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What Is Narrative Nonfiction?

A stack of narrative nonfiction books.
A microfiche of a memoir, a type of narrative nonfiction.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Carballo, Frédéric Bisson
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2014
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Narrative nonfiction is a genre of writing sometimes known as creative nonfiction because it combines elements of creative writing with the relation of facts necessary to create a work of nonfiction. This genre consists of writing based in fact, but written with a creative element that lends itself to enhancing the flow and appeal of the writing itself. Narrative nonfiction can take the form of biography, essay, memoir, personal essay, or certain types of journalism. This genre is fairly new when compared to straight nonfiction, and the scrutiny with which this type of writing is analyzed has become stronger as the genre has grown.

Many writers of narrative nonfiction aim to combine a factual telling of events or analysis combined with writing that is more akin to creative fiction. The narrative may include figurative language that is often avoided in other types of nonfiction; metaphors and similes may be used, and the writer will pay more attention to writing in such a way that is entertaining and well-constructed to achieve a factual telling of events as well as a creative presentation. A person writing a memoir, for example, will essentially tell events as they happened, but they may use a more narrative style, including the use of dialogue, analysis of events, telling the story from a certain point of view to create a hybrid story that falls into the category of narrative nonfiction.

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A travel writer may tell the story of his or her travels through a certain part of the world, relating the events as they happened, but the way in which the writer presents these events will determine whether it will be considered nonfiction or narrative nonfiction. If the writer chooses to relate the facts in a story-like fashion, writing themselves as though they are characters in their own narrative, the writing is most likely to fall under the category of narrative nonfiction. If, conversely, that writer chooses to write the piece in such a way that only facts are presented in more of a documentary style, the writing is more likely to be categorized simply as nonfiction.

Biographies and memoirs may present factual accounts of events, but in some cases the names, locations, and other details of the story may be altered for a variety of reasons. This alone does not qualify the writing as narrative nonfiction, though if other elements of story are combined with this, the writing may end up falling into this category. If the sequence of events are truncated or otherwise changed slightly to accommodate the overall narrative, the writing may be labeled a creative work of nonfiction, or even fiction.

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