Genre Clarification: Narrative Nonfiction

There are many ways to tell a story—some writers prefer to stick to the truth, some prefer to make up truths of their own, and some will settle somewhere in the middle. The genre of narrative nonfiction requires heavy research, thorough exploration, and an aim to entertain while also sharing a true, compelling story.

Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, is a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The narrative nonfiction genre contains factual prose that is written in a compelling way—facts told as a story. While the emphasis is on the storytelling itself, narrative nonfiction must remain as accurate to the truth as possible.

What Is the Difference Between Narrative Nonfiction and Memoir?

Narrative nonfiction and memoir are both forms of text that are similar in their expression of truth. Nonfiction narrative gives a styled account of another person’s life while a memoir is strictly about your own.

  • Narrative nonfiction tells a real-life story about real people and events with stylistic elements akin to that seen more in fiction. It often requires more research than traditional news reportage due to its creative flexibility, as narrative nonfiction writers must go to greater lengths to accurately express the facts and details of another person’s life in a literary way.
  • A memoir is a first-person account of your life story, focusing on elements like personal experience, intimacy, and emotional truth. Memoir writers must reexamine their own experiences, not just retell personal stories. Writing a memoir requires a narrative thread that ties your personal experiences together, allowing you to view your personal story through a critical lens, and objectively identify moments of growth or trauma that contributed to who you are as a person.

There are many examples of narrative nonfiction books that tell exciting, true stories about their main characters’ experiences.  My favorite is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It adhered to such accurate detail because of the author’s due diligence—she spent over 10 years obtaining information. Skloot used real meetings transcripts, notes written by those involved, and photos to nail down key dramatic details that turned a real-world event into a thrilling must-read work of prose.

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