get observation when the narrator notes the following:

Here at the St. Thomas airport in mid-March, we feel the urgency of the transition, the awareness of how we position our bodies, where we place our luggage, how we consider for the first time the numbers of people whose belongings are placed on the same steel table, the same conveyor belt, the same glowing radioactive scan, whose IDs are touched by the same gloved hand[.]

What’s especially powerful about this story is that it is written in a single sentence, allowing the reader to be just as overwhelmed by observation and context as the narrator is.

We’ve used this word a lot, but what is braiding? Braiding is a technique most often used in creative nonfiction where the writer intertwines multiple narratives, or “threads.” Not all essays use braiding, but the longer a story is, the more it benefits the writer to intertwine their story with an extended metaphor or another idea to draw insight from.

“ The Crush ” by Zsofia McMullin demonstrates braiding wonderfully. Some paragraphs are written in first person, while others are written in second person.

The following example from “The Crush” demonstrates braiding:

Your hair is still wet when you slip into the booth across from me and throw your wallet and glasses and phone on the table, and I marvel at how everything about you is streamlined, compact, organized. I am always overflowing — flesh and wants and a purse stuffed with snacks and toy soldiers and tissues.

The author threads these narratives together by having both people interact in a diner, yet the reader still perceives a distance between the two threads because of the separation of “I” and “you” pronouns. When these threads meet, briefly, we know they will never meet again.

Speaking of insight, creative nonfiction writers must draw novel conclusions from the stories they write. When the narrator pauses in the story to delve into their emotions, explain complex ideas, or draw strength and meaning from tough situations, they’re finding insight in the essay.

Often, creative writers experience insight as they write it, drawing conclusions they hadn’t yet considered as they tell their story, which makes creative nonfiction much more genuine and raw.

The story “ Me Llamo Theresa ” by Theresa Okokun does a fantastic job of finding insight. The story is about the history of our own names and the generations that stand before them, and as the writer explores her disconnect with her own name, she recognizes a similar disconnect in her mother, as well as the need to connect with her name because of her father.

The narrator offers insight when she remarks:

I began to experience a particular type of identity crisis that so many immigrants and children of immigrants go through — where we are called one name at school or at work, but another name at home, and in our hearts.

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: the 5 R’s

CNF pioneer Lee Gutkind developed a very system called the “5 R’s” of creative nonfiction writing. Together, the 5 R’s form a general framework for any creative writing project. They are:

  • Write about r eal life: Creative nonfiction tackles real people, events, and places—things that actually happened or are happening.
  • Conduct extensive r esearch: Learn as much as you can about your subject matter, to deepen and enrich your ability to relay the subject matter. (Are you writing about your tenth birthday? What were the newspaper headlines that day?)
  • (W) r ite a narrative: Use storytelling elements originally from fiction, such as Freytag’s Pyramid , to structure your CNF piece’s narrative as a story with literary impact rather than just a recounting.
  • Include personal r eflection: Share your unique voice and perspective on the narrative you are retelling.
  • Learn by r eading: The best way to learn to write creative nonfiction well is to read it being written well. Read as much CNF as you can, and observe closely how the author’s choices impact you as a reader.

You can read more about the 5 R’s in this helpful summary article .

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Give it a Try!

Whatever form you choose, whatever story you tell, and whatever techniques you write with, the more important aspect of creative nonfiction is this: be honest. That may seem redundant, but often, writers mistakenly create narratives that aren’t true, or they use details and symbols that didn’t exist in the story. Trust us – real life is best read when it’s honest, and readers can tell when details in the story feel fabricated or inflated. Write with honesty, and the right words will follow!

Ready to start writing your creative nonfiction piece? If you need extra guidance or want to write alongside our community, take a look at the upcoming nonfiction classes at Writers.com. Now, go and write the next bestselling memoir!

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Sean Glatch

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Thank you so much for including these samples from Hippocampus Magazine essays/contributors; it was so wonderful to see these pieces reflected on from the craft perspective! – Donna from Hippocampus

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Absolutely, Donna! I’m a longtime fan of Hippocampus and am always astounded by the writing you publish. We’re always happy to showcase stunning work 🙂

[…] Source: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-complete-guide-to-writing-creative-nonfiction#5-creative-nonfiction-writing-promptshttps://writers.com/what-is-creative-nonfiction […]

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So impressive

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Thank you. I’ve been researching a number of figures from the 1800’s and have come across a large number of ‘biographies’ of figures. These include quoted conversations which I knew to be figments of the author and yet some works are lauded as ‘histories’.

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excellent guidelines inspiring me to write CNF thank you

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What Is Creative Nonfiction?

By Lee Gutkind

I am often asked: “What is creative nonfiction?” Or, in some cases, “what the hell is creative nonfiction?”  The answer—or answers—can be complicated because creative nonfiction may mean different things to different people, a characteristic that makes this form so elusive and alluring.

On its very baseline creative nonfiction is a literary genre. Some people call it the fourth genre, along with poetry, fiction and drama. And it’s an umbrella term for the many different ways one can write what is called creative nonfiction. Memoir, for example, personal essay, biography, narrative history and long form narrative reportage may all fit under the creative nonfiction umbrella. Recently, as the genre has evolved, there have been offshoots to the genre like speculative nonfiction, auto(biographical) fiction, lyric essay, and the visual essay, to name only a few.

Writers who write creative nonfiction are very different in voice, orientation and purpose. But what they have in common is that they are, in one way or the other, writing true stories that provide information about a variety of subjects, enriched by relevant thoughtful ideas, personal insight, and intimacies about life and the world we live in.  And this scope and variety is exactly what makes creative nonfiction significant and, these days, so incredibly popular.

“Freedom” and “flexibility” are words I like to use when defining creative nonfiction, for the genre invites writers to push boundaries and open doors, offering them the opportunity to use all of the techniques of the fiction writer (or the poet)—dialogue, setting, description, inner point of view (seeing the world through the eyes of the person about whom they are writing)—in order to capture a reader’s attention and enlighten and intrigue them through nonfiction.

There are very few rules for writers of creative nonfiction. You can predict the future, speculate about the past, or imagine what could have happened or what someone might have been thinking, as long as you don’t violate the reader’s trust, and in the process your own credibility. There are, however, limits to the freedom and flexibility that make creative nonfiction so attractive and compelling—legal, ethical and moral issues that are challenging and, in many ways, impossible to clearly define. Freedom and flexibility—and daring—are governed by responsibility, not just to the people about whom we write, but to those who read and publish our work.

Nonfiction itself has had a bad rap in the literary world. For a long time, it was commonly believed that writing nonfiction was generally inferior to the writing of poetry and fiction. “Nonfiction is a pleasant way to walk,” Larry McMurtry once wrote, “but the novel puts one on horseback, and what cowboy, symbolic or real, would walk when he could ride?”

I remember reading this from McMurtry, who had written a great deal of nonfiction, in addition to his many novels and stories, and feeling more than a little annoyed and, at the same time, amused. He had to be joking, I thought. Or maybe he had just fallen off his horse. I pictured the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who became rich and famous for the line “I get no respect,” which in many ways has been the story of creative nonfiction in a nutshell-up until present day.

The addition of the word “creative” to nonfiction was at first controversial, but it gradually reversed the belief that nonfiction was somehow second class, a cut below poetry and fiction. It liberated all writers, journalists especially, releasing them from longstanding rules and boundaries that had been so restrictive and inhibiting.  For novelists, poets and essayists, “creative” encouraged experimentation and offered new avenues of expression. Scientists, physicians, engineers (Atul Gawande, Hope Jahren, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Henry Petroski, to name just a very few) were intrigued by the notion of being creative and began to write true stories that humanized and revealed the behind-the-scenes intimacies of their professions.  

The interest in true stories motivated and opened doors for others who were not writers by trade to share their life experiences, finding meaning in the process and fulfillment in the connections they forged with readers.

This transition—an awakening to the potential and power of nonfiction that allowed and encouraged creativity—did not happen overnight and was not without resistance and often bitter infighting. Change was difficult for the literary, journalistic and academic communities, steeped in tradition and long resistant to new ideas, to accommodate. Indeed, the resistance in some corners far exceeded the scale of the change itself.  The change was hardly drastic and was not really, when one looks back over the history of nonfiction, much of a change at all. Writers had been writing nonfiction that was creative and imaginative for centuries, familiar and famous names you will recognize–Daniel Defoe, George Orwell, Charles Dickens and many others—for centuries. The change, the adjustment that it precipitated, had much more to do with the approach or attitude toward nonfiction rather than its content and, of course, the idea that creative and nonfiction were not mutually exclusive. That change in approach and attitude is ongoing. The scope of nonfiction today, most especially what we call creative nonfiction, continues to evolve, informing and inspiring readers with stories that are true, compelling, revealing and always surprising.

“What is Creative Nonfiction” has been adapted from Lee Gutkind’s new book, The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble-Rousers, Outsiders and Ne’er-do-wells Created Creative Nonfiction,  to be published later this year by Yale University Press.

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About Lee Gutkind

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Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including  You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between ,  Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather,  and the award-winning , Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.


Lee's Latest Book

My Last Eight Thousand Days

This revealing, candid, and vivid portrait of one man’s view of aging written by the man who played a crucial role in establishing literary, narrative nonfiction in the marketplace and in the academy, examines male aging in a way we’ve not seen before.

Home — Essay Samples — Life — Writing Experience — Creative Writing: Definition, Types, Essence


Creative Writing: Definition, Types, Essence

  • Categories: Creativity Writing Experience

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Words: 993 |

Published: Mar 18, 2021

Words: 993 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

Table of contents

Creative writing essay outline, creative writing essay example, definition of creative writing.

