Practicing the Craft

The Outlier Formats of Creative Non-Fiction

outlier formats in creative non-fiction

What Are CNF Outlier Formats?

I recently had the opportunity to take a six week course, learning about (and practicing) four outlier formats in the field of Creative NonFiction (CNF). The course is taught by author Nicole Breit, whose works have been published in Hippocampus and other CNF Magazines.

The four outlier formats (so-called because they fall outside the norm) are:

  • Flash Non-Fiction,
  • Prose Poem
  • Lyric Essay
  • Hermit Crab Essay

I found the course challenging, in a good way, and informative. As much as I love creative nonfiction, using these four formats was something I’d really never considered. The most challenging was the Hermit Crab as it forced my brain to think in totally new ways. However, of the four, I think it gave me the most opportunity to letting myself be vulnerable. (Gulp).

The course is being offered again in September 2017, with a cost of $279 (I believe it’s $299 Canadian?).

If you’re interested, here’s the info page.  Nicole’s also talking about having an advanced course possibly in the spring. If she does, I’ll be there for that one too.

Should you take the course? If you’re interested in improving your craft, absolutely. And I guarantee, Nicole’s feedback will make you a better writer. If those things appeal to you, then enroll as soon as you can.  I loved it.

Here’s my attempt at flash non-fiction

January 28, 1986 An Icy Florida Morning

An Icy Florida Morning
1. It haunted me for a year.
2. Visions impaled my brain as surely as a Bronze Age spear thrust through the eye: Twin trails of smoke, faces- bewildered, uncomprehending – as small pieces of metal rained hot, frying snapper and mackerel as it tore through the sea.
3. I took comfort in the fact that all on board died in the split second between the blinding light and eternity.
4. Later I learned the truth.
5. They soared another three miles after the explosion then plunged 65,000 feet, hitting the water at 207 miles an hour. Cabin intact, still alive and probably aware til the moment the sea hammered them to oblivion.
6. James Dickey once wrote an epic poem about a true event – a stewardess who fell to her death from a plane. Dickey let his woman live what seemed a lifetime, inviting us into her thoughts as she fell, flew, then undressed on her way down, ensuring her death would be clean and pure. It takes longer to read Falling than it did for her to die – slamming into a cornfield rather than the Midwest pond she had sighted on her way down.
7. But it took a full two minutes and 45 seconds for them to hit the water. I doubt thoughts of a clean death were on their minds. Scientists, pragmatists . . . all probably seeking a solution to the unsolvable. All the way down.
8. falling out, falling curtain, falling down, falling off the wagon, falling out of love, falling to their knees, falling prey, falling off a log, falling star.
9. For a year thereafter, I was obsessed, devouring any scrap of news I could find. Where did they live, what were they like, where were they buried. Why did it haunt me so? Why did Dickey’s poem stay with me for decades? How could I continue – even after all these years – to imagine those two minutes and 45 seconds? Did they exchange knowing glances, have time to say a prayer, think of family? Did they dream of cornfields or a Midwest pond? All the way down.
10. It haunted me for a year.
Are we all falling?


One Comment

  • Nicole Breit

    Wonderful to read the updated version of your powerful flash essay here, Nancy.

    And thank you for spreading the word about my CNF Outliers e-course.

    I will be raising the course fee this fall but will offer a discount to subscribers to my mail list. Anyone interested can get in touch with me at nicole(at)

    Looking forward to seeing you in CNF Outliers 2!

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