Introduction to Nonfiction as a Literary Genre

Nonfiction – Narrative – Expository – Descriptive – Persuasive

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. Today we are going to talk about the fourth Pillar of Genre, and I am introducing you to the concept of Nonfiction as a Literary Genre.

If the thought of Nonfiction as a literary genre catches you by surprise, I must admit that I was initially surprised as well. I used to think of genre as being solidly in the realm of fictional narrative. However, the more I learned about genre and its conventions, the more it made sense that Nonfiction also has its own definite subgenres with markedly different conventions. You may not be convinced yet, but I hope to change that idea over the course of the next few weeks.

Nonfiction Definition

Straight from the Masterclass of Malcolm Gladwell, “Nonfiction is a broad genre of writing that encompasses all books that aren’t rooted in a fictional narrative.” I love this definition in its simplicity, because ultimately, nonfiction tends to be prose writing with a focus on factual events and real people. 

Textbooks, self-help books, autobiographies, and many more things fall under this category of nonfiction. While it may seem like it has a pretty wide range of books that this might encompass, each style of books has its own structure that lends to the way that the writing comes across and is told. Any time a book is trying to teach you something specific, recollect past events as truthfully as possible, or convince you of something, it is most likely a non-fiction book.

Also, is it non-fiction, or nonfiction? If we look at big sellers and book listers like Barnes and Noble, the New York Times, Amazon, and even the Chicago Manual of Style, the word is used without the hyphen in all cases. I’ll admit that I grew up understanding it to be the other way around, that the hyphenated version was, I believed, the standard. But when we look at it logically, the word “non” is a prefix, not a stand-alone word, and prefixes are not generally hyphenated. While both forms can be found and are accepted uses, and there may be local rules governing that usage, my own amount of research told me that right now the trend is going with the version without the hyphen. 

Nonfiction Subgenres

Narrative Nonfiction

Also called creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction is just like the name suggests. It is nonfiction that is written in a narrative style that mirrors fiction writing. The writing is still factually correct, however, the style is told in story form. 

Examples of Narrative Nonfiction include:

  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly—African American female mathematicians and the race to space.
  • The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport—A look at the fall of the Romanov family, focusing specifically on the lives of Nicholas and Alexandra’s four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—The original true crime nonfiction novel.
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer—The story of a harrowing, deadly climb on Mount Everest.

Expository Nonfiction

Expository Nonfiction are books that attempt to explain or inform the reader about a certain topic, including what something is, who someone is, what something means, how something works, and why something is important.

Examples of Expository Nonfiction include:

  • Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
  • The Guinness Book of World Records by Guinness World Records
  • Tiny Creatures: The Invisible World of Microbes by Nicola Davies
  • How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation Anywhere by Bradford Angier

Descriptive Nonfiction

Descriptive Nonfiction, also called Creative Nonfiction, is a type of nonfiction that uses all five senses to help the reader get a visual of what the writer is trying to describe. Sensory details, rich imagery, and figurative language, while also attempting, in good faith, to provide accurate information regarding a real-world topic, are methods used to achieve descriptive nonfiction.

Examples of Descriptive Nonfiction include:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • Hiroshima by John Hershey
  • The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

Persuasive Nonfiction

Persuasive Nonfiction is nonfiction books in which the author intends to convince readers to believe in an idea or opinion and to do an action. Keep in mind that many writings that aren’t books, such as criticisms, reviews, reaction papers, editorials, proposals, advertisements, and brochures, also use different ways of persuasion to influence readers.

Examples of Persuasive Nonfiction include:

  • How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by KC Davis
  • The One Hour Content Plan: The Solopreneur’s Guide to a Year’s Worth of Blog Post Ideas in 60 Minutes and Creating Content That Hooks and Sells by Meera Kothand
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  • The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Next Week

Next week, we are going to start our journey into nonfiction by taking a closer look into Narrative Nonfiction, revisiting its definition, looking further into examples, and talking about how you might write your own Narrative Nonfictions. The weeks following, we’ll also dive into the other Nonfiction subgenres, so you can look forward to those very soon! 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite nonfiction book?
  2. Do you have a favorite type of nonfiction subgenre?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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