  • Explanation of what creative writing encompasses
  • Distinction from other forms of writing

Types of Creative Writing

  • Various forms and examples of creative writing
  • Explanation of each type

The Essence of Creative Writing

  • Creative writing as a means to express subjective realities
  • The role of creativity in writing
  • The significance of creative writing in language learning and development

Definition Of Creative Writing

  • Free writing: This is the pinnacle of creative writing where anything goes, as the writer just starts writing on the notebook or electronic document without brainstorming, while strange pictures and creative words make their way into the page of the write-up.
  • Journals: This kind of writing refers to any written log created by the writer. Some writer creates a memory journal, gratitude journal , dream journal or goals journal while others could also have a multi-purpose journal that could be used for everything such as daily free write-ups, brainstorming and project planning.
  • Diaries: The writer writes about his/her daily life in this type of journal called dairy. It could be written in a letter format where you are addressing the dairy and the content as a person for instance, 'Dearest Diary'. Therefore it will be nice concept to start keeping a diary if you want to write to keep a memoir.
  • Letters: Writing of letters is a very vital skill due to the fact that the value of being able to communicate is about and more effectively is increasing. The writer is meant to take extraordinary care of those emails being sent to family, friends, and business associates as the case may be. Getting published even if the writer doesn't have enough clips and credits, is best achieved by writing letters to news publication editors.
  • Memoir: Experience is form of innovative writing that centers on specific experiences of personal life and has a personal account of the writer. For instance, the writer could choose to write a personal trip memoir.
  • Essays. This type of writing often has to do with academic writing, such as essays. Essays in this perspective, comprises of various types which includes persuasive essay, individual essay, descriptive essay which are all term creative.
  • Journalism: When it comes to journalism, there is distinction in creativity i.e. some are termed more creative than others. From the onset, journalism was a centered on objective reporting on existing facts, openings and people. However, in our recent times, in order to make the write-ups more compelling or convincing, journalist now add opinion and storytelling to their piece of writing.
  • Poetry: Despite the popularity poetry carries, yet it is not a kind of writing that is very much appreciated. It is actually the most artistic and creative kind of writing. The writer may choose to write a form poetry, free-form poetry or may even write a rhyming story.
  • Song lyrics: This is a combination of the craft of writing with music artistry. Writing lyrics is similar to writing poetry, therefore it is ideal for anyone who is able to play musical instruments in a pleasant rythm.
  • Scripts: The writer reaches out to non-reading audience by making way to the stage or screen through writing of movie scripts, including for television, video games or even theater. Moreover, this type of creative writing, is the task of the producer and director, but nevertheless, the writer could still communicate through the scripts.
  • Storytelling: Storytelling is often seen in the area of non-fiction and fiction writing as the most popular form of creative writing. Flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and full-length novels are all popular kinds of fiction. In essays, diaries, memoirs, speeches and more, is where true stories (usually firsthand or secondhand accounts) of real people and events are found. Both real and fictional forms of storytelling can be seen in poetry.
  • Speeches: In any career field, speech writing can open the writer to interesting carrier opportunities. It doesn't matter if it is persuasive, inspirational or even informative speech writing.
  • Vignettes: A vignette refers to brief description, account or episode as the case may be, that is quite evocative. This type of essays could be stories, poems, descriptions or even personal accounts. It is usually a quick and extremely short write-up.
  • Blogs: Blog is a kind of writing that has a publishing platform. It involves a piece of technology where the content is displayed on the web or electronic device. Any kind of writing can be published on the blog. The blog is where you can find essays and articles but also there are blogs you can find journals, poetry, and all manner of write-ups.

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  • Published: 11 May 2024

Exploration of the creative processes in animals, robots, and AI: who holds the authorship?

  • Cédric Sueur 1 , 2 , 3 ,
  • Jessica Lombard 4 ,
  • Olivier Capra 3 ,
  • Benjamin Beltzung 1 &
  • Marie Pelé   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2297-5522 3  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  11 , Article number:  611 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Picture a simple scenario: a worm, in its modest way, traces a trail of paint as it moves across a sheet of paper. Now shift your imagination to a more complex scene, where a chimpanzee paints on another sheet of paper. A simple question arises: Do you perceive an identical creative process in these two animals? Can both of these animals be designated as authors of their creation? If only one, which one? This paper delves into the complexities of authorship, consciousness, and agency, unpacking the nuanced distinctions between such scenarios and exploring the underlying principles that define creative authorship across different forms of life. It becomes evident that attributing authorship to an animal hinges on its intention to create, an aspect intertwined with its agency and awareness of the creative act. These concepts are far from straightforward, as they traverse the complex landscapes of animal ethics and law. But our exploration does not stop there. Now imagine a robot, endowed with artificial intelligence, producing music. This prompts us to question how we should evaluate and perceive such creations. Is the creative process of a machine fundamentally different from that of an animal or a human? As we venture further into this realm of human-made intelligence, we confront an array of ethical, philosophical, and legal quandaries. This paper provides a platform for a reflective discussion: ethologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and bioinformaticians converge in a multidisciplinary dialogue. Their insights provide valuable perspectives for establishing a foundation upon which to discuss the intricate concepts of authorship and appropriation concerning artistic works generated by non-human entities.

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In titling this article, we utilised the AI capabilities of ChatGPT, drawing upon our summary for guidance. This decision prompts a consideration of whether this AI ought to be acknowledged as one of the authors. Artistic authorship involves the recognition of an entity as the originator of a work that possesses aesthetic, cultural, or intellectual value. This concept is deeply rooted in philosophical debates about expression, identity, and the nature of art itself, while also engaging in legal discussions about copyright and ownership. The issues addressed in this context are poised to spark extensive debate in the future, bridging both artistic and scientific communities. This paper focuses on our research into the artistic output of non-human animals and machines, examining the extent to which their creations–ranging from pictures and paintings to music–are not acknowledged as their own work. Despite the evident capacity of these entities to produce what can be described as art, authorship is often not attributed to them. Instead, their creations are appropriated and monetised by humans, raising significant questions about the recognition of authorship and ownership in the context of non-human and artificial creators. For instance, in 2016, in Indonesia, a wild-crested macaque (later named Naruto) took a selfie with the camera of a professional photographer. This ‘selfie’ went viral worldwide and was quickly seen as a financial opportunity by the camera owner, who claimed the copyright. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed a lawsuit and initiated legal proceedings against the camera owner, seeking recognition of the sole monkey as the author of the photograph and demanding that copyright royalties be paid to Naruto if the image were to be used for commercial purposes. However, the legal vacuum surrounding non-human copyright and the fact that Naruto was not recognised as a legal person led the judge to reject PETA’s request (Guadamuz, 2016 ; Rosati, 2017 ).

This paper is the collaborative effort of a diverse team of researchers, including two ethologists, a neuroscientist, a philosopher, and a computer scientist. Our interdisciplinary approach is deliberate, reflecting our belief that the complex questions surrounding non-human authorship and rights in the context of animals, robots, and AI necessitate insights from multiple disciplines. Each author brings a unique perspective to the discussion, from the nuanced behaviours and cognitive abilities of animals to the ethical implications of emerging technologies and the philosophical underpinnings of creativity Footnote 1 and intelligence. Our collective expertise enables a comprehensive exploration of the subject matter, though it also means that our discussion flows through a wide range of arguments and disciplines. Recognising the importance of situatedness and positionality in scholarly work, we aim to locate our argumentation within the intersections of our respective fields, thereby providing a multifaceted view that enriches the debate on non-human entities’ potential for creativity and authorship. By clarifying our backgrounds and the intentional breadth of our perspectives, we hope to make explicit the relevance and intention behind our scholarly argumentation, ensuring our readers understand the foundation upon which our analysis is built.


Just as toolmaking, sense of humour, or mathematics have been considered uniquely human activities, art has long been regarded as a distinctly human endeavour. However, without claiming to be Picasso or Mozart, some animals exhibit graphic or musical behaviours that we might classify as artistic (Watanabe, 2012 ). In Oceania, male bowerbirds build intricate structures from branches to attract females and secure opportunities for mating (Diamond, 1986 ). Pebbles, seeds, or leaves, often coloured, are placed by the birds at the entrance of the bower to master its symmetry, aesthetics, and perspective. Birds even adhere to a gradation of these different elements, from larger to smaller or from darker to lighter, to refine their decor. Also, in an effort to court females, male pufferfish sculpt rosettes in the sand with their mouths (Kawase et al., 2013 ). These sandy structures are likened to the lines and geoglyphs of Nazca, located in southern Peru and associated with the pre-Inca Nazca culture (Mujica, 2000 ). Another example of complex graphic compositions in animals that we could appreciate as art is undoubtedly the structure of spider webs (Krink and Vollrath, 1997 ). On the musical side, it would be difficult not to mention the complexity of the songs of the animals around us. In many bird species, males use their most beautiful songs to attract females for reproduction. Others have mastered the art of imitation, such as the lyrebird (Menura sp.) (Dalziell and Magrath, 2012 ). Among primates, the communication of gibbons (Hylobates sp.) is entirely based on their vocalisations which even allow them to recognise each other individually (Terleph et al., 2015 ; Oyakawa et al., 2007 ; Geissmann, 2000 ). The same is true for cetaceans like whales and dolphins (Janik, 2014 ). The creation of these complex graphic or vocal compositions involves both elaborate learning processes and simple rules that enhance the desired effectiveness of the produced structure. Like with computational algorithms, natural selection and sexual selection have shaped the processes behind these animal creations, which sometimes emotionally touch us and move us. The creative aspect of these examples lies in the animals’ ability to produce and modify sounds in ways that serve both functional and expressive purposes. The complexity of the songs, the individual recognition through vocalisation, and their structured, evolving nature, all point to a process that involves learning, innovation, and even cultural transmission among these animals. Such behaviours mirror the human capacity for creating, involving not just the application of simple rules but also the expression of complex emotions, social connections, and cultural identities. This complexity and depth of animal vocalisations underscore their value as creative productions, inviting us to broaden our understanding of creativity beyond human artistic endeavours. Eventually, it is not uncommon for some of these animal productions to become sources of artistic inspiration for humans. The French Olivier Messiaen, for example, was one of the first contemporary music composers to incorporate bird songs into his works. Our focus on music and paintings stems from their prominence in both human and non-human artistic expression, as well as their significant development within machine and AI-generated art. These art forms are not only the most extensively studied in animal behaviour research but also represent the forefront of technological advancements in creative AI applications. By concentrating on music and paintings, we aim to explore the complexities of authorship in areas where the intersection of biological and technological creativity is most evident and advanced. This deliberate choice allows us to delve deeply into the implications of authorship across these two major domains of artistic expression, providing insights that are directly relevant to ongoing discussions in both animal studies and AI research.

