Narrative Nonfiction

Narrative NonFiction

If you’re looking for a fascinating type of article to write, why not give narrative nonfiction a try?

Some of the most epic content of all time falls under the umbrella of narrative nonfiction. It’s a genre ideally suited to telling gripping real life stories in a way that’s just as compelling as the best novel.

Today, we’re going to explore exactly what narrative nonfiction consists of, explain how you can write in this way, and provide some helpful examples for you to check out the best of the genre. 

How Is Narrative Nonfiction Defined?

First of all, let’s consider the precise definition of narrative nonfiction.

At its core, the genre is factual information presented using the techniques and conventions of fiction.

Let’s contrast traditional nonfiction with narrative nonfiction. 

Traditional nonfiction, such as news, or longer form content, tends to be quite dry. It avoids sensationalism. Its focus is on explaining the facts, rather than keeping the reader hooked and entertained. 

Narrative nonfiction, on the other hand, reads more like a novel or short story than a news report. The people, although real, are conveyed in a way similar to fictional characters. The story is told in a more dramatic and engaging style, even though it is an entirely true event. 

Now that you have a broad overview of the narrative nonfiction style, let’s consider the specific techniques used.

What Is Narrative Nonfiction Text?

When a writer chooses to utilize the narrative nonfiction style, they may make use of any or all of the following techniques:

  • Narrative arc. Whereas regular nonfiction tells a story in a fairly conventional style, narrative nonfiction isn’t afraid to use arcs. Story structures usually found in novels, such as setbacks and an eventual resolution, are commonly found in works of creative nonfiction.
  • Thematic language. News reporting and typical nonfiction use conventional language. Narrative nonfiction has a little more liberty to introduce thematic text. 
  • Imagery. While the events described still need to be factual, it’s not uncommon to see creative nonfiction writers making use of symbol and metaphor
  • Character traits. The people portrayed need to be real, but the way they are presented might be more in common with a work of fiction. The author is likely to draw on a full character bio, rather than the brief characterization found in most nonfiction styles. 
  • Lyrical language. Depending on the author, lyrical language might be deployed. Rhythmic, poetic language that isn’t typical of other types of nonfiction writing.  
  • Intentional fragments. While most nonfiction, especially news, sticks to strict grammatical sentence structure, narrative nonfiction isn’t required to play by the same rules. You’ll see intentional fragments as part of the writer’s stylistic choice. 

The sum total of all these techniques makes creative nonfiction a more captivating and enjoyable experience than it would have otherwise been. It combines the linguistic power of fiction with the gravity of knowing what you are reading is entirely true. 

What Are Some Examples Of Narrative Nonfiction?

Before you’re ready to start crafting narrative nonfiction of your own, why not read the best the genre has to offer? After all, it’s impossible to become adept at writing within a certain genre until you’ve read it extensively. 

If you’ve read narrative nonfiction in the past, you’ll already have a good idea of what you enjoy. If you’re completely new to this style of work, the following titles are considered some of the finest:

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. There is no denying the masterful writing of Truman Capote. The fact that In Cold Blood tells a true story, yet is written in a way to rival any novel out there, makes it perhaps the best starting example for someone looking to explore narrative nonfiction. 
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. The story of Christopher McCandless has become a cult favorite. In fact, people recreate the journey described in this book each and every year. A dramatic work of creative nonfiction exploring what it means to leave society and survive in a truly wild situation. 
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Not all narrative nonfiction needs to be intensely serious. It can also be heartwarming. Gilbert’s story has gained millions of admirers, and is an example of how creative nonfiction can touch hearts worldwide. 
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. While it’s absolutely correct to call Thompson’s tale a Gonzo masterpiece, it also has a lot to inform us about creative nonfiction in general. The intense, personal style of what is supposedly a true tale (with Thompson’s intoxication levels, who really knows) is narrative nonfiction at its best. 

These are just a few of the classic books in the narrative nonfiction style. There are also plenty of article length texts that represent this way of telling a true story. You can check out some of the finest for free over at Longform.  

Ready To Tell A True Story In An Exciting Way?

Thanks for checking out our guide to narrative nonfiction. Hopefully, it’s now clear to you what this style of writing consists of, the techniques it uses, and what some of its finest examples look like.

True crime is still tremendously popular, and this is one of the best subject matters for narrative nonfiction. 

If you have a true tale to tell, why not give the narrative nonfiction style a go for yourself? 

One exercise to get started is to write a small part of the story, but write it twice. Once in a conventional nonfiction style, and once using the ideas found in creative nonfiction. Then read them back to yourself.

Which do you prefer, and why?

I’m almost willing to bet its the narrative nonfiction. If it is in fact, why not go on and tell the rest of your story in the same style?