The definition of art frequently hinges on the concept of the creator’s intentionality, such as the formation of a goal to be realised (Beardsley, 1970 ; Levinson, 1979 ; Bloom, 1996 ). A simple question then arises: do the above animal creations fall within the realm of art? Do these animal-creators become authors of their creations or even artists? The definition of art is often introduced by the notion of intentionality of its creator, e.g., the conception of a goal to be achieved. We can thus question the levels of intentionality and consciousness of action in these animals. This reflection can also extend to machines and artificial intelligences (AIs Footnote 2 ) (Mikalonytė and Kneer, 2022 ) whose creations, sometimes indistinguishable from human ones, now fetch several hundred thousand euros (Doherty, 2019 ). In 2005, a captive chimpanzee named Barney was observed playing percussion on a plastic barrel (Dufour et al., 2015 ). An in-depth analysis of the recorded sound demonstrated rhythmicity, decontextualisation, and control of the gesture by this chimpanzee (Dufour et al., 2015 ). Prior to Barney, the bonobo Kanzi, trained in sign language, had also been observed playing percussion rhythmically (Kugler and Savage-Rumbaugh, 2002 ). Unfortunately, observations of such behaviours are extremely rare, and data are lacking.

Simultaneously, other primates and great apes draw and paint when given the opportunity (Fig. 1A ; for a review among non-human primates, see Martinet and Pelé, 2021 ). Their creations, often compared to children’s scribbles (Fig. 1B ), are exhibited, sold, or printed on accessories (Applegate and Grupper, 2013 ; Matsuzawa, 2017 ) without questioning their authorship as given to artists (Fig. 1C ). Ownership of a scarf adorned with patterns by the female chimpanzee Ai, or a painting by the male chimpanzee Congo from the 1960s, introduces a dilemma regarding authorship. If a chimpanzee can be acknowledged as the creator of its work, the question extends to why a young child’s scribbles, a worm’s paint trail, or a machine’s programmed drawing (Fig. 1D ) should not receive similar recognition. This prompts a broader enquiry into how creation is defined across early, non-human, or even non-biological contexts. It also brings the concept of intelligence into the discussion, ranging from the cognitive capabilities necessary for the intention behind creation to those required for recognising a creation as such. From this concept of ‘creative’ intelligence, arise other ethical and legal concepts, notably at the origin of the question of legal personality. This paper will address these different notions in order to discuss authorship, considered as the act of characterising a full-fledged author and recognising them as such, and the appropriation of creation, whether it is auditory or graphic, created by an animal or a machine.

figure 1

This figure presents a diverse array of drawings originating from varied sources: A an adult chimpanzee, illustrating non-human animal creativity that challenges traditional notions of artistic authorship (drawing previously collected by Cédric Sueur in 2019 and extracted from Martinet et al. ( 2023 ) dataset, with the courtesy of Tetsuro Matsuzawa); B a 2-year-old human toddler, representing the nascent stages of human creativity and expression (drawing anonymously and previously collected by Marie Pelé in 2018 and extracted from Martinet et al. ( 2021 ) dataset); C an adult human professional artist (drawing anonymously and previously collected by Cédric Sueur in 2018 and extracted from Martinet et al. ( 2021 ) dataset); and D a visualisation generated by a simple random walk (Sueur, 2011 ) algorithm developed in NetLogo (Tissue and Wilensky, 2004 ), demonstrating how artificial intelligence can create patterns that mimic certain aspects of artistic creativity. Netlogo model available on Netlogo Community platform © Cédric Sueur.

Of the intention to create…

Picture an earthworm traversing a sheet of paper, trailing paint in its wake, contrasted with a chimpanzee applying paint to paper with a brush. This juxtaposition raises the issue of whether the creative processes of these two animals are comparable and if both can be deemed authors of their creations. Furthermore, it questions whether they should be regarded as equals in terms of authorship and what is behind this term. In the context of art and creativity, indexicality refers to the way in which a piece of art can act as a direct indicator or physical trace of its creator’s actions or intentions. This concept is deeply intertwined with intentionality, especially when considering the creative outputs of animals like chimpanzees and the products of artificial intelligence (AI). In animal drawings, for example, the indexicality of a chimpanzee’s artwork can be seen in the brush strokes, patterns, and choices of colour that directly relate to the animal’s physical movements and decision-making processes at the moment of creation (Martinet et al., 2021 , 2023 ). Similarly, in the realm of AI-generated art, indexicality manifests in the output of algorithms designed to create visual or auditory artworks. The ethics of virtue discussed by Aristotle or Kant (Betzler, 2008 ) focuses on the character and motivations of the individual, known as the agent, while consequentialism focuses on the consequences of the actions taken, without regard for the means employed and potential intentionality. Thus, virtue ethics allows us to consider art as the only intentional process, regardless of the final outcome. In contrast, consequentialism views art as a finished product, without considering the process of creation. Therefore, the intentionality of an animal artist or musician emerges as a key point in defining whether they are truly the author of their graphic production or musical composition. For some authors, intentionality even characterises art and the artist (Beardsley, 1970 ; Levinson, 1979 ; Bloom, 1996 ). For others, intentionality is defined by five elements: (i) a desire for a result, (ii) a belief about the action leading to that result, (iii) an intention to carry out the action, (iv) awareness of the accomplishment of the intention while executing the action, and (v) the ability to execute the action (Malle and Knobe, 1997 ).

In cognitive ethology, studies have shown that individuals of animal species such as pigeons, rats, or non-human primates are capable of anticipating their actions (Le Neindre et al., 2018 ). Individuals of most of these species are also aware of their decision-making and the consequences of these decisions. These degrees of action anticipation correspond to elements (i) and (ii) as defined by Malle and Knobe ( 1997 ), while the level of consciousness in these animals relates to elements (iii) and (iv) that define intentionality, again according to Malle and Knobe ( 1997 ). By applying these two capacities (anticipation and consciousness) to behaviours such as drawing, for example, consequentialism would qualify both the ape and the earthworm as authors of their drawings, while virtue ethics would consider the ape as the sole author, conscious of its actions. Consciousness is conceptualised as the awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings, a state that encompasses the ability to experience sensations, thoughts, and emotions. From a neuroscientific perspective, consciousness is associated with specific patterns of brain activity and connectivity that denote an awareness of internal and external states. Ethological studies further validate these concepts by demonstrating instances of self-awareness and environmental responsiveness in non-human animals, indicating levels of consciousness that challenge the boundaries traditionally reserved for humans. Philosophically, this definition is accepted as it resonates with discussions on the nature of mind, self, and agency, bridging empirical observations with theoretical inquiries into the essence of sentient life.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to determine whether these capacities are genuinely underlying animal drawing. Some researchers argue that animal drawings are induced by experimenters who invite them to draw or even encourage them to do so (see Tomasello and Call, 2004 for cognitive tasks in general). For example, in Thailand, Asian elephants ( Elephas maximus ) create shapes that closely resemble self-portraits or bouquets of flowers, but the conditioning and latent mistreatment behind such productions lead researchers to doubt the pachyderm’s understanding of its drawing (OneGreenPlanet, 2020 ). Moreover, in the wild, no spontaneous drawing behaviour has been reported to date in elephants or great apes. However, it is common for captive hominids to manipulate pencils and brushes on sheets of paper or even draw with their fingers on touchscreens (Martinet and Pelé, 2021 ). Thus, some chimpanzees maintain their graphic activity without any food reinforcement, indicating their interest in the action (Boysen et al., 1987 ). Beyond the sensation directly related to locomotor movement, visual feedback would also serve as reinforcement. Indeed, the drawing behaviour on a touchscreen decreases when the chimpanzee’s trace becomes invisible (Tanaka et al., 2003 ). The various studies on chimpanzees, therefore, support the argument that the act of drawing itself has a reinforcing property for these animals. While drawings are not spontaneous in chimpanzees, the simple act of drawing and the properties of the drawing modify the subjects’ future actions. However, if the earthworm leaves no trace behind, this absence of a trace will not impact its movements on the paper, unlike the hominid. Schiller ( 1951 ) went further and presented a young female chimpanzee named Alpha with blank sheets featuring geometric figures. She marked the sheets differently based on the stimuli presented, thus raising the question of intentionality behind these seemingly ‘simplistic’ ‘scribbles’ by animals. However, despite numerous studies on great apes, especially chimpanzees, no representative drawings have ever been observed, and researchers generally compare their productions to those of young human children (Martinet and Pelé, 2021 ). Using fractal mathematical indices to assess the representativeness of a drawing, Martinet et al. ( 2021 ) demonstrated that chimpanzee drawings, while not as proficient as those of children, are not random either. The most common way to determine if a drawing is representative or not is to ask its author about its meaning. The question was posed to another sign-language-proficient female chimpanzee, and her response was ‘bird’ (Gardner and Gardner, 1978 ). However, this response does not prove the presence of intentionality in this individual; it could have been a random response, influenced by experimenters, or the sign may have been misinterpreted. All of these elements suggest that some individuals of certain species, especially great apes, appear to interact with their production (graphic or auditory) in the sense that what is created influences what will be. The concept of agency (McFarland and Hediger, 2009 ; Blattner et al., 2020 ; Sueur et al., 2023 ) can thus be attributed to these animals from a psychological perspective, for example, as actors in the world affecting their environment. It can also be attributed to a philosophical and ethological perspective if we consider great apes as capable of recognising themselves as individuals and having a certain sense of morality if these capacities define the very essence of personhood. Legal personhood refers to the recognition by the legal system of an entity as a subject that can bear rights and duties. Traditionally reserved for human beings, the concept’s boundaries are being tested by advancements in AI and growing awareness of animal cognition and social complexity. This general definition of agency is accepted by biologists, psychologists as researchers in law and philosophers. In contemporary fields of art history, theory, and creative practices, the term ‘agency’ is employed to denote the capacity of individuals or entities to act autonomously and make independent choices within the creative process. Agency emphasises the role of the creator not just as a passive conduit for external influences but as an active participant with the power to shape the creative outcome. This perspective acknowledges the complexity of creative acts, recognising them as the result of deliberate choices, influences, and interactions between the creator’s intentions and the medium’s possibilities. A cross-disciplinary approach to agency enriches our understanding of art and creativity by challenging anthropocentric views and expanding the notion of who or what can be considered a creator. It encourages a re-evaluation of the criteria for authorship and creativity, pushing us to consider the ethical, philosophical, and practical implications of recognising agency in a broader spectrum of creative entities.

… to author recognition

Mylène Ferrand Lointier’s doctoral thesis ( 2022 ) in Arts ‘Le Tournant animal dans l’art contemporain (de 1960 à nos jours), approche écoféministe,’ [The Animal Turn in Contemporary Art (from 1960 to today), an Ecofeminist Approach] delves into the increasingly significant role of the animal question in contemporary discourse, driven by evolving anthro-zoological relationships. Highlighting a shift in the portrayal of animals in art from mere objects or symbols to subjects with intrinsic value, this research examines a diverse international corpus of artworks and artists deeply engaged with animal issues from the 1960s to the present: lEija-Liisa Ahtila, Julie Andreyev, Banksy, Joseph Beuys, Sue Coe, Minerva Cuevas, Terike Haapoja, Jonathan Horowitz, Joan Jonas, Jenny Kendler, EvaMarie Lindahl, Isabella & Tiziana Pers, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Rachel Rosenthal, Saeborg, Lin May Saeed, Sin Kabeza Productions, Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir & Mark Wilson, Diana Thater, and Robert Zhao Renhui. Through an ecofeminist lens, incorporating ethics of care and intersectionality, Ferrand explores an ecocritical territory intertwining art, emotion, animal ethics, and posthumanism. This thesis aims to chart a new eco- and zoo-poetic/political path towards an era termed the ‘Ecocene’, advocating for a revaluation of human–animal relations within art as with The Compassion Manifesto: An Ethics for Art + Design and Animals (Andreyev, 2016 ).

There is currently no research on the abilities of great apes to claim ownership of their creations, whether they are graphic or musical. Nevertheless, it becomes evident that consciousness and morality emerge as pivotal concepts in the realm of authorship. Morality is understood as a set of principles or guidelines that govern the behaviour of individuals within a social context, reflecting notions of right and wrong, justice, empathy, and welfare. Ethologically, the roots of moral behaviour are observed in the social interactions of non-human animals (e.g., great apes, elephants or even rats), where acts of altruism, cooperation, and fairness are not uncommon and serve to maintain social cohesion and mutual benefit (De Waal, 2016 ). Such behaviours suggest a biological underpinning for moral conduct, further supported by neuroscience, which identifies neural circuits and processes involved in empathetic responses, decision-making, and the evaluation of fairness and harm. Philosophically, these empirical findings are incorporated into broader discussions about the nature of morality as well as consciousness, their origin, and their applicability across different forms of life. By acknowledging the evidence of moral-like behaviours and consciousness in non-human animals, philosophy expands its enquiry into the moral agency, questioning the exclusivity of moral consideration and rights to humans and opening the door to a more inclusive understanding of moral subjects. These concepts enable individuals to achieve the status of a ‘person’, nothing more and nothing less, and subsequently, to acquire legal rights through their recognised personhood. Historically, this term ‘person’ has been exclusively applied to humans and is defined as ‘an intelligent, thinking being, capable of reason and reflection, who can recognise themselves as the same thinking entity across different times and places’ (Locke and Perry, 1975 ). Self-awareness and moral cognition thus play a significant role in the authorisation and appropriation of creative works, attributes currently ascribed solely to humans, who are deemed to possess ‘a soul and consciousness’ (Schrecker, 1938 ; Engels, 2009 ).

It is indeed in the field of metaphysics that are often grounded the basis for the attribution of rights for living beings, and more precisely in the question of the difference between humans and animals. Pivotal moments in philosophy engage in a significant debate regarding the anthropological question and the specific traits that distinguish humans from animals. A crucial argument for this discussion revolves around whether the differentiation is grounded in ontological terms, suggesting a fundamental disparity in nature or condition between humans and animals, or if it hinges on ontic qualities, indicating inherent, distinct characteristics between the two. Through the lens of an ontological distinction, numerous philosophers have constructed a recognised hierarchy within the spectrum of living beings, often based on universals (such as soul, conscience or reason). As an example, Aristotle considers that the human soul is the only one to demonstrate the dianoetic faculty, which means the ‘power of thinking’ (Aristotle, 1987 , Book II, Chapter I, 412a) or the ability to exercise and apply reason. Descartes, by qualifying human beings as the only ones that possess the cogitatio , discloses a theory where animals are constituted as mere biological machines (Descartes, 1637/ 1937 , p. 164), providing a landing mark for later theories on the mechanism and animal environment (Loeb, 1918 ). Malebranche ( 1997 , book VI, part 2, chapter vii) argues that ‘in animals, there is neither intelligence nor souls as ordinary meant’. And later, Marx ( 2022 /1845, MEGA I, 5, p. 10; CW 5, p. 31) elaborates that ‘men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like’.

By those few examples, we highlight that major authors in the philosophical tradition have influenced current interdisciplinary discussions on animal rights, and the ethical and political treatment of non-human entities. Ontological attributes such as consciousness, morality, reason, intelligence and self-recognition have traditionally been used as a way to distinguish human beings from animals. The anthropological distinction between humans and animals ensues the possibility to acknowledge ontic differences and to ground them in a metaphysical perspective, giving them an axiological weight that easily leads to a hierarchy of living beings. Even though we will not tackle this issue in our article, this metaphysical debate is still widely discussed today and of major importance. But one of its many consequences is noteworthy: it impacted our ability to ground animal agency over a robust ontological status, which led to the denial of several categories of rights for animals, including the right to be acknowledged as authors (since, by definition, authorship has been attributed to individuals and people).

Even if ontological hierarchies have often been used as the groundwork on which are based distinct rights for human beings and animals, several contemporary debates explore the possibility that the possession of specific ontic, cognitive, or emotional attributes might entail the entitlement to certain rights, regardless of the inherent nature, status or condition of the subject. In short, the question of animal rights could be distinguished from the ontological question of the essence of animality, and more empirical ethological, bio-semiotical or zoological studies could lead to a better understanding of animal cognition, sociality and behaviour, leading to the establishment of grounded animal rights. From then on, numerous researchers, including Charles Darwin, who ascribed consciousness to individuals within social species, have probed the presence of intellect, self-awareness or autonomy in animals. Donald Griffin ( 2013 ) proposes that it is through the realms of communication, encompassing dialogues and negotiations, that we should investigate intentional behaviours and processes governed by consciousness. Research on great apes capable of using sign language or symbols has shown that they can speak about others and themselves as distinct and autonomous entities. Autobiographical self-awareness (Le Neindre et al., 2018 ) has also been found in many animal species (primates, cetaceans, birds) through the mirror test, demonstrating that subjects can identify and recognise themselves in it (Gallup et al., 2002 ). Likewise, metacognition, the ability by which an individual acquires knowledge of their own mental processes, or their ability to evaluate the state of what they know, has been verified in several animal species through tests assessing certainty or confidence (Le Neindre et al., 2018 ). Additionally, some social animals also display theory of mind, i.e., the capacity to impute a mental self to conspecifics or to understand what they are looking at, what they intend to do, or even to know their beliefs (Tomasello and Call, 1997 ). Finally, observations of chimpanzees and elephants, as well as experiments with rats, have shown that these animals possess a certain degree of empathy and morality (De Waal, 2006 ). From these new findings, the qualification of ‘person’ could be attributed to animals capable of self-recognition and demonstrating morality. By assigning legal personality, they could be granted ownership of their creations and recognised as genuine authors.

Legal personality

Therefore, some rights could be attributed to animals who possess capacities or qualities similar to those of human beings, beyond the ontological question of their essence, nature or condition. As highlighted by the example of marginal cases by Peter Singer and discussed by DeGrazia ( 1990 ), several categories of individuals—such as infants, adults with severe mental disabilities, or those in a coma—do not possess the cognitive, locomotor, or emotional faculties usually attributed to an ideal type of human being. Nevertheless, these individuals do have legal personality. According to Peter Singer, if these individuals have legal personality, it could also be attributed to animals who have equal or sometimes more developed capabilities than these individuals. The young child or disabled adult who scribbles or drums has rights and will be recognised as the author of the drawing or sound they produce, regardless of the levels of intentionality and consciousness they put in their creation (in the process and towards its finality). By considering the complex philosophical question of the nature of the subject as a separate discussion from the legal rules that apply to them, animals could be granted legal personality based on certain faculties they possess, allowing them to hold rights and duties. This question entails difficult debates, and several actions that aim to grant rights to animals have already been initiated by animal protection associations. In particular, in the United States of America, the Non-Human Rights Project led by Steven Wise (Wise, 2010 ) relies on the legal concept of Habeas corpus, which states the fundamental freedom not to be imprisoned without trial, and aims to free several wild animals that are held captive despite possessing enough cognitive abilities to be aware of their deplorable living conditions.

As shown with the macaque Naruto (Guadamuz, 2016 ; Rosati, 2017 ), recognising animals with consciousness as legal persons appears to be a prerequisite for them to be truly and fully recognised as authors of their creations. In 2019, the Toulon Declaration reiterated the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness ( 2012 ), stating that most animals with neurological substrates of consciousness should have legal personality (Regad and Riot, 2019 ). The theory of animal rights is increasingly discussed and formalised, allowing animals, depending on their species, agency, and interactions with humans, to have recognised rights (Donaldson and Kymlicka, 2011 ). The authorisation of animal artistic creations fits seamlessly into this theory.

What about artificial intelligence (AI)?

When highlighting the argument of authorship for non-human beings, an important discussion arises from the question of non-living or non-organic beings, such as machines, robots and AI. The philosophical considerations surrounding the attribution of rights to animals and machines or AI overlap in significant ways. By examining these questions in parallel, we gain insights into the principles that currently guide our interactions with non-human entities, whether biological or artificial. It helps us to reconsider our relationship with non-human entities and to reassess the values and norms that underpin our social and legal systems.

As such, our demonstration will mostly focus on the question regarding AI. Indeed, a proposition would be to consider that there could be a major distinction for authorship between machines themselves because the embodiment of a robot Footnote 3 would have a huge impact on its perceived authorship compared to a non-embodied AI system. As such, a robot would be perceived as more susceptible to have rights than a non-embodied AI. In this case, embodiment itself would have a significant impact on whether or not something possesses rights and whether or not people believe that those rights are acceptable Footnote 4 . However, this thought experiment would be confronted with the fact that, currently, authorship is not attributed depending on their embodiment to living beings such as animals (which are by definition embodied). When determining authorship, embodiment appears to matter less than the legal personality we usually ascribe a being, and their status—be it human, animal, or machine, but also depending on if it is an adult or a child, or the degree of agency we ascribe to the animal in question. Therefore, we chose to mostly focus this line of questioning on IA algorithms that could or could not be embodied.

In 2018, an AI-created painting was auctioned for $432,500, signed with a mathematical formula, developed by the Obvious research collective (Doherty, 2019 ; Vernier et al., 2020a , 2020b ). This event raises the question of whether artificial intelligence could be acknowledged as the creator of its works and entitled to copyright rights. Additionally, platforms like Playform by Artrendex Inc. offer algorithms that replicate the style of renowned painters on any image. This situation poses a dilemma regarding the true authorship of the resulting artwork: Is it the AI (Davies, 2011 ; Abbott, 2016 ; Christie, 2018 ), the developers of the algorithm, or the original artists whose styles were emulated (Bridy, 2012 ; Hristov, 2016 ; McCormack et al., 2019 ), or another entity? The methodologies and debates surrounding animal intelligence and authorship could similarly be extended to the realm of artificial intelligence (Nguyen, 2019 ). In the case of the Obvious creation, the produced algorithm is not intelligent in the sense described above. It should be noted that the model used to create this painting was trained on existing paintings, which can be likened to the learning process present in humans. Capable of producing a specific act, this model is not, however, able to solve any problem, has no intentional acts, and is not self-aware. However, more complex robots capable of recognising themselves in a mirror could well be self-aware (Hart and Scassellati, 2012 ; Schneider et al., 2014 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ). New fields of research are thus created and developed to better understand the behaviour of machines and their emerging capabilities (Rahwan et al., 2019 ; Dorigo et al., 2020 ). Specific tests such as the Turing Test (Copeland, 2000 ) exist to precisely determine the capabilities of machines, especially in relation to artistic creation (Bishop and Boden, 2010 ). However, these tests are often criticised. On the one hand, because many humans do not pass them, and on the other hand, because they are conceptualised by humans with all the anthropomorphic biases that this presupposes (Sueur and Pelé, 2017 ; Sueur et al., 2020 ). However, even if some do not wish to recognise machines as artists, it is important to note the difficulty for a human to distinguish computer-generated creations from human creations (Mikalonytė and Kneer, 2022 ).

Consequently, the question of authorship and AI plays a key role in better understanding the issues of authorship and agency themselves. As regarding animals, this very specific issue depends on many factors such as the nature of the agents involved (weak AI or strong AI Footnote 5 ), the degree of intentionality of the creation (intentional or accidental), and the content or nature of the graphical creation itself (abstract or representational) (Mikalonytė and Kneer, 2022 ). However, as the attribution of agency and personhood are a crucial issue both for AI and animals, the question of authorship for machines often ends with a much clearer conclusion than that of animal authorship. Indeed, as a machine is created by humans, it is usually considered devoid of all rights in favour of its creator or user. For instance, the authorship of an AI-generated artwork is commonly attributed to the human artist behind the machine (when there is no copyrights issues…), whereas it is much more complicated to consider that the human who gave a pencil to an animal is the author of the resulting canvas. Therefore, by considering through an experiment of thought that authorship for a machine or AI is a real issue, and as it may indeed soon become a crucial one, we may better uncover what is usually the basis for authorship in a broader sense.

Photons be free

To tackle this complicated issue, we decided to incorporate and decipher a science fictional case study in our analysis. It serves as a valuable methodological tool allowing us to explore the potential futures shaped by current technological advancements and ethical considerations. Science fiction, often regarded as a form of speculative methodology, enables us to envision the societal, legal, and ethical implications of technology before they fully manifest in reality. This approach is particularly relevant when discussing the rights and authorship of non-human entities, as it provides a narrative framework to examine complex issues that might not yet be fully realised or understood within our current legal and ethical systems. To further ground our use of sci-fi examples, we draw upon the concept of technological imaginaries (Sartori and Bocca, 2023 ; Jasanoff and Kim, 2015 ), which is extensively used to describe modern societies in which technology plays a key role in shaping both our understanding of them and our way to envision their evolution. This critical theoretical framework investigates how collective visions of technological futures influence current technological development and societal norms. Technological imaginaries help us understand how our expectations, fears, and hopes for technology shape the way we interact with and conceptualise emerging technologies. By examining these imaginaries, we aim to unpack the cultural and social underpinnings of our assumptions about non-human authorship and the rights of artificial entities, offering insights that are accessible to readers from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds. In the scope of this article, engaging with fictional narratives urges us to envision new possibilities and challenge conventional thinking about the role of machines in creative processes and intellectual endeavours, and the evolving concept of authorship in the digital age.

In this context, a specific example issued from science fiction helps us better understand this evolving aspect of our technological imaginaries and the various dimensions of authorisation that can apply to artificial or non-human entities. The episode ‘Author, Author’ ( 2001 , Season 7, Episode 20) of the series Star Trek: Voyager questions the situation of the Doctor, a hologram (with a strong AI 5 ) that has exceeded its initial programming’s limits over the years, and developed behavioural and emotional characteristics usually seen only in living beings. The Doctor is confronted with the controversial question of his own copyright when he writes a holoprogram and sells the rights to a publishing house. The editor published it without his consent while he still had major modifications to make. The stakes that this episode highlights mirror the famous debate about the rights of the android Data in the well-known episode ‘Measure of a Man’ (1989, Season 2, Episode 9) of Star Trek: The Next Generation . In both episodes, the question aims to determine to what extent Data and the Doctor are individuals because a certain number of rights will depend on their identity, status, and the legal personality that will be granted to them. If Data is not a person, then he is the property of Starfleet, much like any toaster or computer. If the Doctor is not a person, then he cannot be considered an artist and has as many rights over his holoprogram as a coffee machine has over the coffee it produces.

For the Doctor, as Data before, this debate unfolds in the legal framework of a trial whose decision will be a legal action: ‘A Federation Arbitrator has been assigned to determine whether the Doctor has the right to control his artistic creation.’ (‘Author, Author’, 00:32:13). The first session aims to outline the scope of the debate and raises the question of the Doctor’s personhood, rather than his rights as an artist. Indeed, Starfleet defines an artist as ‘a person who creates an original artistic work.’ (‘Author, Author’, 00:34:36). While the Doctor has indeed created an original artistic work, he is not considered a full person and, therefore, cannot claim authorship of his work of art.

This episode delves into a crucial aspect of our discussion: the notion that an individual must belong to a specific category to access certain rights, such as those allowing humans exclusively to be recognised as authors or artists. It proposes an alternative perspective where rights could be allocated with respect to the subject’s category, enabling entities–whether human, non-human, animal, or artificial–to be acknowledged as authors or artists. This perspective raises the possibility of recognising an animal or an AI as an artist without necessarily classifying them as persons. However, it also suggests that affirming an entity’s status as an artist might require expanding the definition of personhood. Legal decisions and efforts to establish precedents are currently addressing these considerations, bringing theoretical debates into the realm of practical applications. Last year, the United States Copyright Office (USPTO) reversed its decision to grant copyright protection to a comic book whose images were generated by AI (Ostrow and Dengel, 2022 ). The fundamental element in this latter case is that the USPTO’s revocation is based on the ‘Human Authorship Requirement’, Footnote 6 which means the necessity for the author of a work to be … a human being. Here, we find thirty years later the stake that was raised by Star Trek about the relevance of encompassing authorship in a category: be it a strictly human definition for the USPTO’s Human Authorship Requirement or, more broadly, the status of personhood or individual, in Star Trek series.

By trying to avoid the strict question of copyright and to focus on the legal personality of the Doctor, the episode ‘Author, Author’ explicitly reminds us that the question still exists today for other individuals within the human species. For example, the tendency to invisibilize female authors in artistic fields is still a contemporary issue (Rollet, 2007 ; Nochlin, 1971 / 2021 ), which questions the way we structure our understanding of creation by highlighting mechanisms that delegitimise certain individuals based on their gender or origin. This example illustrates the painstaking evolution of authorisation norms even within the human species. In this regard, the question of the right to be called an ‘author’ still arises from identity premises (the subject’s status—male or female, human or non-human, etc.) rather than from the artistic production itself. If an animal cannot be an artist, it is not because it has not created a work of art, but because it is not considered as an operating subject. And it is not the work of the non-human artificial entity that is judged, but the AI’s status within humanity, as demonstrated by the USPTO, when it first recognised the artistic value of an AI work before retracting its decision.

In the series episode ‘Author, Author’, as it is the question of personhood that is at stake through the issue of authorisation, the trial’s witnesses emphasise the importance of the Doctor’s experiences, by highlighting his ability to evolve beyond his programming, to think for himself, and even, to disobey orders. However, when he returns with his decision, the Arbitrator instructs a judgement similar to the one that granted the android Data free will in ‘Measure of a Man’, but without changing his status. The Arbitrator is not willing to declare the Doctor a ‘person’ per se. However, the legal definition of the term ‘artist’ can and will be expanded to include his creations. Therefore, the Doctor holds the copyright on his artwork and can intervene in the distribution of his holoprogram. This conclusion underlines that the status of an artist is generally deemed more flexible than the definition of personhood; and that expanding the sphere of authorship and its associated rights raises fewer challenges than to extend the concept of personhood. As such, it is easier to imagine that the USPTO could remove the Human Authorship Requirement to include non-human individuals like AI or animals in copyright protection, rather than to extend the human status to animals or AI. In other words, the legal personality is more flexible and plastic than the natural personality, understood as the nature or condition of the subject (human, non-human).

That being said, Star Trek highlights the important point that the definition of what constitutes a person itself has continued to evolve. The episode presents the important issue that conceding certain rights to certain entities (such as copyright and artistic authorship to an AI or an animal) implies, in fact, an evolution of their natural status. Moreover, these legal changes could lead to changes in ethical frameworks. In essence, granting copyright to the Doctor, then other rights to other holograms, and so on, brings closer to a legal decision in which a hologram’s personhood could no longer be questioned. To consider that personhood alone grants access to certain rights may imply that gaining these rights is the first step towards the modification of a non-human entity’s status. Star Trek offers us the following alternative: perhaps the access to certain rights should not depend on the subject’s status. Perhaps human imaginaries must reconcile with emerging realities, driven by the evolution of our technological landscapes, and acknowledge the necessity of granting rights and protections to non-human entities. In fact, it is no coincidence that the Doctor’s holoprogram, duly entitled ‘Photons Be Free’, revolves around the struggle for equality of hologram populations.

What about digital tools in musical creations?

Science fiction is often considered as a literature of ideas that allows for thought experiments in hypothetical or speculative scenarios that may not yet have real-world manifestations, but will or could have important implications for our societies. Consequently, it is now of major importance to apply the questioning that arose from this example to a more grounded debate regarding AI-generated artworks and the use of machines and algorithms in artistic practices.

Nowadays, with technological advancements and the rise of digital equipment, the issue of authorship is increasingly relevant in live performances, particularly in music (see seminal works of Reeves et al., 2005 ; Berthaut, 2015 ; Capra et al., 2020 ). The intense experience of creation ‘in the making’ can be disrupted by the presence of machines if the audience begins to believe that the machines, rather than the artists, are producing the artistic work. Unless the contributions are shared? For the artists themselves, there may be a challenge in distinguishing what is produced by their exclusive actions from what is produced by the accompanying machines (Rimoldi and Manzolli, 2016 ). Here, the question is no longer about determining whether the artist is an author or not, but to what extent, and from which perspective, that of the author or the audience.

In music, the sophistication and apparent autonomy of digital instruments raise questions that are nearly absent in the case of analogue instruments such as the violin or drums. When a machine is capable of playing autonomously—whether in a rudimentary manner, as with an MP3 player, or more adaptively, through generative algorithms and artificial intelligence–the role of the artist-author in music production no longer appears as evident, at least not exclusively. From a cognitive perspective, this dilution of the artist’s contribution due to digital assistance is partly explained by the close connection between movement and perception (Rizzolatti et al., 1996 ; Jeannerod, 2001 ). In traditional music performances where instruments have almost no autonomy, the perception of the link between the musicians’ gestures and the produced sounds is clear (these are referred to as ‘transparent instruments’ Fels et al., 2002 ). The brain’s constant simulation of perceived gestures to predict their consequences is the basis for integrating this link (Zatorre et al., 2007 ; Salimpour et al., 2015 ). From this simulation emerges the sense of understanding what is happening, perceiving what the artist controls, their intention, and virtuosity, all of which are components of authorship.

In electronic music, a single gesture can generate a multitude of different sounds depending on machine settings. AI and digital technology blur the traditional link between a musician’s actions and the resulting sounds, raising questions about authorship. The causal link between gesture and sound can thus disappear, leading to a loss of interest for the audience and doubt regarding the artist’s involvement (Schloss, 2003 ; Stuart, 2003; Huron, 2008 ). Indeed, the audience may struggle to attribute authorship due to the obscured causal relationship between gesture and sound. As AI plays a significant role in generating music, it necessitates re-evaluating how we define and recognise the creative contributions of human artists and the extent to which AI systems can be considered co-creators in the artistic process.

Towards shared authorship: from human–machine interaction to human–animal–machine collaboration?

Recent studies (Capra et al., 2020 ) have shown that the audience’s sense of understanding a digital music interaction leads them to consider the artist as more contributory than the machine in performances with digital instruments or computers. These findings not only emphasise the crucial role of the sense of understanding in the judgement of authorship but also highlight the gradual nature of this judgement. Furthermore, the ‘evidence’ of a machine’s involvement in the artistic process is not always obvious; computers can be hidden backstage, and artists can pretend to play live while everything is pre-recorded. One might have images of musicians with their hands in the air, clapping while the music continues, or, conversely, focused on their instruments without it is possible to see what they are doing or even distinguish which sound they are working on. This perceptual deficiency and its consequences on the audience’s experience have led the Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) community to propose new evaluation criteria for digital devices (Berthaut et al., 2013 ; Berthaut et al., 2015 ; Bin 2018 ; see an extended review in Capra, 2020 ), including the Association (Capra et al., 2020 ), which designates the capacity of a device to expose to the audience the respective contributions of artists and machines in electronic performances. This human–machine collaboration in artistic creation can also occur in other disciplines, such as cinema, again in various and graduated forms. In the film Attack the Sun by Gwendal Sartre and Fabien Zocco ( 2019 ), the dialogues are generated by processing content from social networks and communicated to the actors by an artificial intelligence. The artists remain in control of the overall framework and many production elements, but by letting an AI drive something as structurally significant as the dialogues, are we witnessing a strictly human production or a human–machine collaboration with a shared degree of authorship?

Thus, authorship in digital creation can be refined with more gradual notions of the level of control by the artist and the varying degree of their contribution to artistic production compared to that of machines. Additionally, as we have seen, authorship can be understood here from a dual perspective: that of the artist and their agency, and that attributed to them by the audience, referred to as attributed agency (Berthaut, 2015 ; Capra, 2020 ). This dual consideration highlights technology not only as a medium for creation but also for its mediation to make digital interactions perceptible and to reveal them (Berthaut et al., 2013 ), thus allowing authors to assert their desired level of authorship.

Delving deeper into the realm of human–animal–machine collaboration, we explore an innovative paradigm of authorship that transcends traditional species boundaries. This interdisciplinary nexus is exemplified by initiatives such as the Interspecies Internet (Dolgin, 2019 ; Jones, 2019 ) and the use of environmental sensing technologies (Gabrys and Pritchard, 2018 ), which are pioneering the way for a new form of artistic expression and communication across species and technologies. This blending of human creativity, animal behaviour, and technological intervention serves as a powerful testament to the potential of collective intelligence and creativity (Bonnet et al., 2019 ; Wang et al., 2023 ). It suggests that authorship can extend beyond the confines of human endeavour, encompassing the contributions of non-human participants whose interactions with technology provide a unique perspective to transcend creativity. The exchange of learning and behaviours between humans and animals (Sueur and Huffman, 2024 ), becomes a fundamental element of this co-creative process. This mutual adaptation and shared understanding facilitate a form of artistic creation that is truly collaborative, allowing for the emergence of novel expressions.

The outcomes of such partnerships—be it in the form of music that incorporates animal sounds interpreted through AI algorithms, or visual art that visualises the migratory patterns of birds captured via satellite technology, shapes of ants or termite colonies to co-create sculptures—enrich our artistic vocabulary.

In a mesmerising fusion of human movement and natural spectacle, choreographer Sadeck Berrabah’s Murmuration Footnote 7 stands as a profound example of interspecies inspiration in contemporary art. Drawing from the breathtaking phenomenon of murmuration—where thousands of birds, typically starlings, move in unison through the sky, creating fluid, dynamic shapes–Sadeck Berrabah captures the essence of this natural wonder through human bodies in motion. This performance blurs the lines between human and animal realms, redefining artistic authorship as a shared, interspecies endeavour.

Björk, through her innovative use of technology and nature in music, exemplifies shared authorship by integrating animal sounds and digital manipulation, blurring the lines between human, non-human, and technological creativity. Her project Biophilia Footnote 8 showcases this symbiosis, treating natural sounds not merely as inspirations but as co-creators, challenging traditional notions of creative agency. Björk’s approach, where machines serve as bridges between human creativity and the natural world, contributes to redefining authorship as a collective effort that transcends species boundaries. This perspective enriches discussions on the creative participation of non-human entities, urging a broader recognition of diverse contributions within the creative process.

Chris Jordan, Oliver Beer and Richard Mankin each uniquely engage with the natural world through their art, exploring the interplay between human activity, wildlife, and the environment. Jordan’s digital photography, especially in Midway: Message from the Gyre Footnote 9 , reveals the dire effects of plastic pollution on seabirds, offering a stark visual commentary on environmental degradation. Beer merges art with ecology, using animal sounds in installations to examine space’s acoustic qualities, connecting architectural and natural harmonies. Mankin, blending entomology with artistry, transforms insect acoustics into music, highlighting their ecological significance and challenging our perceptions of natural soundscapes. Together, these artists contribute to a broader dialogue on environmental awareness and interspecies relationships through innovative artistic practices.

In conclusion

We acknowledge the complexity inherent in discussing authorship across a spectrum of entities, ranging from animals to various forms of technology such as machines, robots, computers, and artificial intelligence (AI). We recognise that each of these entities possesses distinct levels of consciousness, intentionality, and embodiment, which significantly impact their perceived and potential authorship. To clarify, our argument is rooted in the notion that authorship should not be considered a binary attribute but rather as existing on a continuum that reflects the degree of consciousness and intentionality of the creator, whether animal or artificial. This approach allows us to critically examine the prevailing norms of personhood and human-centric authorship, while also addressing the significant impact of embodiment on the perception of authorship. Specifically, the physical presence or absence of a robot, as opposed to the disembodied nature of an AI system, influences how authorship is ascribed and perceived. We have to embrace a nuanced understanding of these differences and propose a framework for degrees of authorship, based on the capacities of both biological and technological entities. This stance not only enriches the dialogue around the intersection of ethics, law, and technology but also ensures that our discussion remains relevant and adaptable to the evolving landscape of intelligent and creative beings.

The concepts related to authorship and ownership of creation are those that define a person: a conscious entity with rights. The scientific approach to applying copyright involves various steps to assess the intentionality of an act and its awareness of it. Therefore, machines cannot currently be recognised as authors of their creations. However, if one considers that an artist is less of an author when accompanied by a machine whose contribution to the work is evident, or even superior, this illustrates the gradual nature of authorship. From the artist’s perspective, in a context where they are both the public performer and the programmer of the software used to create, they have a legitimate claim to authorship to a higher degree than if they were using prebuilt algorithms. This is a higher level of authorship than that perceived by a novice audience incapable of distinguishing the artist-computer scientist’s contribution from the presence of machines. It results in a subjective notion, nonetheless linked to objective technical knowledge of the attributed agency. In the context of collaboration between human artists and machines, and from the perspective of spectators, the notion of authorship would not necessarily imply the existence of consciousness.

However, this conclusion appears different regarding conscious animals. In the case of great apes, even though only captive individuals seem to enjoy drawing, this enculturation (Tomasello and Call, 2004 ) should not prevent us from recognising their authorship and ownership of their creations, since a similar learning process is observed in humans. Drawing or playing an instrument is a skill that develops through observation and learning in Homo sapiens , similar to other hominids, including young children who undergo a lengthy process to acquire these abilities. Mozart’s composition of musical works at the age of six illustrates that age or species does not constrain creativity. Some primatologists recognise the primates they study as co-authors in their research, publications, or productions, acknowledging their contributions (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 2007 ; Applegate and Grupper, 2013 ; Matsuzawa, 2017 ). However, granting authorship to animals raises concerns about potentially undermining their agency (McFarland and Hediger, 2009 ; Blattner et al., 2020 ). Similarly, this article’s title, derived from the AI of ChatGPT, prompts a reflection on its authorship status. These considerations are likely to spark extensive debate within both the artistic and scientific communities in the future.

Furthermore, our exploration into the realms of authorship and creativity among non-human entities prompts a consideration of the concepts of transhumanism and transanimalism, especially in relation to the use of assisted technologies and robotics within contemporary art (Burgat, 2015 ; Delfin, 2019 ; Grundmann, 2007 ; Someşan, 2022 ; Vita‐More, 2013 ). Transhumanist and metahumanist (Sorgner and Deretic, 2015 ) movements that advocate for the evolution of the human condition through advanced technologies, offer compelling lenses through which to view the integration of AI and robotics in artistic creation. These movements question the plasticity of the human condition and envision political and practical possibilities where the boundaries between human and machine, organic and artificial, are increasingly blurred, suggesting a new paradigm of creativity that is collaborative, hybrid, and expansive in its potential. Additionally, the concept of transanimalism (Cayol et al., 2024 )—extending transhumanist ideas to include non-human animals in the technological enhancement narrative—further enriches this discourse. It invites us to reimagine the creative capacities of animals when augmented by technology, thus opening up new avenues for artistic expression that transcend traditional species boundaries. By integrating these considerations into our discussion, we acknowledge the evolving landscape of contemporary art, where assisted technologies not only redefine the parameters of human creativity but also challenge us to envisage a future where diverse forms of intelligence, both human and non-human, contribute to the tapestry of artistic expression in unprecedented ways.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analysed during the current study.

From an ethological perspective, creativity may be observed in animal behaviour that solves new problems or adapts in novel ways. In AI research, creativity is often demonstrated through the ability to produce work that is indistinguishable from or surpasses human-created art, challenging our understanding of creativity’s origins and manifestations. Philosophically, creativity involves the exploration of the bounds of imagination and the capacity for conceptual expansion, inviting a re-evaluation of creative agency across different forms of consciousness.

Just as there are multiple forms and instances of intelligence across different animal species, with varied structures and supports for intelligence, the same reasoning can apply to AI. The term ‘artificial intelligences’ acknowledges the diversity and multiplicity of AI systems, frameworks, and applications. Each AI system can be designed with unique capabilities, purposes, and underlying algorithms, thus representing distinct ‘intelligences’ in the artificial realm. This pluralisation can emphasise the variety and specificity of AI entities, recognising their individual characteristics and contributions to the broader landscape of technology and society.

A robot is typically defined as a machine that is capable of carrying out complex actions automatically, especially when programmed to do so by a computer. Not all robots necessarily incorporate AI technologies and some robots may operate based on pre-programmed instructions or simple rule-based systems without the need for sophisticated AI algorithms. But many robots can be considered embodiments of AI because they incorporate AI algorithms to interact with the physical world through sensors and actuators, process sensory information and make decisions about how to act in their environment.

The question regarding agency and IA embodiment itself is an important discussion that is notably addressed by phenomenology and cognitive phenomenology (Buongiorno, 2023 ; Corti, 2022 ; Turner, 2020 ).

Strong AI, also known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), refers to a type of artificial intelligence that has the ability to understand, learn, and apply its intelligence to solve any problem, similarly to how a human would. It possesses the capacity for conscious thought, understanding, judgement and self-awareness, allowing it to perform tasks requiring human-like cognitive abilities and to adapt to new situations without human intervention. Strong AI aims to replicate the multifaceted intelligence of human beings but is still a theoretical object that only exists in cultural items such as movies or video games, with famous characters such as Data ( Star Trek: The Next Generation ). Weak AI, also known as Narrow AI, is designed and trained for a specific task as or a simple computer, an articulated robot or a machine. Unlike Strong AI, it operates under a limited pre-defined range or context and does not possess consciousness or self-awareness. Weak AI is focused on executing specific applications such as voice recognition, image analysis, or executing specific functions within a software environment. Examples include virtual assistants, chatbots, and recommendation systems. While it can exhibit some level of learning and adaptation within its narrow domain, it does not have the capability to generalise its intelligence to the broad spectrum of tasks that a human or Strong AI can perform.

The U.S. Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being." (U.S. Copyright, 2021 , Compendium (Third) § 306) This regulation was renewed in March 2023 in the legal text Copyright Registration Guidance: Works Containing Material Generated by Artificial Intelligence (U.S. Copyright, 2023 , Copyright Registration Guidance).

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What is climate change mitigation and why is it urgent?

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What is climate change mitigation and why is it urgent?

  • Climate change mitigation involves actions to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
  • Mitigation efforts include transitioning to renewable energy sources, enhancing energy efficiency, adopting regenerative agricultural practices and protecting and restoring forests and critical ecosystems.
  • Effective mitigation requires a whole-of-society approach and structural transformations to reduce emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • International cooperation, for example through the Paris Agreement, is crucial in guiding and achieving global and national mitigation goals.
  • Mitigation efforts face challenges such as the world's deep-rooted dependency on fossil fuels, the increased demand for new mineral resources and the difficulties in revamping our food systems.
  • These challenges also offer opportunities to improve resilience and contribute to sustainable development.

What is climate change mitigation?

Climate change mitigation refers to any action taken by governments, businesses or people to reduce or prevent greenhouse gases, or to enhance carbon sinks that remove them from the atmosphere. These gases trap heat from the sun in our planet’s atmosphere, keeping it warm. 

Since the industrial era began, human activities have led to the release of dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, causing global warming and climate change. However, despite unequivocal research about the impact of our activities on the planet’s climate and growing awareness of the severe danger climate change poses to our societies, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising. If we can slow down the rise in greenhouse gases, we can slow down the pace of climate change and avoid its worst consequences.

Reducing greenhouse gases can be achieved by:

  • Shifting away from fossil fuels : Fossil fuels are the biggest source of greenhouse gases, so transitioning to modern renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal power, and advancing sustainable modes of transportation, is crucial.
  • Improving energy efficiency : Using less energy overall – in buildings, industries, public and private spaces, energy generation and transmission, and transportation – helps reduce emissions. This can be achieved by using thermal comfort standards, better insulation and energy efficient appliances, and by improving building design, energy transmission systems and vehicles.
  • Changing agricultural practices : Certain farming methods release high amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, which are potent greenhouse gases. Regenerative agricultural practices – including enhancing soil health, reducing livestock-related emissions, direct seeding techniques and using cover crops – support mitigation, improve resilience and decrease the cost burden on farmers.
  • The sustainable management and conservation of forests : Forests act as carbon sinks , absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing the overall concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Measures to reduce deforestation and forest degradation are key for climate mitigation and generate multiple additional benefits such as biodiversity conservation and improved water cycles.
  • Restoring and conserving critical ecosystems : In addition to forests, ecosystems such as wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands, as well as coastal biomes such as mangrove forests, also contribute significantly to carbon sequestration, while supporting biodiversity and enhancing climate resilience.
  • Creating a supportive environment : Investments, policies and regulations that encourage emission reductions, such as incentives, carbon pricing and limits on emissions from key sectors are crucial to driving climate change mitigation.

Photo: Stephane Bellerose/UNDP Mauritius

Photo: Stephane Bellerose/UNDP Mauritius

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Photo: La Incre and Lizeth Jurado/PROAmazonia

What is the 1.5°C goal and why do we need to stick to it?

In 2015, 196 Parties to the UN Climate Convention in Paris adopted the Paris Agreement , a landmark international treaty, aimed at curbing global warming and addressing the effects of climate change. Its core ambition is to cap the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2°C above levels observed prior to the industrial era, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The 1.5°C goal is extremely important, especially for vulnerable communities already experiencing severe climate change impacts. Limiting warming below 1.5°C will translate into less extreme weather events and sea level rise, less stress on food production and water access, less biodiversity and ecosystem loss, and a lower chance of irreversible climate consequences.

To limit global warming to the critical threshold of 1.5°C, it is imperative for the world to undertake significant mitigation action. This requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent before 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century.

What are the policy instruments that countries can use to drive mitigation?

Everyone has a role to play in climate change mitigation, from individuals adopting sustainable habits and advocating for change to governments implementing regulations, providing incentives and facilitating investments. The private sector, particularly those businesses and companies responsible for causing high emissions, should take a leading role in innovating, funding and driving climate change mitigation solutions. 

International collaboration and technology transfer is also crucial given the global nature and size of the challenge. As the main platform for international cooperation on climate action, the Paris Agreement has set forth a series of responsibilities and policy tools for its signatories. One of the primary instruments for achieving the goals of the treaty is Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) . These are the national climate pledges that each Party is required to develop and update every five years. NDCs articulate how each country will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhance climate resilience.   While NDCs include short- to medium-term targets, long-term low emission development strategies (LT-LEDS) are policy tools under the Paris Agreement through which countries must show how they plan to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century. These strategies define a long-term vision that gives coherence and direction to shorter-term national climate targets.

Photo: Mucyo Serge/UNDP Rwanda

Photo: Mucyo Serge/UNDP Rwanda

Photo: William Seal/UNDP Sudan

Photo: William Seal/UNDP Sudan

At the same time, the call for climate change mitigation has evolved into a call for reparative action, where high-income countries are urged to rectify past and ongoing contributions to the climate crisis. This approach reflects the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which advocates for climate justice, recognizing the unequal historical responsibility for the climate crisis, emphasizing that wealthier countries, having profited from high-emission activities, bear a greater obligation to lead in mitigating these impacts. This includes not only reducing their own emissions, but also supporting vulnerable countries in their transition to low-emission development pathways.

Another critical aspect is ensuring a just transition for workers and communities that depend on the fossil fuel industry and its many connected industries. This process must prioritize social equity and create alternative employment opportunities as part of the shift towards renewable energy and more sustainable practices.

For emerging economies, innovation and advancements in technology have now demonstrated that robust economic growth can be achieved with clean, sustainable energy sources. By integrating renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and geothermal power into their growth strategies, these economies can reduce their emissions, enhance energy security and create new economic opportunities and jobs. This shift not only contributes to global mitigation efforts but also sets a precedent for sustainable development.

What are some of the challenges slowing down climate change mitigation efforts?

Mitigating climate change is fraught with complexities, including the global economy's deep-rooted dependency on fossil fuels and the accompanying challenge of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. This reliance – and the vested interests that have a stake in maintaining it – presents a significant barrier to transitioning to sustainable energy sources.

The shift towards decarbonization and renewable energy is driving increased demand for critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth metals. Since new mining projects can take up to 15 years to yield output, mineral supply chains could become a bottleneck for decarbonization efforts. In addition, these minerals are predominantly found in a few, mostly low-income countries, which could heighten supply chain vulnerabilities and geopolitical tensions.

Furthermore, due to the significant demand for these minerals and the urgency of the energy transition, the scaled-up investment in the sector has the potential to exacerbate environmental degradation, economic and governance risks, and social inequalities, affecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and workers. Addressing these concerns necessitates implementing social and environmental safeguards, embracing circular economy principles, and establishing and enforcing responsible policies and regulations .

Agriculture is currently the largest driver of deforestation worldwide. A transformation in our food systems to reverse the impact that agriculture has on forests and biodiversity is undoubtedly a complex challenge. But it is also an important opportunity. The latest IPCC report highlights that adaptation and mitigation options related to land, water and food offer the greatest potential in responding to the climate crisis. Shifting to regenerative agricultural practices will not only ensure a healthy, fair and stable food supply for the world’s population, but also help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

Photo: UNDP India

Photo: UNDP India

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP Georgia

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP Georgia

What are some examples of climate change mitigation?

In Mauritius , UNDP, with funding from the Green Climate Fund, has supported the government to install battery energy storage capacity that has enabled 50 MW of intermittent renewable energy to be connected to the grid, helping to avoid 81,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. 

In Indonesia , UNDP has been working with the government for over a decade to support sustainable palm oil production. In 2019, the country adopted a National Action Plan on Sustainable Palm Oil, which was collaboratively developed by government, industry and civil society representatives. The plan increased the adoption of practices to minimize the adverse social and environmental effects of palm oil production and to protect forests. Since 2015, 37 million tonnes of direct greenhouse gas emissions have been avoided and 824,000 hectares of land with high conservation value have been protected.

In Moldova and Paraguay , UNDP has helped set up Green City Labs that are helping build more sustainable cities. This is achieved by implementing urban land use and mobility planning, prioritizing energy efficiency in residential buildings, introducing low-carbon public transport, implementing resource-efficient waste management, and switching to renewable energy sources. 

UNDP has supported the governments of Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Indonesia to implement results-based payments through the REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) framework. These include payments for environmental services and community forest management programmes that channel international climate finance resources to local actors on the ground, specifically forest communities and Indigenous Peoples. 

UNDP is also supporting small island developing states like the Comoros to invest in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. Through the Africa Minigrids Program , solar minigrids will be installed in two priority communities, Grand Comore and Moheli, providing energy access through distributed renewable energy solutions to those hardest to reach.

And in South Africa , a UNDP initative to boost energy efficiency awareness among the general population and improve labelling standards has taken over commercial shopping malls.

What is climate change mitigation and why is it urgent?

What is UNDP’s role in supporting climate change mitigation?

UNDP aims to assist countries with their climate change mitigation efforts, guiding them towards sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient development. This support is in line with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those related to affordable and clean energy (SDG7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), and climate action (SDG13). Specifically, UNDP’s offer of support includes developing and improving legislation and policy, standards and regulations, capacity building, knowledge dissemination, and financial mobilization for countries to pilot and scale-up mitigation solutions such as renewable energy projects, energy efficiency initiatives and sustainable land-use practices. 

With financial support from the Global Environment Facility and the Green Climate Fund, UNDP has an active portfolio of 94 climate change mitigation projects in 69 countries. These initiatives are not only aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also at contributing to sustainable and resilient development pathways.

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Guest Essay

We Can Get the Electricity We Need Without Frying the Planet (or Our Pocketbooks)

define creative essay

By Jonathan Mingle

Mr. Mingle is an independent journalist and the author of “Gaslight: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Fight for America’s Energy Future.”

Electric utilities from Georgia to Wisconsin to Virginia are predicting a dizzying surge in power demand from new industrial facilities, electric vehicles and, most of all, the data centers that store our digital photos and will enable large-language models for artificial intelligence. For months now, they have been signaling that they won’t be able to keep up.

To keep the lights on, many utility companies are proposing to build dozens of new power plants that burn natural gas. North Carolina-based Duke Energy alone wants to add 8.9 gigawatts of new gas-fired capacity — more than the entire country added in 2023. Using their own projections of soaring energy demands as justification, these companies are also pushing back on the climate targets set by their states and the Biden administration.

If state regulators sign off on these plans, they will be gambling with our country’s future. We need to electrify everything from cars to appliances to slow climate change, but we won’t be able to reach our climate goals if we power all of those machines with dirty energy.

There is a better way. But to get there, legislators will need to overhaul the incentives driving utilities to double down on natural gas, so that they can turn a profit without cooking the planet.

Companies like Duke, Dominion Energy and Georgia Power argue that they need more gas-fired plants to reliably provide power during times of peak demand — for instance, on a hot summer weekday afternoon when home cooling systems and data servers are all humming at maximum output, and the grid strains to keep up. But those peaks tend to materialize only for a few dozen hours per year, and there are ways to deal with them that don’t require a massive amount of new methane-burning infrastructure.

The real reason the utilities want to build these plants is quite simple: The more stuff they build, the more money they make. Regulators let utilities charge their customers enough money to cover what they spend on assets like combustion turbines and wires, plus a generous rate of return (up to 10 percent) for their investors. This longstanding arrangement incentivizes power providers to build expensive things whether society needs them or not, in lieu of lower-cost, cleaner options, and to invoke their duty to keep the lights on as a post hoc rationalization.

This dynamic can push some companies to extreme lengths in pursuit of gas-generated profits. Nearly a decade ago, Dominion and Duke partnered to build a 600-mile-long pipeline across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, largely to supply their own new power plants. Back then, the companies cited their own forecasts of rising energy demand and claimed more gas supply was needed to back up intermittent wind- and solar-generated power coming onto the grid. But it soon became clear that there wasn’t any need for those plants, and most were canceled. The pipeline’s core premise had proved to be a mirage. And in 2020 , faced with relentless grass-roots opposition, Dominion and Duke finally abandoned it.

It makes sense that Dominion and Duke executives would pursue these potentially lucrative investments; their job is to maximize returns for their shareholders. But utilities aren’t like other shareholder-owned companies. They are granted the right to be monopolies in exchange for providing essential services to society. And regulators’ job is to hold them accountable to the public interest. This century-old model is in dire need of an upgrade, so that utilities can be compensated for achieving goals — such as using clean, affordable energy and building a resilient grid — that are in everyone’s interest.

Although breathless forecasts of artificial intelligence gobbling up all of our power supply may or may not prove correct, there’s no question that after decades of remaining mostly flat, electricity demand is increasing. Fortunately, utilities have plenty of ways to meet this new need.

They include “ virtual power plants ” — when technologies such as home batteries, rooftop solar systems, smart water heaters and thermostats are linked together and managed via software to provide the same services as a conventional power plant. Utilities in Vermont, Colorado and Massachusetts are already using them, to quickly respond to rising demand at a much lower cost than operating natural gas combustion turbines. According to one estimate , virtual power plants could lower U.S. utilities’ costs by as much as $35 billion over the next decade.

Utilities could also accelerate efforts to replace outdated transmission lines with newer ones that can carry double the electric current and to bring more battery storage online. They can compensate customers for using less energy during times when demand is high and invest far more in energy efficiency, helping customers to adopt devices that use less electricity.

All of these solutions would save customers money and reduce carbon emissions. They could, according to a Department of Energy analysis , meet the entire projected growth in U.S. peak electricity demand over the next decade.

Sure, they wouldn’t provide utilities nearly as much money as building new gas-fired power plants. But that’s why public utility commissions must step in to require utilities to make investments that benefit the climate and their customers, without scaring off their shareholders. What’s needed is not more regulation, just smarter regulation.

There are promising signs that this shift is already underway. In Connecticut, where customers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, the chairwoman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has created a program to test-drive tweaks to utilities’ incentive structure, as part of a larger initiative to build an “equitable, modern electric grid.”

More than a dozen other state legislatures have directed regulators to impose or study some kind of performance-based regulation to reward utilities based on what they do , instead of on how much they spend . This move has predictably elicited pushback from some companies, which believe that their traditional business models are under threat. But others have embraced the new opportunities: Hawaii’s approach has earned the support of the state’s biggest electric utility.

We need utilities to succeed now more than ever before. But the definition of success needs to evolve. We need them not only to shore up a grid being battered by extreme weather and wildfires fueled by climate change, but also to fully embrace the work of phasing out fossil fuels.

The United States has very little chance of reining in its emissions without investor-owned utilities putting their expertise and deep resources to work. We can’t build a carbon-free energy system without them — or without regulators and lawmakers willing to compel them to accelerate, rather than postpone, the clean energy transition.

Jonathan Mingle is an independent journalist and the author of “Gaslight: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Fight for America’s Energy Future.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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    Mr. Mingle is an independent journalist and the author of "Gaslight: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Fight for America's Energy Future."